In a little-known valley in Tuscany you will find the Castello di Potentino, close to the small town of Seggiano and 30 kilometres from Brunello di Montalcino. Nearby is a great volcanic dome, the Monte Amiata, the second-highest volcanic cone after Mount Etna, and it is on the slopes of this slumbering giant that the castello sits surrounded by vines.
Owners Charlotte Horton and Alexander Greene, the son of great English author Graham Greene’s nephew, together with their family, bought the castle as a ruin in 2000 and began a long, hard programme of restoration, not only of this venerable complex of buildings but of the vineyards and olive trees around it too.
Thanks to a unique microclimate and the unsurprisingly volcanic soils in this basin-shaped valley they are able to grow superb pinot noir, sangiovese and the red-fleshed alicante bouschet in their four-hectare vineyard which they make into wine under the auspices of the newly founded Montecucco DOC. The valleys relative isolation has seen it protected from modern monocultural farming practices and the flourishing fauna and flora all around is testimony to the fact that herbicides and pesticides have never been in widespread use in the area. The family have no intention of changing that and farm sustainably, even relying on the ambient yeasts that grow on the grapes.
The bowl of the valley contributes a rich mixture of mineral content in the soils because its shape has caused marly schist, calcite, and quartz to gather on a bed of metamorphic marine clay rather than being eroded away as it has elsewhere on the slopes of the volcano. At 350 metres above sea level the vines benefit from plenty of Tuscan sunshine but also gain the tempering effects of both altitude and the cool air that drains down the slopes at night during the summer, retaining great freshness in the fruit and lengthening the ripening period. Low yields are sought, the vines are tended and harvested by hand and in the cellars the mantra is minimal intervention, hence the natural yeasts used to ferment. Once fermented the juice is left to drain away from the skins without pressing to reduce the presence of harsh tannins, and the wine is matured in great oak vats to avoid oak character. When it comes to bottling there is no fining or filtration, making the wines suitable for vegans, and sulphites are kept to an absolute minimum, less in fact than is required for organic producers.
This ancient estate, dating back to at least the early 11th century, is in very safe hands indeed.