Salcheto – saving energy, creating energy

light capturenatural lightEnergy saving is of course a current buzz word in the wine industry as in other sectors.  Any number of growers are keen to tell you about the work they are doing to increase sustainability.  And with rising fuel costs this is by no means just about giving the planet a helping hand. But few new wineries have made as concerted an effort as Salcheto, a couple of kilometres from Montepulciano.  If you visit their website, you can calculate the carbon foot print of your bottle of wine.  It tells me that a bottle of Nobile leaving the winery has a carbon footprint of 1.58kg CO2, while this rises to 1.73 by the time the bottle has reached my home in Hampshire, England.  From the 2009 vintage on, the bottles will have a verifiable statement about  carbon dioxide emissions on every bottle.  The point is to create a measurable index of the carbon footprint of wine and so to challenge the industry to complete to reduce the impact on the environment.  But the new winery is more more impressive than a clever app on a website. It combines energy reduction with aesthetics in a hugely impressive way.  (And in case you are wondering, the wines are very good too! See below)

The two most obvious features are the exclusive use of natural light underground by a system of light-conducting tubes.  The pods on the ground level winery roof collect the light and the tubes convey it to the winery on the two floor below.  On a bright sunny day, the light in the fermentation hall was bright and even, and in the lower insulating vertical gardenwine-maturing cellar gloomy but adequate – perfectly acceptable for maturing wine in barrels and for the workers.  The system has meant starting work an hour later in winter but that is an acceptable sacrifice.  The second visible feature is the vertical garden on front of the winery. The building is of course mainly underground, but the wall that does face the sun is planted with tough, wind resistant plants which increase the insulation of the building – and look great.  I have often seen these at the Chelsea Flower Show but rarely being put to a practical use. 

Less visibly the winery also incorporates a series of energy saving measures which they calculate has reduced their energy consumption by 54%.  Conversion of biomass (vineyard prunings) contributes 29% of their energy needs, with geothermal temperature exchange and solar photovoltaic cells each making further contributions.  For the future, the winery has set up a partnership with academics in the Salcheto Carbon Free Working Group.  It is continuing work including searching for an alternative to glass packaging (where the biggest difference to carbon footprint could be made) and for a fuel other than diesel for its machinery.  The aim is to be 100% energy independent. 

light showThe key person behind all this energy saving is Michele Manelli, who has 15 vintages at Salcheto behind him and is one of the three partners who took over the farm in 2003.  He positively emits energy, good humour and commitment.  It must be a proud moment for him and his colleagues to see the ideas realised in the new winery which opened in September 2011. 

The innovation continues in the winery itself. The fermentation and maceration stages of the wine making are conducted under a slight pressure (0.5 bar) – a very gentle form of autovinification – which in Michele’s view, gives an extra 5-10% of extraction but also softens the wine and leads to using less sulphur.  Then at the maturing phase, the wood of choice is a mixture of small 300 litre barrels of French Allier oak and 25-35hl Slavonian oak, in effect a blend of the modern and the traditional.  Then there is the art project connected to the labels and a wine bar which is open every day in this medium sized estate to encourage people to visit … Energy being saved in the winery is being liberally spent in its development.  Very impressive.

Wines tasted in August 2012

three main winesMichele Manelli

Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG 2011
– the fruit for this wine comes from the further flung vineyard at Chiusi, a blend of 80% Sangiovese with Canaiolo and Mammolo, 70% from old vineyards planted in the 1970s and 30% from younger plants.  A part of the wine is aged for 3-6 months in 300 litre of American oak barrels.   Excellent colour, beautifully sharp fruit, elegant sour cherry palate, light tannins, very good – a high quality wine conceived of as easy drinking but with so much more to it than that. 

Rosso di Montepulciano DOC 2010 – a little used denomination as there is not the great difference in ageing requirements between this and the Nobile, in contrast to Rosso and Brunello in Montalcino.  85% Prugnolo Gentile (ie Sangiovese in these parts), plus Canaiolo and Merlot, aged in stainless steel and released a year after the harvest.  Vivacious red wine, with the fruit register moving into plum and darker berries, highly drinkable but with good structure – I did not spot the Merlot in the mix. 

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG 2008 – the company’s most important wine in terms of quantity and, unusually, this is 100% Prugnolo Nobile from the vineyard which surrounds the property.  The wine is made and initially aged in large Slavonian oak barrels, with 30% of it being then moved into barriques for 3-6 months, with a total ageing period of 18 months  in wood and 6-12 months in bottle.  Pronounced, beautiful nose of red and black berried fruit, forest floor, liquorish; ripe fruit on the palate; good backbone of acidity and tannins – a real wow factor to this ‘basic’ top wine. 

Salco and QR codeSalco Evoluzione, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG 2006 – in effect a riserva or indeed a cru as it is a single vineyard wine:  the vines are the offspring of Prugnolo Gentile found in the vineyard with a distinctive red streak on the stalks.  The key point is the open nature of the clusters, allowing the grapes to ripen evenly through the bunches.  There is then extensive selection in the vineyard for this top wine enabling the harvest to be extended into the middle of October for slightly more than full maturity in the fruit.  Lengthy maceration on the skins and then 70% of the wine is aged for 6-12 months in Allier barriques, part new, with the rest in Slavonia large barrels.  This was the deepest in colour of these wines, with fine, marked, balsamic and clover notes on the nose, dark berried fruit. An excellent tannic structure is combined with the palate being rich and round in the mouth. Very young still this has great potential to develop yet more complexity.   This wine was developed by experimenting with long ageing in bottle times – with outstanding results.  

In the town, in Le Logge del Vignola, one of its finest restaurants, we also tasted Michele’s eccentric Pigliatello, Vendemmia Tardiva, IGT Toscana Bianco 2006 in a classic pairing with paté as this is a botrytis-affected sweet wine.  Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes are harvested in late November selecting grapes that are still intact but have been affected by noble rot.  The wine is fermented in barriques and then aged in them for 18 months.   Amber in colour, honey, marmalade and dried orange skin on the nose and palate, moderate sweetness.   Not perhaps the lusciousness of good Sauternes but a welcome flight of imagination.

Salcheto has made excellent wine for many years but they now have a remarkable winery from which to operate.  They have set an admirable challenge to other wine makers with their ecological awareness and practical energy reduction measures.  We will look forward to the next step of this unfolding story.

With many thanks to Michele Manelli and all at Salcheto. 

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Page created August 2012

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