Wine in the blood
Federica Mascheroni believes a good wine is not just about what is inside the bottle, but behind the label.
There is a rich history behind Castello di Volpaia. It is a winery and a village and documents on the 40-person community date back to 1172.
The vintner was on island to educate Burrows Lightbourn on the labels they carry — her Chianti Classico Riserva, “Super Tuscan” Balifico and a sweet Vin Santo.
“A winery inside a 12th-century village is something unique,” she said. “The face and who is behind the label and the passion that’s put inside — you can taste it in the bottle.”
She said Volpaia’s location, the soil and the altitude determined the characteristic of the wine.
“Volpaia is a winery, but it is also a village. It’s unique. It’s not a place that can follow fashion,” she said. “Over time, we’ve changed labels and added some new wines, but haven’t really changed the style much.”
The biggest change was in the rules of the Chianti Classico blend in 1996. In practice, serious producers no longer use white grapes for Chianti.
“Sangiovese is the grape that needs to come out always,” she explained. “They gave the winery six or seven years to adjust, but since that moment, we went straight to Sangiovese.”
She is serious about growing. They produce a single vineyard made with 25 different types of Sangiovese.
“I’m much more focused on the agriculture,” she said. “The fruit is the base of everything. The more earthy the fruit, the more tasty the fruit — the wine will come out much better.
“We’ve made a few changes in agriculture, the way of pruning the vines. Sangiovese organic growing is our future.”
All of their wines are certified organic and carry the DOCG Italian wine label, meaning “Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita”, a government guarantee of the wines’ origins.
Born into the business, she moved to Florence when she was 19 to pursue a career in art, but it placed her closer to the 12th-century village of Volpaia.
The 41-year-old joined full time only ten years ago. She previously worked in painting restoration.
“When I was born, I said I would never work with you,” she said. “None of them forced me. I decided ten years ago to join the family and work with them.
“It’s a project that started with my grandfather, but my mother and father are the ones who built and created what is now known all over the world as Volpaia.
“The story goes that it was actually a wedding present. When my mother married my father, my grandfather gave it to her.”
She laughed: “Instead of a ring, she got her job.”
Her mother, Giovanna Stianti, was from Tuscany; her late father, Carlo Mascheroni, from Milan. He adopted the Stianti name, so that it would carry on through the generations.
“My brother was then able to give the two surnames to the kids so the two surnames could live together longer,” she said.
“What we have tried to do is think about the future generation. It’s not a ghost village; it’s not a theatre; it’s a village with life inside. Most of the people that live there work for us.”
The buildings have been renovated internally, while the exteriors remain the same. Fermenting tanks were lowered in through the roofs — the only part they could rebuild to its original state.
“Making wine and restoring works of art is not so far away,” she said.
“Of course it’s totally different technically, but it’s more or less the same — the passion for something of beauty, something that you want to keep.
“It’s not just wine you can drink, it’s wine you can age.”
Her father died last year. Now she runs the business with her mother and brother, Nicolò Mascheroni Stianti.
She has less time for painting, but “much more time to enjoy art exhibitions all over the world”.
Travel takes up three months of the year; she has been “all over”, from the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Beijing, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan, Europe, Russia and now Bermuda.
“The wine helps me to keep up that passion,” she said.
“I moved to Florence when I was 19 for the art. So it was much easier to help my mother in Volpaia because it was so close.”
Her pet project is in Maremma. The coastal winery is hers, while Volpaia remains her mother’s.
It is one of many new enterprises she is excited about.
Olive oil and vinegar are produced in the village. They have a restaurant, a small bakery and cooking classes to encourage tourism.
“We tried to keep our life very busy and we are able to keep our lives very busy. Sometimes in the office we will shout too much because we are Italian,” she laughed.
“But we’re really a team.”