We met Stefano and Simena from the Tua Rita estate, immersing ourselves in the beauty of the metal-rich hills of Val di Cornia and sampling the renowned wineproduced there
by Francesca Portoghese
IF THERE IS ONE PRODUCT FOR WHICH TUSCANY IS KNOWN ALL OVER THE WORLD, IT IS WINE. The drink has always been part of the region’s DNA and can arouse a passion that goes far beyond the simple pleasure of enjoying it in the company on which the market is largely based. Today, this passion leads us to the Maremma, an area inextricably linked with wine production, and home – in the enchanting village of Suvereto – to a family whose lives were changed by it. The Tua Rita estate is in Val di Cornia, not far from the coast and located at the foot of the region’s metal-rich hills. Initially created as somewhere to escape to, a place to farm the earth in a loving, family environment, it now successfully embodies an entire region and its inhabitants.
We are accompanied on our exciting trip around this estate by Stefano Frascolla and his wife Simena, the daughter of the owners Virgilio and Rita, who in 1984 bought five hectares of land just for pure pleasure. At the time the land was planted with olive trees, but the great freeze of 1985 changed its fate. The couple started the vineyard in 1988, and in the wake of the cultural awakening of the 1990s, where people began taking an interest in the value of wine, they decided to start bottling.
Collaboration with painter Raffaele De Rosa
The pairing of wine and art is epitomized by Tua Rita. The Livorno-based painter Raffaele De Rosa is a lifelong family friend, and two years after the first bottling he gave them a gift: a painting that became the sticker for the firm’s bottles.
Stefano, somebody once said that wine does not come from the earth; instead, it is part of human culture, where each bottle contains the personality of its producer. To what extent is this true?
Our wines contain a combination of the characteristics of an entire family. The creative flair of my mother-in-law Rita, who gave the company its name and has always encouraged us to diversify our work; the meticulous nature of her husband, who had an excellent eye for detail; and my work, based on our distribution strategy and expanding the markets we serve. Then there is my wife Simena, who joined the company after a brilliant legal career, identifying everyone’s potential and creating the balance we need for our work.
Each region has its own identity to defend and promote. How much of Tuscany is there in your wines?
Our wines contain not only all of Tuscany but all of Suvereto too. We believe strongly that one of the most important features of a wine is its local nature. For a wine to be distinctive, it must express something of the land it comes from, regardless of the type of grape or production process. Wine takes on value when it manages to represent its local area.
Sese, Tua Rita’s passito
In 2012, Stefano and Simena, who love the island of Pantelleria and its passito (straw wine), decided to buy two hectares of land and started producing their own version. As they didn’t know much about the land or vineyards there, they asked a local wine expert and winery to help them with the production process. At the moment they produce around 1,500 bottles a year, and the label features another gift from painter Raffaele De Rosa.
Simena, what are the characteristics of your wines?
In our work, we let nature decide the timescales; nothing can be forced. I think the definition of good wine is one where you want to drink more once you get to the end of the bottle, whether it is a prestigious vintage or an entry-level wine. This is what guides the choices we make in our vine cultivation and wine production, as well as ensuring our wine is always elegant and paying attention to detail. Our region has a tradition of quality wine dating back around 90 years, but we need to look forward, seeking out and researching wine-production and grape-growing methods that allow us to respect the land and highlight aspects of the wine that have until now been neglected. In this job, you cannot always plan, and you cannot be drawn in by current fashions. Instead, you must focus on the local area, understand its messages and experiment with new approaches in response.
Tua Rita also frequently hosts discussions, tasting sessions, and cooking shows, and because of the new, surreal climate we are living in, they now have lots of virtual events in the diary. The most recent of these, organised in partnership with the Dal Cacini restaurant in Suvereto, was a social opportunity for leading journalists in the sector. They all received a box delivered to their home containing everything they needed for the tasting session and sat around a virtual table to taste the Keir Ansonica and Keir Syrah, paired with dishes created by Dal Cacini’s chef Marco Ticciati.
Do you use a particular system for growing your grapes?
Our vineyard is our most valuable asset. The business is made up of the vineyard and the winery, the growers, and the market. Respect for nature guides everything we do because the vineyard is responsible for all of a product’s potential. Our winery is simply a container that nurtures these qualities and ensures they remain over time. The vine cultivation aspect is more important than the wine production which, although supported by some important measures, aims to keep things simple. We grow our grapes sustainably, and from 2007 to 2020 our company was certified organic. We continue to produce organically now, although we have distanced ourselves from the label in terms of the regulations, due to various parameters that get in the way of sustainability. The area in which our vineyards grow is blessed with good fortune: the harvests come very early, there are few rainy periods, and in the summer the wind has a vital influence on the quality of the ripening. Our ongoing research has allowed us to change our vine cultivation methods, our approach to grape selection, and our wine-making practices over the years. We have made some important choices regarding our production involving high-density planting – we have around 9,000 plants per hectare – and these have produced sensational organoleptic results. And when we used to work with traditional tractors, we bought over-the-row tractors that compact the soil less.
Tua Rita’s wines
Redigaffi: a 100% Merlot from a very early harvest, aged in new barrels for 15-20 months depending on the vintage. Average production: 13,000 bottles.
Per sempre: Syrah is the top grape variety in the Alta Maremma region, highly influenced by the climate and particularly the land. A wine with an excellent structure. Average production: 3,500 bottles.
Giusto di Notri: The first wine Tua Rita produced. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc varieties give it excellent aging potential (20 months in wood). Average production: 35,000 bottles.
Perlato del bosco: a Sangiovese that epitomises Tuscany. Although the coast is not suitable for Sangiovese grapes, which need longer ripening seasons, Suvereto is one of the warmest parts of Tuscany, promoting quick ripening times. Average production: 40,000 bottles.
Rosso dei Notri: one of the winery’s most important wines, created from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah grapes. Average production: 150,000 bottles.
Keir Rosso and Keir Bianco: two wines derived from interesting experiments using amphorae (two-handled clay jars), combining an ancient way of making wine with modern knowledge. Average production: 2,500 and 2,000 bottles respectively.
Where do you sell your wines?
We are present in 70 different markets – diversification is our strong point. When Giorgio Pinchiorri [ed.: the owner and founder of the Enoteca Pinchiorri restaurant in Florence] came to meet us and tasted our wines, and in particular the Redigaffi, he asked us for the exclusive distribution rights. Of course, it was a great honour to be asked, but we had to refuse because we have always believed that to succeed you need to diversify. Entering lots of different markets is a tiring process: you have to work out what the demand is like for Italian wine and understand every small obstacle. Up to now, we have done best on the traditional markets, with the backing of a large number of professionals from the sector, where achieving success is highly rewarding.
Tua Rita’s wines have received numerous prizes: which ones are you most proud of?
It’s true: as Tua Rita has grown as a company, it has achieved many milestones, both big and small. Our proudest moment was receiving 100 points from Robert Parker, the all-time leading wine critic who creates the official lists of the best wines from all over the world and decides the fate of the professional wine market. This award, which every producer dreams of receiving, came in 2002 for the 2000 vintage of Redigaffi and helped spread the word about our brand. We are also particularly proud to have been included in Liv-ex, the London International Vintners Exchange, a wine marketplace based in London and the most reputable global benchmark for valuations.
The winery uses organic methods in its vineyards, which allow the plants to build their own natural defences.
The tangible legacy that Virgilio left you can be seen in front of our eyes and glasses on tables all over the world. But what is his intangible legacy?
His intangible legacy is the essential role that respecting nature plays in our business and our unique approach to problem-solving. Virgilio had the strength and temerity to make choices that disregarded logic, based purely on instinct.
(Stefano Frascolla and Simena Bisti – Tua Rita, how choices change lives – Barchemagazine.com – June 2021)