Winemaker Giuseppe Sala of I Selvatici: Respecting the Past and Relishing the Present
Interviewer & Writer:
Uncorked Monthly Contributing Writer, Kim Brittingham
Sensing the old man’s presence among the vines
Winemaker Giuseppe Sala never had the chance to meet the man after whom he was named. Growing up working on the winery that his grandfather founded, however, Sala would sometimes sense the old man’s presence among the vines. When Sala and his father might grumble about the less-than-ideal weather, it seemed the departed Giuseppe was listening and asserting a loving force to part clouds and withhold rain. Now and then, young Sala’s parents would hear his grandfather’s laugh in his, or catch an uncannily familiar glance from his eyes. In these ways, Sala’s grandfather lives on.
We are a family winery
He also lives on through his winery, I Selvatici, for which young Sala has inherited both a passion and an enduring sense of responsibility. He speaks tenderly of the winery, and seems proud of the personalized hospitality he and his parents extend to visitors. “I have to tell you, we are a family winery,” said Sala. “We don’t treat them like tourists. They are welcome to visit my home…They can come and meet my parents. It’s our culture that we love to stay with people and have good food and good wine with them.”
The “home” Sala mentions is the house on the winery in which he was raised, a 15th century structure that his grandfather found on the property when he purchased it in the 1950s. “He fixed it some,” Sala said nonchalantly, “and then, of course, he created the vineyards.” In those days, I Selvatici was a farm with only a few grape vines scattered about. His grandfather transformed the land into the winery it is today.
Sala and I shared a laugh at ourselves and the different perspectives our cultures have on what’s “old”. Sala observed, “All the Americans love to come to Italy. It’s ‘old world’. We (Italians) love the opposite…to come over here (to) the States. We love your shiny buildings. I grew up in the old stuff, so I always saw that since I was born.”
I was reminded of a gentleman I met some years ago whose wife was casually digging in their backyard in Rome when she came upon a pair of columns circa 100 B.C. She toweled them off, dragged them into the house and repurposed them into a table. No big whoop. Meanwhile, in all my American-ness, I make weekend road trips to buildings that have stood since the Revolutionary War and feel overcome with history.
Sala talked about some of the things he and his family have found on their property over the years. German military medals and weapons from World War II, vases and jars, “plus Roman coins that you can find sometimes reaping the dirt.” He reminded me that “We are in Tuscany. Just before the Romans, we have the Etrusci,” a civilization that endured from about 700 B.C. until its assimilation into the Roman Republic in the late 4th century B.C. All of it blows my mind. But Sala was more interested in pointing out that the nearby town of Montevarchi is known for being home to the Prada factory, and that he lives fifteen minutes from a winery owned by Sting.
Sala told me that in the past decade or so, quite a few Americans have purchased property near I Selvatici, which is located in the Chianti region of Italy. Sala has no complaints. On the contrary, he says Americans who come to Chianti bring with them an awe of the region’s history and beauty, and as a result, they tend to be respectful caretakers.
Sala helped me understand Chianti better as a wine, noting that in order to be called a “Chianti”, it must be made from at least 75% Sangiovese grapes, which he calls “the main grape of the Chianti. When you drink a Chianti, you have to expect its fruity freshness.” Sala said that if Chianti was a woman, she would be “tall with red hair. A little bit fresh and spunky, you know?”
Also, a true Chianti is one that’s earned its pink “DOCG” label. “That means the denomination of origin, control, and guaranty,” explained Sala. DOCG status can only be granted to a wine by a Florence-based consortium “that guarantees you, our customers, that the grapes are grown in Chianti and the wine is made there.” If too many of a wine’s grapes are grown from outside the defined area, Sala pointed out that what you have is “just red table wine without the denomination”. While it may be delicious wine, it can’t call itself a Chianti.
The truest test of our craftsmen’s artful touch
Sala is proud of all the wines offered by I Selvitici, from its Cardisco (“exclusively contains delicate Sangiovese grapes, Cardisco is the truest test of our craftsmen’s artful touch”) to its Titolato I Selvatici Riserva (“a superior Chianti, even in a region where exceptional Chianti is as abundant as fresh air”).
However, Sala said the superstar of I Selvatici is its Vinsanto (meaning “wine of the saint”) which they’ve been producing since 1958 from the very vines his grandfather planted. It’s described as “a lusciously decadent dessert wine…features a rich, amber color with a concentrated aroma of dried figs, walnuts and candied fruit.
This delightful confection is created from a mixture of Malvasia, Trebbiano, San Colombano and Sangiovese grapes that we dry under the warm, Tuscan sunshine for five months. The dried grapes, which are more like plump raisins, are then pressed and immediately placed in wooden ‘caratelli’ barrels. Every barrel is hewn from five different woods, each of which contributes a different shading of flavor, ranging from apricot to caramel. The sealed caratelli remain undisturbed under the eaves of our attic for six to eight years, where the natural fluctuations of the seasons expertly influence the fermentation. When completed, this time-honored art yields a dessert wine of unparalleled sophistication that compresses the flavor of 30 pounds of grapes into every rare and precious bottle.”
How to order your I Selvatici wines
We Americans can get our hands on those precious bottles in a number of ways. We can visit the winery, order wines online at www.ISelvatici.it, or catch up with Sala on one of his frequent visits to the U.S. “We call it our wine tour,” he said. “When I’m here with my chef, I arrange Tuscan wine dinners in private homes. We travel (between) six and seven states a season, and we do that for about three months.” Sala’s fans subscribe to a newsletter that keeps them posted on his travel itinerary. When you follow him on Twitter (his handle is @tuscanwinery), you’ll see frequent photos from his dinners: a joyful-looking Sala standing among well-fed American friends, all sporting the rosy glow of an evening of good company and great wine. Or maybe that’s the shimmer of angel dust shaken from old Giuseppe’s wings as he watches over things.
— Giuseppe Sala (@tuscanwinery) April 5, 2016
— Giuseppe Sala (@tuscanwinery) April 5, 2016
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