A beautiful landscape, wines with a long history, Travertino marble, an impressive cellar: visit to Cantine Dei

It is an unforgettable experience to visit this winery: Montepulciano is certainly one of the most beautiful areas of Tuscany and of the whole of Italy and wine has been made here since the Etruscan times. The hills of Montepulciano offer the ideal conditions for the Sangiovese grape that here can express its full potential. The Dei family has made the best of all this and this winery has become a reference for Vino Nobile di Montepulciano throughout the world.
Caterina Dei, a very capable “donna del vino”, has been at the helm since 1991.


The history
Caterina’s grandfather bought the property in 1973, after having sold a castle in Pienza (a beautiful town in the province of Siena). He had previously planted the Bossona vineyard in the 1960s as he was convinced of the potential of this area for viticulture. Apart from the Bossona vineyard there were a few hectares of vineyard in the Martiena zone. At first the grapes were sold, then the farm manager suggested to start making wine for the family’s use. In 1985 a cellar was rented in the centre of Montepulciano and a first experiment was carried out producing Vino Nobile di Montepulciano in used oak casks. The result was an exceptional wine due to the exceptional vintage. Claudio Basla, owner of the Altesino estate in  Montalcino, introduced Lorenzo Scian, who used to work with Marco de Grazia, to the Dei family. In 1988 Cantine Dei was included in the portfolio of Marc de Grazia Selections and the first bottles of 1985 Vino Nobile were released on the market.
Caterina, who graduated in Literature with focus on music and theatre, was admitted to the “Accademia dei Filodrammatici” of Milano (one of the best acting schools in Italy) and also started studying singing. Caterina took part in the 1991 harvest and since then she has stayed on managing the estate with a passion that has constantly grown over the years. “Music and wine speak the same international language of conviviality”.  Caterina tells us. Music was not pursued during the first years, but then Caterina met a group of musicians with whom a first CD was made. The idea is to bring music to wine. In fact Caterina organizes “musical tastings”, dinner concerts, wine tastings in restaurants with music. The aim is also to make the customers and the private clients, who visit the estate, experience a “full immersion” during which they can enjoy the vineyards, the cellar, the delicious cuisine and wine of the area, the beautiful landscape, but they can also enjoy music.


Acqua di Toscana San Felice
The Dei Family also owns a mineral water spring. The water is bottled in elegant bordelaise bottles and sold throughout Italy, Europe, Australia, Canada and the Russian Federation.


The Staff
Caterina is supported by a young and very motivated staff: Laura Sbardellati and Elisa Francini take care of the tastings and of the clients who come and visit the estate, Federico Biondi is responsible for marketing issues, and Andrea Della Giovanpaola is in charge of the administration.
Jacopo Felici, a trained oenologist and agronomist, works full time at the estate. His enthusiasm is infectious and his detailed and very clear technical reports are extremely interesting. He is a “hands on” man and his meticulous work is evident in the spotless cellars and in the vineyards tended as gardens.
The talented and well-known oenologist Paolo Caciorgna, who follows many wineries of the Marc de Grazia Selections portfolio, has been consulting at Cantine Dei since January 2014, as Nicolò D'Afflitto, the consulting oenologist since 1992, now works exclusively for a large wine enterprise. “We always had great respect for Paolo”. Caterina tells us.
“Here the clay component in the soils is important and it has to be dealt with properly”. Paolo says. “This gives the wines their character. We follow each vineyard separately and work according to the different micro-zones…Having Jacopo Felici on-premise makes it possible to follow the work in the vineyards and in the cellar in a very detailed way….”
15 full and part time employees work in the vineyards and in the cellar.


The vineyards
The total extension of the estate is 120 hectares of which 52 hectares are planted with vineyards.
The vineyards are divided into four zones: Martiena, La Piaggia (the smallest zone), Bossona and La Ciarliana.
The vineyard density is 4,700-5,000 vines/hectare.
The agricultural practices are strictly environment friendly: no chemical products nor weed killers are used, only copper and sulphur base products and organic fertilizers.


The Martiena zone
The vineyard extension is 12 hectares. The altitude is 300 meters above sea level. The exposures are various. The age of the vines varies from 4 to 40 years. The grape variety planted is Sangiovese. The soil is alluvial with tuff and loam, rich in nutrients and with a good water supply. All this naturally influences the yield and the quality of the grapes. The vineyard management is focussed on containing the grape yield. Grass cover is left on the aisles between the rows of vines. Barley is sown on every second aisle. The barley plants absorb water and are in competition with the vines. Furthermore, the root system is deep thus improving the quality of the soil. The vine training system is Guyot as long pruning makes the clusters dispersed (i.e. the berries are not tightly knit) and more resistant to disease. The vines are deleafed early in order to control the development of the vines. The vines from this zone are elegant, rich in primary aromas (the aromas that come from the fruit), with tannins that are quite supple and sweet, the dry extract is medium and the alcohol strength is good.
The grape yield is 6-7 tons/hectare


La Piaggia zone
The vineyards extension is 3 hectares with a south exposure. The soil is sandstone, with gravel and clay. This vineyard is planted with Sangiovese and the clusters are dispersed. The wines are powerful and structured.


The Bossona zone
The vineyard extension is 13.3 hectares. The exposure is south-east/south. The soil is made up of calcareous sandstone, it is skeletal with gravel rich in fossils. The altitude is 350-450 meters above sea level. The Sangiovese variety here finds its maximum expression. The vegetation of the vines is controlled by the microclimate and by the soil of this zone. The vegetation and the fruit of the vines are well balanced and this makes the vineyard management easier. The clusters have small berries and they are dispersed. The skin/pulp ratio is in favour of the skin. The vine training system is cordon spur. Grass cover is left on the aisles and every second aisle is sown with barley and with squarrose clover (Trifolium Squarrosum). During the summer, depending on the climate, some aisles can be tilled. The vines were planted in 1997. The grape yield is very low: 4-4.5 tons/hectare. The wines have an intense colour and they are elegant.


La Ciarliana zone
The vineyard extension is 24 hectares divided into two subzones: 12 hectares with clayey soil and 12 hectares with medium texture soil.
International varieties have been planted in the subzone with the medium texture soil:  Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot (for the production of Sancta Catharina). Practices are carried out in order to control the vegetation of the vines. Grass is left on the aisles and every second aisle is sown with barley. The wines are very elegant.
Sangiovese has been planted in the subzone with the clayey soil. The vines have a limited development and the clusters are small and dispersed. Grass is left on the aisles and every second aisle is sown with a mixture of 70% barley and 30% squarrose clover. The aisles with spontaneous grass are often tilled. From this part of La Ciarliana the wines that are the base of Vino Nobile are produced. The clusters are always beautiful.
The grape yield in La Ciarliana are 5-6 tons/hectare. The vineyard density is 5,000 vines/hectare. The exposure is mostly south/south-east. The vine training system is cordon spur.


The harvest
The harvest is carried out by hand and the grapes are placed in carts. The grapes picked in the crus and for the production of the Vino Nobile are placed in bins. The clusters are selected in the vineyard, a second selection is carried out on an automatic sorting table and a third selection is carried out by hand.


The vinification
The type of vinification varies according to the vintage.
In general the alcoholic fermentation with maceration with the skins lasts for 10-12 days for the Rosso di Montepulciano, for 18-22 days for the Vino Nobile and 30-32 days for the Riserva Bossona and for Sancta Catharina. The vinification takes place in steel with temperature control between 26 and 30 degrees Celsius and the temperature varies depending on the vinification phase. Only indigenous yeast is responsible for the fermentation. Pumping over of the must and delestage are carried out during the first phase. The frequency depends on the vintage. At the end of the vinification the cap is only wet with the must (so not to extract astringent tannins). The wine (strictly free run) is racked by hand. The malolactic fermentation takes place in steel, but, starting from the next vintage, it will probably take place in wood. The steel vats have a capacity of 50-100 hectolitres with automatic devices for the pumping over of the must and temperature control.


Ageing of the wine in wood
The philosophy of the estate is not to use small wood. Large oak casks of a capacity of 30-50 hectolitres are used for the Vino Nobile and for the Rosso di Montepulciano. Riserva Bossona rests in tonneaux of a capacity of 5-7.5-10 hectolitres. Sancta Catharina is the only wine that matures in French Allier oak barriques.


Finishing in the bottle
The Rosso is finished for a few months, the Vino Nobile for 6 months, Riserva Bossona for 12 months and Sancta Catharina for 12 months.


The new cellar
The impressive new cellar is entirely built in Travertino marble from the Dei’s quarries following a project of Caterina’s father who was supported by a good friend of his, the Architect Alessandro Bagnoli. It was built excavating the slope of a hill under the old cellar and it resembles one of the fossil shells that are found in the soil of the azienda. It blends perfectly with the landscape and it is deservedly part of “Toscana Wine Architecture” together with 50 other cellars of very well known Tuscan estates. Entering this extraordinary cellar the impression is of elegance and of light. Verses of poetry on wine (in ancient Greek, Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew and other languages) are etched in the marble in the corridor. The temperature in the cellar is kept even by a geothermal system: a network of underground pipes for temperature exchange with the soil extend for one hectare. The vinification has been left in the old cellar (above ground), while ageing, finishing in the bottle, storage, bottling and labelling take place in the new cellar. The wine is racked into the wood casks and barrels only by gravity (no pumps are used). The exterior of the cellar is shaped as an amphitheatre and Caterina would like to stage concerts and musical events there.


The Travertino Marble quarries
The Dei family has owned Travertino marble quarries for three generations. Gruppo Dei consists of three companies with quarries in Tuscany (Rapolano Terme and  Saturnia) and in Lazio (Civita Castellana and Tivoli). Manufacturing and finishing are carried out in Serre di Rapolano. The group exports their products to the USA (the largest market), to the Middle East and to the Far East. “ I was brought up with bread and marble dust” Engineer Glauco Dei, Caterina’s father, says. “My father bought the first quarry in 1934….”


Wines
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG
Crus: Bossona, Martiena
Varietals: 90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo Nero
Vineyard extension: 44 hectares
Average production: 110,000 bottles


Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG Riserva Bossona
Crus: Bossona
Varietals: 100% Sangiovese
Vineyard extension: selection over 13 hectares
Average production: 13,000 bottles


Rosso di Montepulciano DOC
Crus: Bossona, Martiena
Varietals: 90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo Nero, 5% Merlot
Average production: 100,000 bottles


Toscana Rosso IGT Sancta Catharina
Varietals: 30% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot
Vineyard extension: 2.5 hectares
Average production: 5,000 bottles


Toscana Bianco IGT Martiena
Varietals: 70% Malvasia Toscana, 20% Grechetto, 20% Trebbiano
Average production: 10,000 bottles


Vin Santo di Montepulciano DOC
Varietals: Malvasia Toscana, Grechetto, Trebbiano
Average production: 400 half bottles