(Montalcino, May 2007) Castello Banfi, Italy’s premier vineyard estate, has temporarily turned its winery into a construction site for the third time in as many decades as it continues to set the winemaking pace in the region.
The update dedicates a section of the winery to micro-vinification of estate wines in a gravity feed layout, allowing for hand sorting of harvested grapes by cluster as well as individual berry. The fermentation area will utilize 24 new hybrid wood and steel fermentation tanks developed at and registered by Banfi. While top estate wines remain unfiltered, the winery has also upgraded the filtration system used for its value line. The blend of noble tradition with state of the art technology epitomizes the continual pursuit of excellence by Castello Banfi and its family ownership.
“When we broke ground in 1978, our mantra was to not inherit the mistakes of others, but to start from the ground up to bring winemaking in Italy to a world class level,” said family proprietor Cristina Mariani May. “Our initial moves made for a bit of a revolution, but today our focus in more on evolution. It’s an ongoing renaissance of Tuscan wines, in which our neighbors have joined us in raising the bar, sharing advances and developments so we can all grow together.”
Thanks in part to Banfi’s pioneering efforts and locomotive role for the region, Montalcino evolved from one of Tuscany’s poorest hilltop towns to its most prosperous. The number of wine growers in Montalcino has increased from around 50 when Banfi broke ground in the late 1970s to over 200 today, and the Brunello consortium is the first in Italy that can boast 100% membership.
While the benefits of stainless steel have become universally appreciated and employed, there has been growing interest in the potential for wood fermenters to achieve optimal flavor, despite their own set of challenges. Taking advantage of their importance as a customer to both, Castello Banfi’s winemaking team brought together barrel coopers and steel tank makers, theoretically each other’s competitor, to combine the best or both worlds – the temperature control and ease of cleaning offered by stainless steel, and the character contributed by fermentation in oak.
The hybrid tanks look very much like the traditional upright oak fermenters, with broad oak staves making the central body, but the head and base are stainless steel, allowing for efficient temperature control, reliable access for clean out, and a non-porous surface for better hygiene. While the steel is permanent, the staves can be reconditioned or replaced every few years before the used wood would no longer contribute substantial complexity and flavor. The key to the combination was to build a flange that would unite the flexible wood material with the inert and rigid stainless steel. A total of 24 composite fermenters will be in place for the autumn 2007 harvest, placed on the mezzanine of a two-tier platform that allows gravity feed into storage tanks below.
Micro-vinified wines include the estate’s three Brunello di Montalcinos (Castello Banfi, Poggio all’Oro Riserva and the cru Poggio alle Mura); the single vineyard Tavernelle Cabernet Sauvignon, Mandrielle Merlot and Colvecchio Syrah; and Castello Banfi’s Montalcino Super Tuscan cuvées: SummuS, ExcelsuS and Cum Laude. All are unfiltered since the 1998 vintage.
A second tier of wines, including the red “baby Super Tuscan” cuvees Centine, Col di Sasso, and CollePino, will now be made with a tangential filtration system and electrodialysis, two techniques that are widely acknowledged to be better for making wines more purely and organically, yet not widely used because of the significant investment required.
In tangential filtration, the must is pushed perpendicular to the filter system so the juice is cross filtered rather than being pressed against the filter; the result is less pressure and clogging, allowing more of the wine’s noble compounds to remain intact rather than being trapped.
Electro-dialysis replaces the tartrate stabilization system that has been an industry standard since the 1960s, which chilled wines to remove naturally forming tartrates, a by-product of fermentation. In the new system, as the wine is pumped between two membranes, a light electrical shock prevents potassium, calcium and tartaric ions from bonding to form tartrate crystals, commonly called “wine diamonds.”
Both electro-dialysis and tangential filtration are superior because they leave the finished wine more intact, acting upon its chemistry rather than removing elements responsible for flavor and character. The finished wine is still stabilized, yet more intact, colorful, and richer in flavor.
Castello Banfi is internationally acclaimed for its clonal research to improve upon the region’s historical Brunello di Montalcino, and making premier quality wines that are low in sulfites and histamines. It was the first wine estate in the world to be internationally recognized for exceptional environmental, ethical and social responsibility (ISO 14001 and SA8000) as well as customer satisfaction (ISO 9001:2000). A regional beacon for hospitality, in addition to its two restaurants -- the informal “Castello Banfi – La Taverna,” and the Michelin-starred fine dining “Castello Banfi – Il Ristorante” -- Castello Banfi boasts a glass museum, enoteca, balsamic cellars and daily winery tours for visitors to the region. The newest jewel in this hospitality crown, Castello Banfi – Il Borgo luxury rooms and suites, opened March 15. Signature wines of Castello Banfi include the single-vineyard reserve Poggio all’Oro and unfiltered cru Poggio alle Mura Brunellos, proprietary cuvées ExcelsuS, SummuS and Cum Laude, and single-vineyard varietal wines including Tavernelle Cabernet Sauvignon, Colvecchio Syrah and San Angelo Pinot Grigio.