â€œWhen you have a winery in your family, you canâ€™t say when you started working there,â€ says NicolÃ² Mascheroni Stianti of Castello Di Volpaia. â€œYou just grow up with it.â€ NicolÃ² is also CEO of a publishing company in Milan, but since 2006 heâ€™s been spending more time with the family business. â€œMy parents said to learn to sell wine. You can make the best wine ever, but it wonâ€™t matter if no one buys it.â€
Castello Di Volpaia is no ordinary winery, unless you consider owning your own 11th-century village typical. Raffaello Stianti, NicolÃ²â€™s grandfather, began purchasing the Volpaia lands in Tuscany in 1964 and itâ€™s been farmed organically since then. â€œMy grandfather was the one who started it. He was a hunter and he thought being organic would attract more animals to the property.â€
NicolÃ²â€™s parents, Carlo and Giovannella, received the estate as a wedding gift, and in the mid â€™70s dedicated themselves to modernizing the winery. They now produce around 20,000 cases a year, all of which are certified organic in the European Union. Giovannella runs a cooking school on the property, also dedicated to doing things organically. They raise their own chickens and grow their own vegetables to create a self-sustaining community.
Although 40% of their wine is sold in the United States, you wonâ€™t see â€œorganicâ€ on those labels. NicolÃ² blames the lack of reciprocal certification between the European Union and the United States, something he finds very frustrating. â€œThese are the two biggest markets for wine and they should be able to come to an agreement. If youâ€™re organic, youâ€™re organic.â€
Itâ€™s not just a matter of meeting standards, but also comes down to the paperwork required. â€œItâ€™s too much,â€ NicolÃ² states. â€œYou have to keep track of what you buy and what you use. And since the two governments require two different accounting methods youâ€™d have to keep two separate books for doing the same thing.â€
Ironically, Volpaia also produces an organic olive oil which theyâ€™re allowed to import into the U.S. with â€œorganicâ€ on the label. â€œWhy is the olive oil all right, but not the wine?â€ questions NicolÃ². â€œIf we were cheating somehow on the wine, wouldnâ€™t we be doing the same with olive oil?â€
While he believes in certification for organics, NicolÃ² doesnâ€™t feel the same way about biodynamics. â€œDemeter just arrived in Italy, but I disagree with their certification. Biodynamics is a philosophy. Itâ€™s the way you choose to apply it. Organics is an objective. It can be measured. You can use this, you canâ€™t use that.â€
Organics is getting more popular in Italy. Other winemakers have been coming to Volpaia for advice and NicolÃ² is starting a blog detailing their methods and organic approaches to problem solving. â€œOur vines didnâ€™t suffer this year, whereas our neighbors had a lot of problems. It was a hot and dry harvest.â€
Volpaia isnâ€™t only concerned with the environment. Theyâ€™ve recently teamed up with Save The Children and have created a special wine, Il Puro, whose proceeds will go to building four schools and four wells in Ethiopia. The wine is carbon neutral; all CO2 emissions are offset by new plants. You can make a donation to purchase one of the 1,500 bottles on their website.
NicolÃ² is currently wrapping up his sales trip to New York and is then headed to Boston, where he spent a year in college. â€œI worked as a waiter while I was in school there. Itâ€™s still the most profitable job I ever had.â€