“When you have a winery in your family, you can’t say when you started working there,” says Nicolò Mascheroni Stianti of Castello Di Volpaia. “You just grow up with it.” Nicolò is also CEO of a publishing company in Milan, but since 2006 he’s been spending more time with the family business. “My parents said to learn to sell wine. You can make the best wine ever, but it won’t matter if no one buys it.”
Castello Di Volpaia is no ordinary winery, unless you consider owning your own 11th-century village typical. Raffaello Stianti, Nicolò’s grandfather, began purchasing the Volpaia lands in Tuscany in 1964 and it’s been farmed organically since then. “My grandfather was the one who started it. He was a hunter and he thought being organic would attract more animals to the property.”
Nicolò’s parents, Carlo and Giovannella, received the estate as a wedding gift, and in the mid ’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 won’t see “organic” on those labels. Nicolò blames the lack of reciprocal certification between the European Union and the United States, something he finds very frustrating. “These are the two biggest markets for wine and they should be able to come to an agreement. If you’re organic, you’re organic.”
It’s not just a matter of meeting standards, but also comes down to the paperwork required. “It’s too much,” Nicolò states. “You have to keep track of what you buy and what you use. And since the two governments require two different accounting methods you’d have to keep two separate books for doing the same thing.”
Ironically, Volpaia also produces an organic olive oil which they’re allowed to import into the U.S. with “organic” on the label. “Why is the olive oil all right, but not the wine?” questions Nicolò. “If we were cheating somehow on the wine, wouldn’t we be doing the same with olive oil?”
While he believes in certification for organics, Nicolò doesn’t feel the same way about biodynamics. “Demeter just arrived in Italy, but I disagree with their certification. Biodynamics is a philosophy. It’s the way you choose to apply it. Organics is an objective. It can be measured. You can use this, you can’t use that.”
Organics is getting more popular in Italy. Other winemakers have been coming to Volpaia for advice and Nicolò is starting a blog detailing their methods and organic approaches to problem solving. “Our vines didn’t suffer this year, whereas our neighbors had a lot of problems. It was a hot and dry harvest.”
Volpaia isn’t only concerned with the environment. They’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.
Nicolò is currently wrapping up his sales trip to New York and is then headed to Boston, where he spent a year in college. “I worked as a waiter while I was in school there. It’s still the most profitable job I ever had.”