Colline Lucchesi DOC, or the ‘Lucca Hills’ DOC covers wines of all three colours from around the city of Lucca in the coastal north-west of Tuscany in Italy. The original DOC for Colline Lucchesi Rosso was among the first Tuscan DOCs, and dates from 28 May 1968. It covered red wine only. The region sits between the Apennine Mountains and the Tyrrhenian Sea, ‘a cousin of Chianti from nearer the [ Tyrrhenian] coast,’ (Hugh Johnson: Wine Companion: 1991, p.333).
The Apennine Mountains have a strong influence on the growing conditions, fostering cool nights and warm days which allow for a long growing season. Historically the area was known for the making of wooden shoes and clogs. The main industry here today is paper manufacturing.
Historic background: The wines of the Colline Lucchesi have a tradition that, based on precise historical documents, can be linked to the Roman era and the Middle Ages. According to some historians it seems that even before the Romans the hills of the Lucchesia were cultivated by the Etruscans who lived in Lucca and then by the Ligurians who were proficient in viticulture and olive growing. The wealth of the area is however highlighted by documents dating back to the year 1000, according to which “the slopes of the hills north of Lucca were in the ninth century covered with vineyards”. In the age of the Municipalities the wine industry was already flourishing: in fact between the thirteenth and the fourteenth century the cultivation of the vine intensified in the territory of the Lucca hills and consumption levels of it were high. In 1334 over 168,000 barrels of wine were brought to Lucca from the neighboring districts which had to be “clear, vermilion, pure and frank”, like the one that in 1308 bought Cimelio the vinattiere. In 1392, a merchant, Antonio di Pace degli Orsi, wrote to the Datini company in Pisa that “it is tasty: the more it goes, the more it makes the appetite to drink”. In 1400 Sante Lanciero, Pope Paul III’s sommelier, wrote that these were wines of excellent quality prepared with care, above all to be offered to guests, as a result of their own choice of life and as a product of their own land and their passion.
In those same centuries the activity in which the Lucchese excelled was the production of silk: in the city of Lucca alone, over 2,000 looms were certified in production, without counting all those in the countryside. And it is precisely silk that is the vehicle for the creation of the international myth of the “merchant” of Lucca: all the major aristocratic families of the city were involved in the production and trade of silk, especially towards the countries of Northern Europe. The firstborn were sent to open “silk companies” in cities such as Lyon, Bruges, London, Amsterdam and Hamburg.
Progressively, along with silk fabrics, the Lucchese merchants began to transport their wine and oil to the north of which they were so proud: historically this was the first time that the Lucca wine appeared on international markets.
But in the middle of the 1500s, for various reasons – not least the discovery of America, this mercantile system went into crisis. The “silk companies” abroad were closed, and the aristocratic families of Lucca decided to invest the enormous revenues made with silk in agriculture. In those decades the Lucca system of “farm-villas” was born: the Buonvisi, the Arnolfini, the Guinigi, the Cenami, the Mansi (just to name a few of the most important families of Lucca) will compete to build on the hills that Lucca is surrounded by the most beautiful country villas, applying to agriculture – especially oil and wine – the most advanced agronomic techniques for the time.
At the beginning of the 1600s, for reasons still controversial today, the Republic of Lucca issued a law that prohibited the export of wine outside the borders of the state. A decree that seems to deny all the previous history of the Lucca market, oriented since the early Middle Ages to international trade.
The historian Renzo Sabbatini writes that “in order to better market his wine production, in 1615 the Guinigi family opened two shops for the sale of wine: one in Pizzorna – where dozens of carbonari worked daily, and one in Viareggio”.
The strong orientation of the inhabitants of the Lucchesia to consume local wine was born at that time.
In the early years of the 1800s, Lucca returned to breathe an international air: the arrival of French troops, and the settlement in the city of Elisa Bonaparte and her court of dignitaries, would also influence – in part – the destiny of Lucca’s viticulture. The “new land register” of the Lucca area is drawn up. Generals and diplomats of the Napoleonic army (Grabaw, Meuron) bought some of the “farm villas”, and the so-called “French” vines will appear for the first time on the hills of Lucchesìa.
The Sangiovese vine, historically called “Sangioveto” locally, had already been blended here with the other Tuscan varieties, such as Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo and Colorino, Merlot, Syrah, as well as a small part of Moscati and Aleatici.
In 1985 the Colline Lucchesi Bianco DOC was recognized: made from traditional Trebbiano Toscano, plus Vermentino, Greco and the Grechetto, the Malvasia del Chianti (a synonym of Lucca of Malvasia Bianca Lunga) with the addition of Chardonnay and Sauvignon as well as a small part of local white grapes.
In 1997 the production regulations were updated. This allowed 100% varietal wines from Sangiovese, Merlot, Vermentino and Sauvignon Blanc. A Colline Lucchesi Vin Santo DOC was also created.
Production rules: The DOC dates from 1968 and has been modifed several times since, the last of which was in 2011. The permitted wine styles are listed below. Nicolas Belfrage MW (2001, p.152) suggested subsuming the Colline Lucchesi DOC into that of neighbouring Montecarlo because the latter’s name is more recognisable “even if, in this instance, erroneously” by confusing Montecarlo with the Monte Carlo on France’s Côte d’Azur. One reason the merger is unlikely ever to take place is that Montecarlo’s terroir isdifferent, and the region feels more obviously Tuscan, looking to Florence as its main influence. Even the bread in Montecarlo follows the Tuscan tradition of being unsalted. The bread in Lucca in contrast is salted.
Vineyard area: 2019 Around 500 hectares.
Production area The production area of Colline Lucchesi DOC is compressed between the foothills of the Apennines and the Tyrrhenian Sea.
The western side runs from Monte San Quirico, climbing to Pieve Santo Stefano and Castagnoli before turning east, through Mutigliano, Arsina and San Quirico di Moriano. The eastern area, on the other side of the Cerchio, comprises San Pancrazio, Matraia, Valgiano, Segromigno in Monte,, Camigliano, Tofori, Gragnana and Mura.
Some areas, especially around the Valfreddana are particularly suited to whites, while in the eastern side the reds prevail. The Serchio divides the two sides climatically characterizing the whole plain of Lucca, wet and subject to frost while the steep slopes of the hills protect the vineyards.
The large wooded area of the high hill and the Apennines determine the landscape, the intense green that does not recede even in the hottest summers and the richness of pure spring waters along all the hills. In these conditions the Lucca area is able to offer the vines a very long vegetative period, the mild winters that bloom in early springs, the present but moderate temperature excursion, the availability of water that allows a good photosynthetic activity even in midsummer, guarantee the full maturity of the grapes even with good yields.
Soil, geology: The soils are geologically derived from the two most typically Tuscan conformations, the calcareous marl of alberese and the sandstone (‘arenaria’). The clay soils of calcareous marls produce wines of power and longevity, while the mineral-rich arenaria confers the wines potential longevity. In some cases these soils are so blended to create “terroirs” of great prestige. The fairly recent geological origin, mostly Paleocenic and Miocenic, means that they are lands of good fertility capable of expressing considerable vigor and strength in the vines, a guarantee of adaptation to extreme vintages caused by the opposition of the Appenines and the Mediterranean. Overall, the Lucca area is characterized by the mildness and sweetness of the climate.
Climate: The climate has a strong variability, depending on whether the Apennine or Mediterranean influence prevails. For this reason, historically, there is a strong presence of complementary vines, which guarantee a constant quality. The Apennines influence the climate with abundant rainfall, well spread throughout the year, and with night time temperature range; while the Tyrrhenian gives a light of great intensity and good ventilation. The two sides into which the denomination is divided, by the Serchio river, are equally exposed to midday and enjoy full insolation.
Matteo Giustiniani of Fattoria Sardi Giustiniani told me at Fabbrica di San Martino, Monday 14th Oct 2013 that Colline Lucchesi has two types of vintages: cool ones (2010, 2013) influenced by the Garfagnana, and hot ones (2009) influenced by the Mediterranean. Saverio Petrilli of Tenuta di Valgiano told me that ‘the Apennine mountains, which are the backbone of Italy, are right behind us. Night air coming down from the mountain is always cool. This moves the warm air we get from sea breezes during the day. Moving air around the vine leaves allows each leaf to be more effective in in terms of its photosynthesis. We have between 1,000 to 1,500mm [40–60 inches] of rain annually. Lucca is one of the toughest places in Tuscany for wine-growing. It is like surfing with big waves of green vegetation. The high rainfall level means we can get generous vine yields. The oak trees here are huge compared to those in the drier Chianti Classico DOCG region for example. You have to react quickly to potential problems in the vines such as peronospera (downy mildew), oidium (powdery mildew) and grey rot (Botrytis cinerea). The reason why growers adopt biodynamics here is because it is much easier to prevent attacks from fungal disease organisms. In conventional you’ve got to spray day after day and you never end. It’s a fight against this incredible nature we have here. You’re never going to win. In Biodynamic you ally yourself with nature as She is working for us. It’s much easier. The vines develop a stronger natural resistance to diseases.’
Organics & Biodynamics: 2019 Despite the sometimes challenging conditions (see below) around around 70% of Colline Lucchesi estates are certified either organic or Biodynamic.
Colline Lucchesi Bianco DOC: Colline Lucchesi Bianco is a dry white made from Trebbiano Toscano (40-80%), plus Chardonnay, Greco, Grechetto, Malvasia del Chianti, Sauvignon Blanc or Vermentino on their own or in any combination (10-60%), and/or up to 25% other permitted (in Tuscany) white varieties. Varietal wines (Colline Lucchesi Sauvignon Blanc, Colline Lucchesi Vermentino) must contain at least 85% of the stated variety while other white grapes allowed in Tuscany may comprise the other 15%.
Colline Lucchesi DOC Rosso & Rosso Riserva AOC: Colline Lucchesi Rosso is a blend made from 45-80% Sangiovese plus 10-50% Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo, Merlot and Syrah on their own or in any combination. Other red grapes allowed in Tuscany may comprise no more than 30% with the exception of Aleatico and Moscato which are limited to a maximum 5% combined. Varietal wines (Colline Lucchesi Merlot, Colline Lucchesi Sangiovese) must contain at least 85% of the stated variety while other red grapes allowed in Tuscany (with the exception of Aleatico and Moscato) may comprise the other 15%. Riserva Colline Lucchesi Rosso Riserva cannot be released for at least two years starting on 1 January after the vintage.
Saverio Petrilli told me (28 May 2019) that ‘Colline Lucchesi red wines show more colour compared to Chianti Classico in central Tuscany for example because there is more luminosity due to sunlight being reflected by the sea. More light, means more photosynthesis and also stronger, more complex aromatics allied to softer texture because you get better ripeness of the tannins.
David Gleave MW (1989, p.27) says ‘some producers use Moscato Hamburgho (Black Muscat) for the Governo all’uso Toscano winemaking method. This imparts perfume and a soft, rounded character which can be appealing if caught in the first flush of youth.’
Colline Lucchesi Vin Santo DOC: Colline Lucchesi Vin Santo can be made from any permitted white grape.
Colline Lucchesi Vin Santo DOC Occhio di Pernice: This can be made from any permitted red grape.
Disciplinare di produzione della denominazione di origine controllata dei vini Colline Lucchesi.