Bolgheri DOC covers still wines of all three colours grown in the Upper or northern Maremma area on the Tyrrhenian coast in Tuscany, Italy. The region lies in Livorno province, south of Livorno (‘Leghorn’ in English) and the Montescudaio DOC. When the DOC was created in 1983 it initially recognised white and pink wines only, to the extent that ‘rosato was the standard style before the advent of of the claret [Bordeaux red wine] style,’ (Nicolas Belfrage, 2001, p397). This was despite the fact that Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta had planted Cabernet Sauvignon here in the 1940s at Tenuta San Guido, his private estate, to make wine for home consumption. The wine initially had to be sold as a ‘vino da tavola’ despite becoming internationally known as Sassicaia. Bolgheri’s DOC rules were finally amended in 1994 (see below for the detail), allowing red wines. In 1994 red wines were given the Bolgheri Rosso DOC, whilst Sassicaia became the first Italian estate with its own DOC by being giving its own Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC.
Size: The size of the area is limited, the distance from the furthest point north to south is 13 km while its east-west extension is about 7 km. These vineyards sit at an altitude that varies from 10 to 380 metres above sea level.
Production zone: The Bolgheri DOC is named after the locality (‘frazione‘) of Bolgheri which is within the commune of Castagneto Carducci in the province of Livorno. Grapes for Bolgheri DOC wines must be produced within the administrative territory of the municipality of of Castagneto Carducci (land west of the Strada Statale Aurelia is excluded). The area is found within the northern section of the Maremma (the Alta Maremma) which is marketed as the Costa degli Etruschi or Etruscan Coast. On a clear day one can see Bastia on the Cap Corse opposite, whilst nearby the now ruined tower of Donoratico dates from the C9th when it was built by the counts of Donoratico, the Gheradesca family, to defend the coast from incursions by the Saracens, and the enemies of the republic of Pisa. It was partially destroyed by Alfonso of Aragon when he invaded the Maremma in the middle of the C15th; and Ugolino Gherardesca was starved to death here with his sons and nephews, as described by Dante in canto 33 of the ‘Inferno’.
Before wine: It is hard to imagine Bolgheri ‘had been ‘practically abandoned by farmers at the turn of the [20th] century because it was believed it had ‘mal aria’ or bad air,’ (Susan Low: Oct 1993). It was always considered better for cattle-breeding and arable farming than for wine.
However despite the success of Tenuta San Guido’s Sassicaia, Rosemary George MW says she remembers visiting the area in the late 1980s when there were just two producers, Sassicaia and Pier Mario and Paola Cavallari of ColleMassari’s Grattamacco (first vintage 1982), while a third, [Ludovico Antinori’s] Ornellaia, was little more than a building site,’ (Rosemary George, 2001, p.255). Eventually wines like the aforementioned Grattamacco and Ornellaia (first vintage 1985), plus Paleo (from Le Macchiole), Guado al Tasso and later agronomist Michele Satta’s Piastraia found favour in the USA in particular.
Vintages: 2014 Wet. 2017 Dry.
Vineyard area: 1994 100ha. | 2000 Around 250 ha (618 acres). | 2004 900ha of vines. | 2010 1,000 ha (2,470 acres) with 50 wine estates. | 2019 There were 55 members of the consorzio, and their vineyards accounted for 95% of the DOC total of 1,370ha of vines. Of these, 1,300 ha were registered to Consortium members and 1,185 can be claimed as Bolgheri DOC, while the rest are IGT Toscana. The DOC vineyards were planted thus: Cabernet Sauvignon 36.67%, Merlot 23.42%, Cabernet Franc 11.98%, Petit Verdot 6.46%, Syrah 6, 65%, Sangiovese 1.48%. For white grapes instead: Vermentino 8.84%, Viognier 1.43% and Sauvignon Blanc 0.59%.
Production zone: ‘Production of Bolgheri DOC wines is permitted within the appellation’s territory that coincides with the political boundaries of the Municipality of Castagneto Carducci in the province of Livorno, with the exception of the stretch of coastline west of Via Aurelia,’ (Source: Consorzio).
‘The area is a natural theatre with the Colline Metalifere (hills with a rich variety of metallic mineral resources) to the east that gradually slope downwards towards the coastline. Thick forests cover the surrounding hillsides maintaining and protecting the rich and complex ecosystem. The tiered hillsides slowly descend towards the central arena; an area of flat terrain where most of the vineyards grow. Bolgheri faces centre stage: the Tyrrhenian sea dominated by the Tuscan archipelago with Corsica visible on the horizon,’ (Source: Consorzio). Axel Heinz of Ornellaia old me (2021) ‘most Bolgheri vineyards face west to the coast and benefit from sea breezes. We get richness and ripeness without loosing freshness. The drier air helps too, especially at picking.’
The area located west of Via Aurelia, the ancient consular road built by the Romans in the III century B.C., borders the coastline with long stretches of beaches and pine forests and is therefore not favorable land for growing vines,’ (Source: Consorzio).
Terroir: Unlike in Bordeaux, vintages in Bolgheri tend to be steady, making it a good place to invest; and picking can be ahead of central Tuscany by one to two weeks. The proximity to the sea gives a more temperate climate than that found in the central Tuscan hills, resulting in grapes that ripen earlier, often before the autumn rains arrive (OCW: 2015, p.89 by Walter Speller). The climate is dry, with low rainfall and cool/mild winds from the sea close by. The island of Elba creates a wind channel so there are always breezes here, although the hills form an amphitheatre protecting the vineyards. There can be big day-night temperature swings it seems. Hillside vineyards are considered too drought-prone (although Pier Mario Cavallari at Grattamacco has planted a vineyard in the hills; and there are others). Lower-lying vineyards on sandy clay are better for water retention, and are rich in minerals, especially so where soil colour is red which shows the presence of manganese.
Microclimate: ‘The position of Bolgheri’s theatre creates its unique and characteristic microclimate defined by the surrounding hillsides. Sea breezes, especially those channeled through the Tuscan archipelago, keep the area cool year-round providing an average yearly temperature of 15.5 C, about one degree lower than other costal zones. This phenomenon imparts greater freshness and elegance to the wines. Consistently windy weather, at least 250 days per year, has another beneficial effect on the vines’ health; breezes aerate the vineyards reducing the levels of humidity and limiting the threat of fungal diseases,’ (Source: Consorzio).
Climate: ‘The amount of brightness and the resulting solar radiation index, which are determining factors for the vines’ photosynthetic activity, are ideal. The area’s latitude contributes on one side, while on the other, sunlight is intensified as it is reflected off the shimmering sea, falling at an angle that is optimal for the vineyards.Annual precipitation is in the range of approximately 600 ml per year, well distributed over the months, more frequent during the vegetative phases and sporadic during maturation. Soils are quite deep therefore the vines’ roots are able to find underground water resources even during years that present drought conditions,’ (Source: Consorzio).
Soil: ‘The complexity and distinctive qualities of wines produced in Bolgheri are influenced by the great variety of soils. Geologically, Bolgheri’s terroir has both marine and alluvial origins; marine influences are reflected in the soil from the retreat of the sea in past eras, and alluvial deposits have been transported to the valley over the course of time from the many streams that run through Bolgheri’s hillsides. An important zonation study was conducted by Professor Attilio Scienza in the mid-1990s, completed in 2006, to fully understand the complexity of Bolgheri’s soils. The study identified 27 different soil units that were difficult to determine by macro-area. Many of these soil units appear in very small areas and this is the main reason there isn’t one prevailing grape variety in Bolgheri. Many different varieties have been planted to best express the unique characteristics of each individual soil unit. Generally speaking, most of the soils in Bolgheri are sandy clay loam, alkaline, deep, with a good percentage of very fine gravel, in which it’s possible to find fossil fragments such as small shells that are visible even on the surface, proof of the geological history of the territory,’ (Source: Consorzio).
Biodiversity: Bolgheri is home to Italy’s largest bird sanctuary (2,000ha of woodland, scrub (macchia) marshland and coastal terrain). A sand-dune and oasis with pine forests managed by the WWF is home to flocks of migratory water birds between November and May. Bolgheri is also famous for its long avenue of cypress trees, which featured in ‘Davanti a San Guido’, a poem by Giosuè Carducci. At the end of this road lies the Oratorio di San Guido, a six-sided building from 1703 commemorating a Gheradesca ancestor, Guido, who was a hermit in the C12th. This is home to the Tenuta San Guido from which Sassicaia, the wine which put Bolgheri on the map in the 1970s and 1980s (see file), originates.
Castles: The Castle of Bolgheri has been documented since the 8th century under the Counts della Gherardesca, but was on a different site to where it is found today, having been reconstructed after Emperor Maximilian’s German soldiers razed it in 1496. From the beginning of the 18th century under Count Simone rebuilt it in a new location.
Poets: From 1838 and 1848 the poet Giosuè Carducci lived in Bolgheri. His famous poem called ‘Davanti San Guido’ made the road between Bolgheri and the Via Aurelia famous. The road, near the octagonal chapel of St Vitus which was built in 1703, is flanked by a line of cypress trees almost 3 miles (5km) long.
From 2011 the Bolgheri DOC rules were amended. Varietally-labelled wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot must be 100% varietal, and must be bottled in the production zone.
Bolgheri Bianco DOC: From Trebbiano Toscano, Vermentino, Sauvignon plus other white varieties. Varietal Sauvignon Blanc and Vermentino require a minimum 85% of the named varietal. Vermentino ripens more slowly here than Sauvignon (say Collemassari). Vin Santo can also be made. At Castello d’Albola on Tuesday 05th May 2015 Stefano Ferrante said the reason Petit Manseng was grown in Bolgheri was that like Falanghina (which see) it has low levels of malic acid, but high levels of tartaric, meaning Petit Manseng can do MLF because if it does its tartaric acid will stop it tasting flabby. See also his comments on Greco.
Bolgheri Bianco DOC: 0-70% Vermentino, 0-40% Sauvignon Blanc, 0-40% Trebbiano Toscano, 0-30% white grapes authorised in Tuscany.
Bolgheri Sauvignon DOC: 0-85% Sauvignon Blanc, 0-15% white grapes authorised in Tuscany.
Bolgheri Vermentino DOC: 0-85% Vermentino, 0-15% white grapes authorised in Tuscany.
Bolgheri Rosato DOC: 100% Sangiovese is forbidden. Cabernet Sauvignon must comprise 10% minimum. Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Sangiovese are allowed. Up to 30% each of Syrah and/or Petit Verdot are allowed.
Bolgheri Rosso & Superiore DOC: 0-100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 0-100% Merlot, 0-100% Cabernet Franc, 0-50% Sangiovese, 0-50% Syrah, 0-30% red grapes authorised in Tuscany. The wines are often barrel-aged Bordeaux blends without any Sangiovese. Bolgheri Rosso DOC must age 10 months and Bolgheri Rosso Superiore must age 24 months before release. No oak ageing is required for either.
No certification: Aia Vecchia. | Alejandro Bulgheroni Family Vineyards. | Batzella. | Bell’Aja. | Ca’Marcanda. | Caccia al Piano 1868. | Campo al Mare. | Campo alla Sughera. | Campo alle Comete. | Castello di Bolgheri. | Ceralti. | Cipriana. | Donna Olimpia 1898. | Donne Fittipaldi. | Enrico Santini. | Eucaliptus. | Fabio Motta. | Fattoria Casa di Terra. | Fattoria Viticcio. | Ferrari Iris & Figli. | Giorgio Meletti Cavallari. | I Greppi. | I Luoghi. | I Tirreni. | La Bolgherese. | La Madonnina. | Le Grascete. | Le Macchiole. | Le Novelire. | Micheletti Enio. | Michele Satta. | Mulini di Segalari. | Orma. | Ornellaia. | Pietra Nova. | Podere Conca. | Podere Il Castellaccio. | Podere Prospero. | Podere Sapaio. | Poggio dei Tramonti. | Sensi. | Serni Fulvio Luigi. | Tenuta Argentiera. | Tenuta di Vaira. | Tenuta Guado al Tasso. | Tenuta Le Colonne. | Tenuta Meraviglia. | Tenuta San Guido. | Terre del Marchesato. | Villanoviana.
Wine production (Bolgheri & Bolgheri Superiore DOC): 2011 43.600hl. | 2012 42.600hl. | 2013 47.700hl. | 2014 48.700hl. | 2015 55.100hl. | 2016 58.000hl. | 2017 46.100hl. | 2018 51.100hl (681,000 bottles).
2015 The 2015 winter was not excessively severe. Warmer than average (1-3°C above average) in February and March. Normal rain levels, but in huge bursts. Mild spring was mild, with light, intermittent rainfall. Summer was fairly dry and with very high average temperatures, with hot spells in July. Mid-August rain pushed the vines into maturity. Normal timing for the start of harvest, in late August for Merlot, ending in early October for Cabernet Sauvignon.
2016 Exceptionally warm winter. Earlier than normal budbreak. Very wet end to February. Average temperatures and rainfall in spring. Normal bud burst. Warm summer. No excessive heat. Cool nights. Dry weather at harvest.
2017 Drought year. Dry winter. Very dry spring. Rained in May. Summer drought. Rain in late August.
2018 Severe winter. February saw multiple days of sub-zero temperatures. Very wet spring. Rampant vine growth, disease pressure. Normal summer.
Consorzio per la Tutela dei Vini DOC Bolgheri e Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC
Località San Guido, 45
57022 Bolgheri (LI), Italy
Tel+39 0565 1827234
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | www.bolgheridoc.com
Nicolas Belfrage MW, From Brunello to Zibibbo: The Wines of Tuscany, Central and Southern Italy (London, 2001).