Casato Prime Donne is an estate winery in north-west Montalcino in Tuscany, Italy. Its main wines are Rosso di Montalcino DOC and Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Owner: Donatella Cinelli Colombini. She left her family’s Fattoria dei Barbi estate in 1998, after 14 years working with her mother Francesca Cinelli Colombini and brother Stefano. Stefano was allotted Fattoria dei Barbi and Poggio Landi (both in Montalcino) as well as land in the Maremma in the Morellino di Scansano DOCG. Donatella was allotted the Fattoria del Colle estate in nearby Trequanda to the east in the Orcia DOC, and what is now Casato Prime Donne (formerly Fattoria del Casato) whose 15th-century buildings at the time were derelict (as her mother had not used it) but had 50ha of land, including (at that time) 13ha of vineyards. Historically, Casato was used both as a hunting lodge and as a honeymoon house. Tax records show it had passed down the female line, passing to Donatella via her grandmother Giuliana Tamanti in whose family it had been since 1592.

Donatella’s daughter Violante (who was born in Montalcino) will succeed her and will be the fifth successive woman at the helm here. At Casato the emphasis is on the female: wine-maker, estate workers, and owner. This was because in 1998 Donatella had tried to find a female cellar master by calling the Istituto Agrario (agronomy secondary school) in Siena. She was told that the “best” students are the first to get job offers. She then re-contacted the Istituto for a female cellar-master and the reply was rather different: ‘How many can you take?’ The implication was no serious winery in its right mind would hire a female winemaker, even if they were as good if not better than male students. So Donatella advertised the position, and as a result hired Barbara Magnani (who was still with the company in 2018).

Staff: Vists: Antonella Marconi (half English, half Italian). | Oenologist: Barbara Magnani.

Vineyard: Casato Prime Donne is a 50ha property north of Montalcino, near the Montosoli zone. The neighbouring estate is Bonacchi (Molino della Suga). Donatella got 10ha from her mother and 6ha she planted herself in front of Casato in a vineyard called Ardita (of which more below), and this gives the best wines (see the Io Sono Donatella wine, below). Soil is clay, tufa with rocks. Clay soils (not easy in wetter years, but vines do not stress in hot years). Subject to fog late in the vine-growing season. Altitude of 300 metres. | 2017 16ha of Sangiovese. | 2018 50ha of land of which 17ha are vineyards. The only grape is Sangiovese (3-4 clones). 5,000 vines per hectare. 100% Spurred cordon. The rootstock chosen by Donatella when replanting vines here was Paulsen on the lower-lying sites for its capacity to root deeply, and 420A on the hill slopes.

Ardita Vineyard: The name means ‘bold, brave, hardy’ and was chosen by the artist Marco Pignattai, celebrating the courage and hard work of the Chianina cattle that for centuries worked the soil here. Pignattai created a sculpture in travertine of the Chianina in 2005, and replaced it in 2012 with one made of steel.

Organic certification2018 First vintage with full organic certification.

Winery: 2002 Donatella first vinified her wines in the cellars at Il Casato in 2002. An outside vinification area was created for what is called ‘Tinaia del Vento’ or Vats in the Wind. This is open on three sides to expose the fermenting wines to natural aeration. The stainless vats are open-topped in a truncated-cone shape with a mechanical arm to push the grape-skins down without having to use pumps. Inside the winery are similarly truncated tanks, but this time of 30hl capacity and made of cement.

Winemaking: 2010 In 2010 Donatella changed consultants, replacing Carlo Ferrini with Valerie Lavigne. The latter asked for more pickers at harvest to be able to pick everything ripe. In the winery she replaced most of the smaller 225-litre barrels with larger 500- and 700-litre tonneaux. Lavigne also used less aggressive types of oak (from Burgundy rather than from Bordeaux). | 2018 The oak regime consisted of 40hl botti (wooden vats), a few 225-litre barrels, but mainly (for ageing) 500- and 700-litre French oak tonneaux.

Wild yeast: In 2007 and in collaboration with Olivier Agar the estate isolated several strains of indigenous yeasts from across the Casato vineyards. Over a period of years various strains were trialled, leaving two. One of these was subsequently chosen by the estate.

Red wines

Rosso di Montalcino DOC: 2010 Lightish-medium crimson core. Limpid pinkish rim. Blurred bakey nose. Lacks clarity. Bit simple and narrow in terms of fruit, and the tannins are a bit pinched at the consorzio with Ian d’Agata Tuesday 28th May 2013. | 2011 25,000 bottles. 12 months in barrel. Animal, rich, too sweet for me, oxidised and thick (Anteprima 2014). | 2012 24,000 bottles. 12m in barrel. Bit youthful, quite tight, rich and sticky (Anteprima 2015). | 2015 The Rosso sees some French tonneaux (500 & 700 litres), no longer 225-litre barriques. | 2016 35,000 bottles.100% Sangiovese. Picked from 18-25th September. Hand picked. Small clusters. Slow ripening, cool nights and sunny days in September. Skins ripened before the juice, making for rich wines with moderate alcohol levels. | 2018 25,000 bottles. | 2018 Labelled as organic. 44,000 bottles.

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Casato Prime Donne: 2000 Not bad, bit of sherry from the new oak, but clean if light and a little dull (Anteprima 2005). | 2004 One year in new barrique and one in older wood. | 2005 Bottled. | 2006 Bottled. | 2007 Bottled. | 2009 10,000 bottles. Quite a thick style (Anteprima 2014). | 2009 L112013. 14.5%. Light ruby garnet core and watery rim. Open nose: red fruit nose with plenty of lift and brightness if no notable depth or presence. Fluid entry: fruit, tannin, acid and alcohol well balanced. A fluid wine, agreeable but simple at the Consorzio Tues 27th May 2014 with Ian d’Agata and others. | 2010 45,000 bottles. Nice sweet fruit, smooth, populist and well balanced (Anteprima 2015). | 2013 Picked 26th Sept to 4th Oct. Fermented in open top conical steel tanks. Mechanically plunged. 13.5%. Aged for the first 12 months in 500- and 700-litre French tonneaux. 40,000 bottles. | 2016 From 2016 the Brunello has been fermented in concrete tanks. It was aged in wood in the usual way. The blend was assembled in concrete tanks before bottling.

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Progetto Prime Donne: This is a winery, not vineyard selection. Prime Donne means “First Ladies”. Donatella created this wine in 1998, having noted that the tasters for the Italian wine guides were all men. She asked four leading women in wine to blind taste a future Brunello (meaning one which was still in barrel) and create their own blend. The aim, says Nicolas Belfrage MW (2003, p.123), was ‘to put together between them, on an instinctual-organoleptic rather than the usual male intellectual-analytic basis, the final blend.’ Around 5,000 bottles. | 2010 5,000 bottles. Minty, bit oaky, not bad, sexy and not too heavy (Anteprima 2015. | 2012 Bit dry, lacking a bit of fruit I think, and clarity (Anteprima 2017. | 2013 13.5%. The blend is mainly from the Ardita vineyard and was decided by Marina Thompson, Astrid Schwarz (Germany), Daniela Scrobogna and Rosemary George MW (UK). | 2015 6,600 bottles.

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Donatella Cinelli Colombini: 2013 L162017. 13.5%. Wild dark fruit, hedgerow tones, fairly clear if slightly dry tannins (18 March 2020).

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Riserva: Based on the Ardita vineyard. | 2006 36 months in oak. In barrels initially, then in larger wooden vessels. | 2008 Quite an open nose, evolved, sweet, more lift than the 2009 Brunello normale (Anteprima 2014). | 2008 14.5%. L102013. Light ruby garnet core and wateryish rim. Open nose: attractively ripe raspberry fruit with strawberry sweetness, simple vanilla coating comes through at the finish at the Consorzio Tues 27th May 2014 with Ian d’Agata and others. | 2012 Picked 12-14th Sept. Fermented in conical steel tanks for 16 days, left on skins for 20 days. Aged in 500- and 700-litre French tonneaux (see below for how these are made). Unfiltered. 6,600 bottles. 14.5% alcohol.

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Io Sono Donatella: This is selection of the Riserva bottling (see directly above) and thus from the Ardita vineyard (see above). 600 bottles. Aged 36 months in 500- and 700-litre tonneaux made by four different French coopers, and shaped with both fire (both flame and embers) and steam. The barrels are marked with red ceramic hearts. The wine is assembled in a concrete egg where it remains for 6 months before bottling. In her youth Donatella studied medieval jewellry and stamps. She covered the bottle with stars that shine in the light, and form a ring in the centre within which is a gold coat of arms. The box the wine comes in opens like a flower, and contains references to local history. The pattern on the outside represents Pienza cloth, an old material with small diamond shapes that is easily visible in the Maestà (1311) by Duccio Cinelli Colombini. | 2012 Debut vintage. 100% Sangiovese. Picked 12-15th Sept. Small berries, lignified seeds. 14% alc.

Physical address

Casato Prime Donne, Loc. Casato, 17

I-53024 Montalcino (SI = Siena), Italy | Tel+39 0577.849241

GPS 43° 05′ 17” N / 11° 27′ 50” E | www.cinellicolombini.it

Direct sales of wine are possible from the winery. There are three tiles here which explain the name, Montalcino (mount of the evergreen oak tree). There are also artworks in the cellar relating to local history, and more tiles outside which show the star ratings given to each vintage of Brunello.

Bibliography

Neil Fairlamb 3/2009. Neil Fairlamb reports on the FIJEV press trip in Tuscany 8-12 March 2009: Selezione Vini di Toscana published in Circle Update (newsletter of the Circle of Wine Writers) March 2009.

Nicolas Belfrage MW, From Brunello to Zibibbo–The Wines of Tuscany, Central and Southern Italy (2nd edition, London, 2003).