PODERE FORTE is a Demeter-certified Biodynamic estate winery in the township of Castiglione d’Orcia in the Orcia DOC of south-east Tuscany. The estate has been instrumental in the Rocca d’Orcia da vivere” (“Living Rocca d’Orcia”) initiative, which aims to help revitalise the town of Castiglione d’Orcia.

OWNER | Pasquale Forte, an engineer. His parents are from Calabria, and farmed sowable crops and olive trees. His family subsequently moved to Lombardy. He purchased the then abandoned estate called Podere Petrucci, in 1997, renaming it Podere Forte. Since then, his aim has been to restore traditional Tuscan heritage cultivars of olives, sowable crops like wheat, traditional livestock such as Chianina cattle and Cinte Senese boar, apiculture, and vineyards. The aim has been to create a farm-vineyard which can get as close as possible to the Biodynamic idea of a self-sustaining living organism. 

THE ESTATE | Podere Forte extends for a total of 168 hectares in the township of Castiglione d’Orcia. 19 hectares are planted with vineyards, 12 of which are in production, 23 are olive groves and 70 are forest. The remaining hectares are distributed between pastures, livestock, and gardens. Another 110 hectares of arable land are located in the town of San Quirico d’Orcia. This means the company has 278 hectares of land in total.

TERROIR | The vines are planted at altitudes that vary between 350 and 521 meters above sea level. Aspect is principally to the southeast and southwest. The vines benefit from constant, fresh ventilation. The proximity of Mount Amiata (‘Monte Amiata’) guarantees a certain temperature range between night and day, while the vast forest land surrounding the vineyards and three nearby artificial lakes mitigate temperatures, giving the wines an inimitable freshness.

SOIL TESTS | Lydia and Claude Bourguignon, who began analysis of the geology here from 2000, found rocky soils over 50 million years old compared to just 5 million years of nearby properties. The composition of the rock is clayey-limestone. Red grape varieties were planted on the heavier clays. The white Greco di Tufo grape was planted where the clay is of finer composition. Before the vineyards were planted drainage was installed, landscaping was used to aid drainage and prevent erosion.

VITICULTURE | Vine density varies from 6,000 to 10,000 vines per hectare. The white and French grape varieties are cane pruned (Guyot). The Sangiovese vines are spur pruned and trained to the alberello (6,000-9,000 vines/ha). This is the most natural form possible, though slightly modified in order to give the best sun exposure for optimal photosynthesis. It supports the acrotonic branching of the canopy, allowing the plant sap to pass through all the cordons and stems to the highest buds near the top of the plant in order to favour uniform growth. (Poplars and beech trees plants are also acrotonic. The opposite of acrotonic is basitonic. Shrubs are basitonic for example.

SOIL STUDIES | Podere Forte hired soil experts Lydia and Claude Bourguignon to gather empirical data regarding the physics, hydrology, chemistry, and microbiology of Podere Forte’s soil. This allowed each plot to be singled out for its suitability to specific grape grape varieties and rootstocks (these were chosen by Attilio Scienza) when the vineyards were planted. Each plot was then qualitatively graded following the system used in Burgundy for Grand Cru and Premier Cru with specific reference to: the microclimate, for the grapes to arrive at good phenolic maturity levels; the topography, for the use of the best land plots according to their altitude and isolation; and the geology, for selection of the grape variety best-suited for the diverse terrains.

BIODIVERSITY | As well as wine the estate produces extra virgin olive oil, honey, and wheat.Podere Forte has also introduced livestock: Cinte senese (a typical Tuscan pig breed), Chianina cattle, and Suffolk sheep, plus a variety of backyard animals, all well-fed on a diet of foraged food and seeds of biodynamic origins.

COMPOST | The soil is fertilized with various composts made from the estate’s own natural raw materials, such as prunings from the vines, olives and trees prunings, and manure from the Chianina cows (who are fed solely through natural products from the farm’s own soil). Different types of compost are spread according to soil type. A manure-rich mix will be used for the marly and sandy soils; a mix with less nitrogen is used for already nutrient-rich soils to avoid excess vine vigour. In both compost mixes, the branches and leaves of pruning and of the surrounding oaks are finely shredded and used.

WINTER PRUNING | Podere Forte employed Friulian consultants Simonit & Sirch regarding pruning. Claude and Lydia Bourguignon advised on soil. 

YIELDS | The average yield per vineyard is 30-35hl per hectare for Petruccino (premier cru), and 20-25hl per hectare for the Petrucci and Guardiavigna (grand cru).

BIODYNAMIC CERTIFICATION | 2004 Conversion to organics began. / 2008 First vintage with full organic certification. / 2011 First vintage with full Biodynamic certification (Demeter).

WINEMAKING

Donato Lonati consulted on winemaking from the estate’s foundation.

Grape harvesting | Picking runs from sunrise to late morning, and thus in cooler temperatures which preserves the aromatic potential of the grapes. Sorting is done at the winery. Once there are over 50 quintals harvested, the grapes are conserved in a large refrigerator. First, the smallest grapes are harvested, as they ripen quicker than larger grapes; then, the remaining grapes are harvested once they reach the same level of ripeness. If necessary, a third harvest is carried out for those grapes that have ripened less quickly. The grapes of each harvest are vinified separately. Depending on the year, harvest times can vary from September 10 for the earlier ripening grapes until mid-October for Petit Verdot and Sangiovese.

Winery design | The wine cellar and the entire process of winemaking have been streamlined to minimise stress to the grapes. The wine cellars were built on five levels, only two of which are entirely above ground. The structure permits a gravity-managed flow of the entire process using wells that connect the different floors. In this way, the use of pumps is avoided, allowing the grapes, must, and wine to slip towards the bottling process with minimal mechanical stress. The cellar, machinery, and tanks were tailor-designed to meet the winery’s needs exactly. In 2018 there were some tulip-shaped concrete glass-lined egg-shaped vats made by Nico Velo in the Veneto.

Grape reception and selection–Level One | The grapes are brought to the highest level of the wine cellars to be sorted and selected along a moving belt. The first sorting consists of observation and comparison against a quality reference benchmark. If the grapes do not meet the requirements, they are discarded and vinified separately. The process continues with a delicate destemming, gently so as not to burst any grapes. Podere Forte has studied a system of automatic selection using a vibrating screen that distinguishes the base diameter of the grapes, discarding green or otherwise imperfectly ripe grapes. At the end of the sifting, the second manual sorting of the loose grapes begins. The selection belts undergo a continuous cycle of washing and drying in order to eliminate impurities and halt the proliferation of oxidative enzymes and microorganisms. In the entire process, it is estimated that 95% of the grapes remain perfectly intact before being transported to the fermentation tanks.

Maceration, fermentation–Level Two | The grapes that are selected are not immediately pressed, but are left whole as they go into the vats (level 2). This pre-maceration on the skins lasts about three days and enhances the aromas that are typical in the grape variety. At this point, the grapes are gently pressed and undergo manual punching down for a delicate extraction. An estimated 40% of the grapes remain whole during this process. Thus, a minor quantity of grape seeds are present in the juice, which helps confer a regulated extraction of tannins. Fermentation is spontaneous, happening in truncated Taransaud botti with submerged cap and can last 8-10 days for Petit Verdot, and up to 25-30 days for Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese. In 2016, a particular type of elliptical vat with a 115 quintal capacity was installed in the cellar. It is used for continuous and improved extraction of the Sangiovese.

Ageing–Level Three | The racking is carried out via gravity (down to level 3), and the wine is then transferred to barrique and after, tonneaux. The choice of wood is fundamental: Taransaud and Francois Freres select wood directly from the forests in Tronçais and Allier. The wood is aged from 36 to 60 months in open air, and then undergo special toasting treatment before being formed into barrels. The wine is aged in the wood barrels with minimal intervention. Topping up is minimised because the barrel cellar is maintained at 13-16 degrees Celcius at at 80-90% humidity, due to a system that circulates cool water vie the walls. With no topping up there is less risk of spills and the build up of acetobacter. Blending In 2018 I was told the vineyard there are 61 lots of red wines to blend from, all of which are aged separately. MLF happens spontaneously, in spring if necessary.

Bottling–Level Four | The bottling is also carried out using gravity, without the use of pumps (level 4).

Storage–Level Five | The Petruccino wine ages in the bottle for 8 months, the Guardavigna for at least 15 months, and 24 months for Petrucci before release.

LABORATORY | The scientific centre of the company is with the laboratory and its analyses. The laboratory is one of the most advanced of its kind, and integrates various productive activities. The raw materials, the product in the process of creation, and the finished product are all analysed, providing real- time data and working in collaboration with important research institutions. Analysis done in the laboratory allow us, if necessary, to promptly operate in every phase or process. This aspect becomes moreover crucial throughout delicate works such as harvest, maceration and ageing.

The laboratory also has special equipment for sensitive crystallization, an analytic technique that derives from the biodynamic practices of Rudolf Steiner. It allows us to conduct assessments of the morphogenetic type of soil, leaves, wine and other organic plant material. This alternative methodology to conventional analysis is a source of wider information like vital energy and quality on all our production.

In tandem with sensitive crystallization, the laboratory utilizes circular chromatography, a holistic analysis method based on interpreting the images that living materials produce when they bind themselves to certain substances like copper or silver. The difference between the two methods is that crystallization can be used with any type of matrix, while circular chromatography is specifically utilized for soils and compost. We can extract useful information such as: the quantity of organic or inorganic substances present, organic activity, soil compactness, and the possible presence of pollutants.

SPARKLING WINE

In 2019 this was described by the estate as a work in progress.

WHITE WINE

In 2019 this was described by the estate as a work in progress.

PINK WINES

ROSATO | 2014 Exists.

RED WINES

ORCIA ROSSO DOC, PETRUCCINO | Petruccino is the little brother to the ‘Petrucci’. From younger vines. A blend of 85% Sangiovese and 15% Merlot until 2016 when it became a 100% Sangiovese. It ages in new and used barrels for twelve months. Around 15,000-16,000 bottles annually. / 2002 Debut vintage. / 2016 100% Sangiiovese. 15%. Still very youthful at the winery in May 2019.

ORCIA ROSSO DOC, PETRUCCI | Petrucci was first produced in 2001, and is Podere Forte’s flagship wine. It is 100% Sangiovese and comes from the best parcels.  Petrucci is aged for 16 months in barrels of French oak and a further 24 months in the bottle before being released on the market on March 1st. Annual production is 3,000 – 4,000 bottles, supplemented by a strictly limited number of larger bottles that are numbered and carefully packed. The name “Petrucci” was the previous name of the estate . Biodynamic certified by Demeter since 2011 vintage. / 2001 Debut. / 2010 14.5%. / 2011 First vintage with full Demeter certification. Hand picked. Double selection. Wild ferment in tronconic oak vats. 16 months in French tonneaux and barriques.

IGT TOSCANA ROSSO, GUARDIAVIGNA | Named after a look-out tower at the highest point of the estate. Gigiotto di Rocca used this tower to defend his grapes having returned from the Napoleonic wars. Guardiavigna was first made in 2001 from Cabernet Franc (60-70%), with Merlot and a small amount of Petit Verdot. From 2016 it became a 100% Cabernet Franc wine. Biodynamic certified by Demeter from the 2011 vintage. / 2001 Debut vintage. / 2011 First vintage with full Demeter certification. / 2015 60% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot. / 2016 100% Cabernet Franc.

OLIVE OIL

In 2018 a Ray Tech Smart Jet sorting machine was installed. It has 130 ‘chromatic’ cameras. These identify lesser quality berries and these are ‘punched’ out using nitrogen gas leaving the desired berries to continue on the conveyor. This conveyor moves at 2 metres per second.Can do 150kg of olives her hour. Since 2014 the estate has started to analyse the olive oil using its own laboratory. A specific instrument (Wine Lab Touch) was sourced; it is able to measure the main oil parameters that define its quality: acidity, peroxides and polyphenols.

CONTACT

Agricola Forte Società Semplice, Località Petrucci, 13 – I-53023 Castiglione d’Orcia (SI = Siena), Italy / Tel+39 0577 8885100 / www.podereforte.com