Salicutti is an organic estate winery in the south-eastern part of the Montalcino region of Tuscany, Italy. The name Salicutti is a ’toponimo’, meaning an official place name recognised on the Italian land registry, in this case since the early 1800s, and refers to a chalk pit which delimits the property to the south.
Owner: Felix and Sabine Eichbauer (since 2016). They are from Germany where the Eichbauer family is an important force in the construction industry, and also owns the renowned Tantris restaurant in Munich. Their motto is ‘Salicutti family’ and they want to create that kind of sense of family between staff, employees, consultants and trade.
Vineyard staff: Gianni (in-house oenologist), Gianni’s nephew Mattia who is full time, Andrea, Alessia (and her daughter who works part time). Maximilian (German).
Background: In 1990 Salicutti was purchased by Francesco R Leanza, who is originally from Catania in Sicily. He had been living in Rome at the time, where he worked in the food industry as a chemical engineer. ’I came to Montalcino because I was attracted to this area, and completely captivated by the amazing beauty of this place, the setting, the light. I was looking for a house just for the holidays and somebody showed me Salicutti, which had been built from local stone, but was completely abandoned. The house and the stables were in a state of disrepair. Its previous occupants, a peasant couple, lived there without electricity and had cooked on a open hearth. Even though I had planned on buying something smaller than Salicutti, which was almost a medium size property, I decided to buy it anyway. After two years of holidaying here I decided I could retire from my job and do what the people in Montalcino did which was winemaking,’ says Leanza.
Francesco Leanza told me his ‘personal taste was wines made from a single grape variety as these are more fascinating than those made from a blend of more than one grape because it is less influenced by man and more linked to the natural expression of the soil and of the terroir in general. To say traditional Brunello is better than modern Brunello or vice versa makes no sense. What matters is whether the Brunello or Sangiovese grape has been able to express itself fully. Winemaking should let the wine evolve by itself, because the wine has all the intelligence for developing by itself, for becoming something great.’
Having no children to succeed him, Francesca Leanza decided to sell Salicutti in 2016 to Felix and Sabine Eichbauer whose Tantris restaurant in Munich in Germany had been a longstanding client of Salicutti. The pre-contract was signed in late 2015 and in March 2016 the new ownership was confirmed.
Terroir: Salicutti lies just below Gianni Brunelli’s Podernovone estate. There are around 11 hectares (27.2 acres) of land of which 4 hectares (9.9 acres) are vineyards, 1.5 hectares (3.7 acres) are olive groves, and 3.30 hectares (8.15 acres) are forest. The names given to the vineyard plots are not classed as toponomi, meaning they are not listed on Italy’s land registry.
When Leanza had acquired Salicutti in 1990, his land qualified only for the Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG, rather than for the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, as at that time no more new Brunello vineyards could officially be registered in Montalcino. Nevertheless he was able to start planting here in 1994, having bought another (very small) house in 1991 with a Brunello vineyard comprising one-tenth of an hectare attached to it. Leanza ripped out this vineyard and transferred its planting rights to Salicutti. The house and vineyard were on the left bank of the Ombrone river, at Poggio alle Mura (near the Banfi winery estate) right next to the Ombrone river. He sold the house and its (by then) bare land in 1996. In 1997 Montalcino allowed more vineyards to be registered as Brunello, and Leanza duly registered all his Sangiovese vineyards. Most of the Sangiovese budwood he used for planting was from commercially available ‘Talenti’ clones.
Soil types–East: Francesco Leanza says ‘there are two different kinds of soil at Salicutti. The vineyards on the east side of the property, namely Piaggione, Piaggione Alto and Teatro, are characterized by a sedimentary rock typical of the south eastern area of Montalcino. It is called alberese or the Santa Fiora formation, a stratified type of friable marl which is 86 million years old (Eocene epoch), very fragile, and was formed on the of the sea floor, a long way from here. It comprises clay, limestone and sand (like white crystals) and when broken it flakes, and looks like like pastry leaves. It has a pH of 8.5. This is where the Brunello wines come from because the wines from here are more structured, and more concentrated in terms of flavour and alcohol.’
Viticulture: Sabine Eichbauer told me (Visit 21 July 2020) that ‘some of the vineyards had been encroached by branches from the neighbouring forests. All farmers are allowed a 1.5 metre clear zone between where the forest ends and crops begin. So we cleared it, which means better airflow. We fenced all the vineyards too to keep roebuck and wild boar from entering and causing damage. We got a 25% increase in yield fin the Teatro vineyard. In spring we can get large caterpillars who eat the leaves. So at 8pm we go out into the vineyards, with torches so we can help each other see and we pick off the caterpillars.’
Piaggione vineyard: Piaggione is a Sicilian term for a steep cliff. The name is not a toponimo. Piaggione is divided into two parts called Piaggione and Piaggione Alto. The Piaggione part comprises 1.075 hectares (2.65 acres) of Sangiovese planted in 1994 with ‘Talenti’ clones on SO4 rootstock. The first harvest was 1996. Vigna del Piaggione lies directly in front of the house and winery faces south-east towards Monte Amiata which overlooks it. Altitude is 420 metres (1,378 feet). The slope is 14º. Vine spacing is 3m x 1.5m (3.8 x 4.9 feet) = 4,500 vines per hectare. The vines are pruned to spurred cordons (cordone speronato). The soil is described as sandy-silty (sabbioso-limosa) with pebbly and gravelly fragments of a calcareous and calcareous-marly nature (frammenti ciottolosi e ghiaiosi of a di natura calcarea e calcareo-marnosa). The soil pH is 8.1.The grapes are used for Brunello (rather than Rosso di Montalcino DOC). Grapes from Piaggione are also used to make a pied de cuve. The site is south-south-east-facing and is the first of Salicutti’s Sangiovese vineyards to ripen (five to seven days earlier than on the other two sites). They also have a slightly higher sugar content and produce wines rich in polyphenols and extracts with a deeper colouring.
Piaggione Alto as its name suggests is the upper portion of Vigna del Piaggione. It comprises 0.32 hectares (0.79 acres), lies at 450 metres (1,476 feet) and was planted in 2007 with various Sangiovese clones (F9, TIN40, TIN50, Janus 10 and Janus 20) and on various rootstocks (420A, 110R and 101-14). Vine spacing is 0.8m x 2.80 metres. The vines are pruned to single guyot. The site faces east-south-east on a 17º slope. The soil is described as being sandy-silty (sabbioso-limosa) rich in skelton from pebbly and gravelly fragments of calcareous-marl limestone (ricco di scheletro da frammenti ciottolosi e ghiaiosi di natura calcarea calcareo-marnosa.) Soil pH is 8.1.
Vigna Teatro: The name of this vineyard is based on its shape, which is reminiscent of a Greek amphitheater. Depending on the climatic conditions, the grapes here develop in a similar way to those in the Piaggione vineyard. Vigna Teatro Sangiovese grapes usually go into the domaine Brunello. Vigna Teatro comprises 0.7 hectares (1.8 acres) of Sangiovese. Like Piaggione it lies on the Monte Amiata (south) side of the road leading back towards the Gianni Brunelli and Fattoria dei Barbi estates. The difference here though is Teatro has a cooler micro-climate, despite being fully south-facing. Vigna Teatro was planted in 1994 with Sangiovese (Talenti clone). The rootstock is SO4. Vine spacing is 1.5 x 3 metres. The vines are spur pruned to double cordon. The altitude is 470 metres (1,566 feet) and the slope is 9º. The soil is described as sandy-silty (sabbioso-limosa) consisting of minute parts and blocks of limestone and calcareous-marl (con scheletro costituito da parti minute fino a blocchi di natura calcarea e calcareo-marnosa). Soil pH is 8.1. Under the current owners trees around Teatro were cut to give better air-flow.
Vigna del Sorgente: Vigna del Sorgente or Sorgente Vineyard lies behind the house-winery on the western side of the property at 460 metres (1,510 feet). It was planted in 1994 and 2001. Maturation is slightly delayed compared to Piaggione and Vigna Teatro, partly because it is (south-south) west-facing and partly because its soil is heavier (‘sorgente’ is Italian for a stream). Under Francesco Leanza the grapes were generally used for the Rosso di Montalcino despite being allowed the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG .It comprises 1.6 hectares (3.94 acres) in total, in two parts called Sorgente and Sorgente Nuova (of which more below), planted in two phases, all on soil whose pH is 8.1 and described as ‘clayey-sandy, and higher up rich in calcareous and calcareous-marl fossils (argilloso-sabbiosa ricca di scheletro calcareo e calcareo-marnoso nella parte sommitale).
Francesco Leanza told me ‘Here the soil is a little bit younger geologically speaking compared to Piaggione and Teatro. It comprises a calcareous clay rock (more clay than rock) which is softer and less structured compared to that on the eastern side. The clay base here produces grapes which are later ripening, giving wines which are softer, more obviously fruity, with less tertiary or spicy aromas, and so are suited to Rosso di Montalcino. This allows for cru or site-specific wines to be made for both Rosso di Montalcino and cru Brunello di Montalcino.’ The Sorgente portion faces south-south-west and comprises 0.8 hectares (1.98 acres) of which there are 0.67 hectares (1.65 acres) of Sangiovese, 0.1 hectares (0.247 acres) of Cabernet Sauvignon (removed by the current owners) and 0.03 hectares (0.0074 acres), and just a single row of Canaiolo Nero all planted in 1994 (1.5m x 3m). The slope is 12º. The Sorgente Nuova portion comprises 0.8 hectares (acres) planted in 2001 with 0.6 hectares (1.48 acres) of Sangiovese (clones: F9, M24) and 0.2 hectares (0.49 acres) of Cabernet Sauvignon (removed by the current owners), all on 420A at 1.5m x 2.7m. The slope is 12º. Sorgente’s Sangiovese grapes are used for the Rosso di Montalcino while the Cabernet Sauvignon and single row of Canaiolo (both of which are picked together) went into Dopoteatro (the Cabernet was removed by the current owners).
Vine spacing: Apart from Piaggione Alto, Leanza planted his vines rows at a spacing of 3 metres (9.84 feet) and to the viti binate system whereby two vines are planted next to each other on single cordons but face in opposite directions along the row. This allows a medium to high vine density of 4,500 vines per hectare (vines per acre) whilst also allowing each vine the space to develop a cordon 1.5 metres long. If the vines were planted in the traditional way the vine density would still be 4,500 vines per hectare but the space between each vine trunk would be 0.75 metres (feet) which mades undervine weed control more problematic considering the aim was to be organic, rather than using conventional herbcides. ‘In those days,’ Francesco Leanza told me ‘the machinery for organic under vine weed control was slow, heavy and risked damaging the vine trunks.’
Vine vigour: Francesco Leanza waited to green harvest and either did not trim the vines or did so infrequently to avoid excess sugar production and vegetatative re-growth, he told me at the winery on the 08th July 2017.
Cover crops: In 2018 every other row was sown with a mix of barley (orzo) to build and retain organic matter, and fava beans (favino) for nitrogen, because in 2017 the musts had lacked nitrogen which meant the yeast were very slow in the latter stages of fermentation. The other rows were sown with a mix of clovers including Squarrose clover (‘squarosso’). In the mid-2000s the cover crop mix containing 20 types of plants is sown each winter in every other row. The mix comprises mainly clovers, grasses (cereals like oats, barley) and legumes. The cover crop is allowed to grow until the plants have flowered in spring, then he mows them to maintain a grassy strip up and down every other vine row. This prevents the soil from cracking in the heat of the summer, and allows easy tractor access if it rains. Having quick access to the vines by keeping a grassy strip means the owner can respond quickly if rain looks like sparking an outbreak of rot. In autumn the grassy strip is ploughed in, providing organic matter which maintains good soil texture. Ploughing is only to a very shallow depth to avoid pushing topsoil down into the subsoil and pushing subsoil up to the topsoil. The following year the cover cycle is alternated with the unsown row getting sown and the sown row left fallow. Ploughing, he says, needs to be as close to the vines as possible. It may cut some lateral roots but, says Leanza, the vine is a strong plant and will dig its main roots deeper, which is what he wants.
Soil fertility: Francesco Leanza would add a bit of well rotted (one year old) horse manure each year (10 quintals|ha), to aid soil life, not really for fertility, each autumn.
Organics: Francesco Leanza said he chose to go organic from the start because he had virgin land which had never been sprayed. He also felt that as a scientist organics was the best route to quality, and also it would be better for his health and that of his vineyard workers, or what he calls ‘bio-humanistic,’ the marriage of mental effort and physical labour whereby the inherent capacity of nature to restore balance is allowed to thrive.’
Biodynamics: Adriano Zago was consulting in 2020.
Organic certification: 1996 Conversion to organics begins, the first in Montalcino to do so. | 2004 Certified organic by ICEA. | 2020 Still certified organic.
Winery: A new winery was built in 1999, along with new warehouse and offices. Under the Eichbauer family, the winery was being extended in 2017-2018.
Winemaking: The grapes ferment in stainless steel. Indigenous yeasts are used via a pied de cuve. Extraction is via remontage and delestage. MLF usually takes place in stainless steel tanks and is completed by December.
Ageing of Brunello di Montalcino: Once fermented the Brunello wines spend 33 months in a combination of medium and large casks, with a progression over time from smaller to larger. In the first 12-18 months the wines age in 500-litres and 1,000-litre oak tonneaux (130-260 gallons) to ‘give the tannins air,’ says Leanza. In year two blending begins as the wines age in botti of between 2,000-4,000 litres (520-1,040 gallons). Leanza has a preference for French oak, which he uses for all of his casks, except the largest (4,000-litre), which are Slavonian oak. Once bottled, the Brunello ages a further 15 months before it released for sale. Felix and Sabine Eichbauer were looking to ferment in new, and larger, wooden tanks.
Wine production: Up to 30,000 bottles.
Wines: I once wrote that what I liked about Francesco Leanza’s wines was his Rosso and Brunello wines are concentrated and have depth without being extracted. Under his successors the following wines are being made from 2019 onwards: three Brunello crus made from the best grapes in Piaggione, Teatro and Sorgente. Sabine Eichbauer told me (Visit 2020) that ‘Piaggione is like a Ford Mustang, an old style Brunello with palate weight, plenty of muscle, as broad as it is deep. Teatro is the ethereal one, with its mix of wild Mediterranean herb and blue forest fruits. Sorgente is between the two and is the most accessible, evolving easily with juiciness from the clay and fluidity from the fact that Sorgente refers to an underground water source or spring.’
Rosso di Montalcino DOC: The Rosso di Montalcino comes from Brunello-designated vineyards and is aged in oak but is released before a Brunello would be allowed to. Francesco Leanza told me on 08th July 2017 that ’the Rosso is not a selection of the worst grapes but a vineyard selection. Whole berry ferment. Ages in wood.’ From 2007 and because the wine came from Sorgente its name was added to the label. | 1996 Salicutti No mention of Sorgente on the front label. | 1997 Salicutti Good wine. | 1998 Salicutti Not tasted. | 1999 Salicutti Not tasted. | 2000 Salicutti Not tasted. | 2001 Salicutti Not tasted. | 2003 Salicutti Nice depth, ripe and clean, decent weight (Benvenuto Brunello 2005). | 2004 Salicutti Lovely bright sweet fruit, nice weight with well defined tannin and concentration, elegant too and well made, deep (Benvenuto Brunello 2006). Showed bright Pinot Noiresque colour; soft, clear and clean red fruit and minerals, well balanced acidity and alcohol, crisp and ripe finish when tasted (from bottle purchased from Bruno Dalmazio’s wine shop in Montalcino for around €16.00), in Sant’Angelo in Colle, Sunday 1st Oct 2006 with Pepe Schib, Paola, Guelfo Magrini, and Silvana. | 2005 Salicutti. Not tasted. | 2006 Salicutti Not tasted. | 2007 Sorgente The first time Salicutti released a Rosso bearing the Sorgente name (2014 would be the last vintage of Sorgente Rosso). | 2008 Sorgente Wonderful creamy purity, very expressive, Burgundian lightness, very complete, a wine which can age 20 years Francesco Leanza told me when tasted at the winery Thursday afternoon, 24 Feb 2011. €18-19 retail. | 2009 Sorgente Released. | 2010 Sorgente 5,300 bottles. Wild yeast. Vibrant red fruit, warm texture, very youthful at the Franci Bio wine shop, Montalcino Fri 13 September 2013. | 2011 Sorgente Very good wine. | 2012 Sorgente Released. | 2013 Sorgente Aged in 500-litre tonneaux and made from Brunello-designated vineyards. Burgundian nose, get some wood, warm, lots of texture and ripeness with Susan Hulme MW at Osticcio in Montalcino mid-afternoon Friday 19th February 2016. | 2014 Salicutti As Salicutti made no Brunello in 2014 it meant the Rosso was made from various plots, hence the ‘Sorgente’ name does not feature on the label in 2014. L2|16. 13.5%. Wonderfully perfumed at the winery on the 08th July 2017. | 2015 Salicutti 14%. Fermented in stainless steel. 18 months in 18hl wooden vats. In 2015 Francesco Leanza felt the wine from Sorgente was good enough to make a small amount of Brunello and so from 2015 onwards Sorgente will no longer appear on the Rosso label (too confusing having a Sorgente wine in both the Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino forms). | Clean, crisp, bright cherry wildness. Still very young when tasted at Osticcio in Montalcino on Friday 16th February 2018 with Michaela Morris. | 2018 This was the last Rosso di Montalcino from Salicutti, Sabine Eichbauer told me, because the vineyards are classified for Brunello and thus from now on will go into the Sorgente Brunello (see below).
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Salicutti: 2000 Decent wild fruit, nice texture, well made (Benvenuto Brunello 2005). €30.00 from the estate in 2004. | 1999 Bottled.
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Piaggione: Felix Eichbauer’s favourite single site Brunello. This comes from both the Piaggione and Teatro plots (see above). | 2016 ’2016 was a very good year’, Francesco Leanza told me at the winery on the 08th July 2017. | 2015 ’2015 was a very good year’ Francesco Leanza told at the winery on the 08th July 2017. | 2014 Not made. | 2013 14.5%. ‘2013 was a very good year and ready to start drinking,’ Francesco Leanza told at the winery on the 08th July 2017. Lovely wild fruit in Feb 2018, tasted at Osticcio in Montalcino on Friday 16th February 2018 with Michaela Morris. | 2012 15%. Big, structured tannin, deep, lovely sour cherry, structure, VG. ‘A very good year,’ said Francesco at the winery on the 08th July 2017. | 2011 3 years in barrel of which 18m in 500-litre and 1,000-litre tonneaux, followed by 12m in 20 and 40hl casks. The best Sangiovese I have ever tried (at the winery on the 08th July 2017). Very youthful, very ripe, very intense, needs time, some oak influence, very sweet and Burgundian with Susan Hulme MW at Osticcio in Montalcino mid-afternoon Friday 19th February 2016. | 2010 Bottled. | 2009 See Tre Vigne, above. | 2008 Described by Francesco Leanza ‘as like 2004, a great, complete vintage’, during a tasting at the winery Thursday afternoon, 24 Feb 2011. I found it youthful, rich, warm, wild bright cherry fruit, creamy new oak finish in September 2013 at a tasting in the Franci Bio wine shop, Montalcino Friday 13 September 2013. | 2006 8,000 bottles. Francesco Leanza described 2006 as ‘a good, normal vintage.’ Lovely intense firm but not aggressive fruit, digeste, lovely wildness and length to this, tannins still present but in a ripely expressive way (Visit 24 Feb 2011, afternoon). | 2005 Francesco Leanza told me 2005 was a hard vintage in which to get grapes fully ripe (Visit 24 Feb 2011, afternoon). | 2003 Bottled. | 2002 Bottled. | 2001 The first vintage labelled as Piaggione. Crisp style with serious clean, deep fruit, well defined tannins, appetising with good use of wood (Benvenuto Brunello 2006).
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Sorgente: 2015 In 2015 the wine from Sorgente was so good Francesco Leanza made the equivalent of 2,600 bottles of Brunello from it, describing it as a simpler style of Brunello.
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Teatro: Sabine Eichbauer’s favourite single site Brunello.
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tre Vigne: 2009 This was the only Brunello Salicutti released by in 2009, a hot, atypical vintage giving very low yields in Piaggione and low yields in Teatro. This meant 20% of the blend came from Sorgente, which gave a slightly higher yield than usual in 2009 (Sorgente also produced more Rosso di Montalcino than usual). As the wine came from three vineyard sites Francesco Leanza called it ‘tre vigne’.
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Riserva, Piaggione: ’100% from the Piaggione vineyard,’ Francesco Leanza told me at the winery on 22 May 2018. | 2004 Released. | 2008 Released. | 2011 Released as Riserva SV, see below. | 2012 Released. | 2013 Released.
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Riserva, Piaggione SV: 2011 I gave this 100 points in Decanter, having tasted it with Einar Fjoran.
Toscana Rosso, Dopoteatro: 1999 Bottled. | 2000 Bottled. | 2010 Bottled. | 2009 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Canaiolo. 14.5% alcohol. | 2003 80% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Canaiolo. | 2010 90% Cabernet Sauvignon,10% Canaiolo. Nice nose, black fruit, cream, some malic in there too at the Franci Bio wine shop in Montalcino on Friday 13 September 2013.
Toscana Rosso, Duemiladue: 2002 Wet vintage. 85% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Canaiolo. €13.00 from the estate in 2004.
Other crops: Extra Virgin Olive oil.
Agritourism: Two apartments that can accommodate 4 to 7 people; plus swimming pool.
Località Podere Salicutti, 174
I-53024 Montalcino (SI = Siena), Italy
Tel+39 (0)577.847003 | www.poderesalicutti.it