An Interview with Laura Bianchi, Owner, Castello di Monsanto
By Lisa Gmur, CSW
Castello di Monsanto was founded in 1962 by Fabrizio Bianchi and is renowned for its aging cellar which is 300 meters in length and holds 1300 barriques, a fact I can attest to, having walked it with Laura Bianchi in 2018. The Gallery, which connects the new cellar with the original cellar located underneath the Castello and dates back to 1740.
From introducing Chianti Classico’s first single cru – “Il Poggio”, to eliminating white varietals in the classic blend, Monsanto has been the pioneer of Chianti Classico, and is now guided by a famous legacy with grace and integrity, by 3rd Generation owner Laura Bianchi.
We talked with Laura about everything from recent renovations (the winery has a new 21st century roof), her meditative yoga practice, the special place on the estate she practices from, and the vertical wine tastings they held at Castello di Monsanto last year.
Pictured Left: Castello di Monsanto, Owner, Laura Bianchi
Ciao Laura. It is so good to connect with you. I have such beautiful memories of my visit there and meeting you. Just how incredibly special Castello di Monsanto is! What are some of your early memories of the place you now call home?
My first memories of Monsanto go back to my childhood. All our family used to spend holidays at the winery. We were all born in Northern Italy where we have a textile business, the one founded by my grandfather Aldo, but holidays we spent at Monsanto.
Do you remember your first time there?
Apparently right after I was born. I don’t remember that, of course, but my mother always told us that she let me sleep for hours in the cradle under the linden trees. This is probably why the linden blossom scent is still my favorite one.
I love this so much. I remember the Linden trees and yes, that scent. What else do you remember about being a little girl there?
The most incredible gift that Monsanto offered me when I was a child was the feeling of freedom. To be able to run around in the countryside, discover all the animals and the special places in the forest. Those were all unforgettable moments that made me who I am today.
What a beautiful way to express that feeling. What was it like back then, the property, the place?
In the 1960s, the area around the winery was very poor. The winery used what is called the “mezzadria” system. On the property there were 14 “poderi” houses, which housed the families who cultivated the soil and shared the crops 50% with the owner. That ended at the end of the decade.
What was it like for you? What specifically do you remember?
When I was a child, life here was simple but rich of natural adventures. We used to spend the entire day outside in the countryside, running around.
Step by step my father renovated the houses, built the cellar, and planted new vineyards with a deep belief in what he was doing. He changed the mentality of the local people to focus on quality and not on quantity.
I still remember our workers that didn’t want to do a green harvest because for them it was an unacceptable waste of grapes. But we proceeded knowing how important this was to the quality of what we produce. Step by step, they understood.
Here you are today, Castello di Monsanto just celebrated its 60th birthday, that is truly amazing! What did you do to celebrate?
60 years is a long time and so many things have happened with the family and at the winery. We found a beautiful way to tell this story.
Last year we decided to organize several vertical tastings, the biggest one with Antonio Galloni. We told the story of Castello di Monsanto with each vintage and in every glass.
Inside each glass there is not one story but many stories. One of the vintage, yes, but also of the family, the winery and the entire Chianti Classico Denomination.
What a brilliant way to tell the story of Monsanto. I remember tasting vintages from the birth years of some people in our group.
It was a beautiful way to taste wine and talk about what was going on in those years, in your family, at the winery and in the world. I remember everything about Monsanto that May week in 2018.
Most especially I remember how breathtakingly beautiful it was there. When I come back, and I will be back, will I notice any changes?
Grazie Lisa. You must come back. You will notice our roofs. We recently renovated the fermenting side of the cellar, and we changed all the roofs on the cellar so we could install solar panels. We now produce ~80% of the energy we need for cellar operation.
Wow! That is amazing and very 21st century of you. Sustainability and biodynamic farming are huge and important to our customers. Please tell us a little about what else Castello di Monsanto does in this regard.
Respect for our land and its rich biodiversity is the first rule for everybody working at the winery.
We are following the rules of the integrated farming and sustainability project that were implemented several years ago.
For me, being sustainable means first and foremost that we are aware everyday of all the best options not only to protect our biodiversity, water, soil, air, but to also to enrich them.
Love for the land, beautifully said. Speaking of beautiful words and sentiments; I loved what you said in Wine Spectator about Mother Nature being your boss. That was very prolific. I would love you to talk more to that.
Most wine consumers do not know how many challenging years we face. Every vintage is unpredictable and out of our control.
As you know, the climate has really changed. In the last few decades, we have faced very hot and dry vintages, like in 2017 and 2022. In 2014 and 2023, May and June were exceptionally rainy months which is not good at all.
We have learned a lot about how to handle the vineyards in different climate situations but at the end it is Mother Nature who dictates the rhythm and the agronomic choices in the vineyards.
I have also learned from my “Boss” that the best solutions are the balanced ones.
Speaking of balance, I imagine the extreme rain has not been great for your yoga practice in your special yoga spot.
Yoga is for me a way to establish my balance and strength. A way to feel and believe in who and what I am.
At the winery there is a special energy at the terrace on the Il Poggio vineyard. It is where I feel the presence of energy and balance an equilibrium of energies.
This is the main reason why I love to do yoga there. I always feel so happy after my practice on the terrace.
I am going to join you there for a few chatarangas and sirasanas when I come back to visit.
So what have I missed?
What do you want our customers to know about Castello di Monsanto that we haven’t talked about yet?
Castello di Monsanto is first, a family. It’s where my father and I have put all our passion, strengths, desires and efforts for decades.
A place with an incredible terroir, a place about the soil, microclimates, and the sunlight.
It’s where Sangiovese can show all its elegance and finesse, with power and complexity, but without any opulence.
Yes! Exactly. Castello di Monsanto is not a "showy" place. It is all about the sense of place, the history, the people and of course, the vineyards and the wine.
I would love for you to, in a sentence or two, and in your own words, describe each of the four vineyards that make up your wines and what makes them special?
Il Poggio is the Mother of all the other vineyards.
Everything started from her, when in 1962 my father decided to vinificate separately the grapes of this vineyard and he created the first ever made Single Vineyard inside the entire Chianti Classico Denomination.
Il Poggio is also the vineyard where we do massal selection of Sangiovese clones we plant in the other vineyards.
Editors Note: Selection Massale (aka Massal Selection) is a French wine growing term for the practice of replanting new vineyards with cuttings from exceptional old vines from the same (or nearby) property. Massal Selection is what they call the “old way” of propagating vineyards that’s been replaced with vine clone nurseries.
SCANNI VINEYARD is where we produce our Fabrizio Bianchi Sangioveto Grosso and is another historical one. Planted in 1968 with only Sangiovese grapes (at that time in Chianti Classico it was mandatory to plant vineyards with Sangiovese but also the other grapes of the original Chianti Classico formula) to show the beauty of this varietal.
The galestro soil of this vineyard with a very high presence of calcium is able to show a Sangiovese with a very distinct personality. Where fruit forward is evident but accompanied by a great structure, acidity, and a very long finish, enriched by a fantastic sapidity.
IL MULINO is the vineyard planted with 100% cabernet sauvignon in 1976. This vineyard is one of the first Cabernet vineyards planted in Chianti Classico. Nemo represents the wine where we want to show our terroir through an international varietal.
There are just few wines in Chianti Classico made with 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and it is a clear example of how the soil, microclimates, and exposure influence the style and the characteristic of the varietal. It is a wine able to demonstrate how we deeply believe in the “sense of the place” that must clearly show in our wines.
IL SALCIO & VALDIGALLO are the vineyards dedicated to Chardonnay. The first planting was in 1976 and everything started because my father wanted to challenge himself with a white wine and he was a deep lover of Burgundy whites.
Today our Chardonnay is considered one of the best expressions of a Tuscan white wine. We are particularly proud of the quality of this wine, which requires a deeper, maniacal attention on harvest timing; not to early so as not to lose complexity, but not so late it loses its freshness.
The Il Poggio is really special. Can you talk a little about the wine?
Il Poggio is consistently awarded 90+ points and garners huge praise. What makes this wine so special?
The vineyard of IL Poggio, which in Italian means the “Top of the hill” has a unique exposure covering the highest part of the property with a “giropoggio “exposure ( 4 exposures ).
The soil is Pietraforte, a very rare type of soil in Chianti Classico, which gives it important, firm, elegant tannins and makes it able to live very long.
As Antonio Galloni recently wrote, “Il Poggio forever changed the history of Chianti Classico as a region and wine… consistency, a fervent believe in Sangiovese, a remarkable track record going back several decades, have elevated Il Poggio to what is today - one of Italy’s most iconic wines.”
The Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva are such beautiful and highly regarded wines. Real classics. Their style, their timelessness. Can you speak to them a little?
The first time we decided to produce a Chianti Classico Annata was in 1990, since then we always produced only Riserva.
Nowadays Annata represents a small production compared to Riserva (6,000cs versus 25,000cs of Riserva) which is unusual in Chianti Classico (usually the proportions are the opposite).
The reason is given by the fact that the Sangiovese born at Monsanto needs a little more time aging (the bottle refining is very important) before showing the best of itself.
Riserva is the most distributed wine in our portfolio and its label, with the painting off the Castle, has become an icon.
Totally an icon. Great way to describe it. A lot of our customers are interested in the baby of the family; the Monrosso Chianti. Would love for you to talk a little about this project.
Monrosso wines are produced in the vineyards (contiguous with the ones in Chianti Classico that we own in the Chianti senesi denomination) and located in the southern part of the property.
Both, despite the different varietals blend, can show our sense of place, with elegance and finesse. The vineyards where these wines come from are particularly rich in phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and limestone which give the wines elevated complexity and flavor, imparting the true integrity of the fruit and the wines crispness.
A “baby,” as you say, yes, and our Monsanto wines also represent our style and philosophy of production.
Monsanto Nemo Cabernet, I remember the first time I tasted this stunner. What’s your favorite thing about this wine?
Nemo represents the desire, that should be inside of every winemaker: to challenge ourselves with an international varietal.
What I love in this wine is the fact that it shows so beautifully our land and terroir. The spiciness, the acidity, the complex tannins, never opulent but so intact and ample, make this wine a true expression of a great Supertuscan.
I love to taste older vintages of Nemo (the first harvest was in 1982) as they show incredible longevity.
This is the truth. We opened, I think it was a 2007, which was delicious, but it was still so very young. Thankfully we have another one that we will let age. Thank you so much Laura. This was so fun.
I very much enjoyed this too.