AGRITOURISM STAY PROVIDES A TASTE OF TUSCANY
When we say we love Italy it’s because of the way Italy and Italians make us feel when we visit. Italy punches way above its cultural weight class – good food, the Mediterranean climate, opera, the visual arts, supercar capital of the world, fashion, warm and friendly people.
There’s something to be said about a country that shuts down and heads home for family meals in the middle of a business day. Even more so when a gondolier recites opera, shopkeepers make time to chat, and restaurants let you stay for as long as want.
I found a destination that stimulates all of this: A family run vineyard and high-end agri-stay in Italy’s Chianti wine region.
The world’s most indulgent hotels all have superb service, sublime comfort, and the right whiff that makes them meld into sameness. The extra factor at La Torre alle Tolfe, a third-generation, family-run estate just outside of Siena, is a multitude of things: it’s an ancient ancestral home, a vineyard, an olive grove, organic herb garden, a superb restaurant, and a luxury agritourism stay. It’s a little worn around the edges, but this only manages to add further charm.
What makes a hotel extraordinary for me is always an emotional experience. Often, they’re corporate, state-of-the-art, and without character; and sometimes, just sometimes, they’re sweetly unpretentious. Which is exactly what La Torre alle Tolfe is, unapologetically so.
At the heart of the estate is the 8th Century hilltop tower, a huge villa, and several restored farmhouses, which are all set in gardens created by a renowned landscape architect of the tine – Pietro Porcinai.
The entire estate is managed by the Castelli family and their close-knit team. Mania Castelli, a former veterinary surgeon and carer of all creatures of the estate says her grandfather purchased the property in 1950, undertaking a 17-year restoration project.
“This was once a share cropping farm which now produces organic wines and extra-virgin olive oil,” says Mania, whilst taking in the view of ancient outbuildings, dotted with antique tools displayed on the walls. “A few of the original farm worker still live locally. They often visit and reminisce of the once simple life they lived here.
“My father undertook research in Siena’s archives,” she continues, “and discovered the property’s origins date to the 8th century, when it was a lookout tower, and as you can see, it still stands today. He also discovered that the vineyard was first planted in 1316.”
The wine estate’s private 16-bedroom villa opened its doors as an agri-tourism stay in 2018. Prices start at €125 per room, per night. Several former farm buildings have been converted to apartments with long views towards Siena. Ten are available for short-term holiday rental. (www.latorrealletolfe.com)
Giacomo Mastretta, the estate’s oenologist, produces wines that are unique to the estate’s 40 hectares. We’re standing in the cellar, where there is no technology, no temperature controls – this is halfway between wine cellar and a museum. Giacomo explains: “It’s much easier to be creative here. Millions of years ago all this land was under the sea – we still find fossilised oyster shells in the vineyard. All of this has a salty effect on the soil and tannic structure, which has a manifestation on the wine. My task is to replicate this through the vines. I let the fruit express itself the way it wants to.”
Chef Ricardo showcases the farm-to-fork concept. Just about everything is made with traditional ingredients sourced from the estate’s vegetable garden, then served in a little temple of great food and ambiance. He brings something else to the plate besides organic food; it’s his own formula: “It’s all about the soil, the sun, the fertile spirited lands of the estate, it’s about the landscape, the aroma hovering above the table.” He demonstrates this by presenting a seduction of courses using colour, emotions, and history, which he translates into a food story that plays tricks on the palate.
Chef, Ricardo takes just a few guests into his kitchen where he does a cooking class. Mine was making a basic fresh pasta with zucchini sauce. (Video: https://bitly.ws/VjNK).
The Tuscan countryside is like the wine they produce. It’s meant to be savoured rather than gulped. Scenic routes link fairy-tale castles, artistic treasures, picture-perfect vistas, and vineyards galore – one of which is the Tolaini Estate.
In 1956 Pier Luigi Tolaini immigrated to Canada with a one-way ticket and two big dreams in his suitcase: to make money in America, then return to his homeland and make a great wine. Having achieved his first dream, he returned to Tuscany to realise the second.
Over the past 22 years the now late Pier Luigi and his daughter, Lia Tolani Banville, built Tolaini Wine Estate into the success it is today, honouring the distinctive terroir in the commune of Castelnuovo Berardenga.
The three-hour wine tour begins with a private cellar visit, followed by a guided ‘in the barrel cellar’ tasting of five red wines, which is accompanied by fresh Tuscan bread and extra virgin olive oil produced on the farm. The tasting will conclude with an estate drive, finishing with a luxury hill-top picnic.
A Montalcino artisan wine tasting
While looking for something different amongst the usual famous names in nearby Montalcino, I found a small, artisan winery that’s well off the regional tourist hotspots: Casanuova delle Cerbaie.
Simone Carlotti speaks of the wonders and flavours of the soil, of conservation, maturation, and the route from vineyard to bottle, which delivers an impeccable Brunello.
In the tasting room, with its fairy-tale views of lush green vineyards and azure blue skies, a light Tuscan lunch is served, alongside four bottles of refined, near hand-made wines. The wines are delicate and complex, each with a thousand nuances. (www.casanuovadellecerbaie.it)
For further information on Italy, including getting around, check the Italian Tourism Board’s website.
First published at Travel Industry Today