Much has been said about the other Super Tuscan in Bolgheri – Sassicaia, fêted by critics, adored by celebrities and sought after by collectors. Not much has been said about its close second, Grattamacco, the second winery set up in Italy’s coastal Bolgheri and a true champion of Bolgheri.
Located on top of a hill facing the Tyrrhenian Sea between Castagneto Carducci and Bolgheri, the winery was founded by Piermario Meletti Cavallari, an adventurous entrepreneur who followed Mario Incisa della Rocchetta’s footsteps to Bolgheri in 1977.
Its creation today was not what one would call a calculated investment choice, but what the estate winemaker Luca Marrone describes as “a gamble” into “the wild west”.
Bolgheri in the 1970s was hardly the idyllic coastal town it is now. Punctuating its vast unfarmed land was sparse vineyards making nondescript white wines and rosé.
“It was a gamble at the beginning because no one wanted to come over, no hot water, no electricity and it was like the wild west, and his wife decided to join him two years later, after they set up the infrastructure,” says Marrone.
It took them five years to build the winery and revitalize the long-neglected vineyards with care and newly planted Bordeaux varietals. In 1982 the winery released its first vintage by blending Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese, three years ahead of Ornellaia’s first vintage release.
Interestingly, it is also the first winery to put ‘Bolgheri’ on its label for its top wine ‘Grattamacco Rosso Superiore’, at a time when the much more adorned moniker ‘Super Tuscan’ in the 1980s guarantees fame and what comes with it – commercial success.
Together with the first generation of icons, the likes of Sassicaia, Ornellaia and Antinori, Grattamacco’s founder Cavallari played an instrumental role in revising the DOC regulations in 1994 to include red wine. Up till then, despite Super Tuscan and Bolgheri’s new-found celebrity, DOC only permits white and rose wines. Red wines produced from the region were snubbed as vino da tavola (table wine) albeit rave critic reviews and market demand.
The winery’s contribution to Bolgheri extends to its zoning study, laying the foundation to understand the region’s terroir. The winery worked with Bolgheri consortium, and professor Attilio Scienza of the University of Milan on a zoning study of the viticultural area of Bolgheri, one of the first studies of its kind in Italy back then.
2017 Vintage, 35th anniversary
Today, the estate is owned by the Tipa-Bertarelli Family and sprawls an area of about 80 hectares, of which 28 are vineyards and 14 are olive groves. Its wines, particularly the flagship Grattamacco Rosso Superiore is lauded by critics for its elegance and finesse. “Grattamacco is not for power. That’s not the style. Extraction has always been very gentle,” says winemaker Marrone. “Our wine is kind of marathon wine, not a sprinter.”
Its 35th anniversary release is celebrated with a special bottle release with the number 35 scrolling across its front label. Made from 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 15% Sangiovese, the same blend in the inaugural vintage, the wine is among among the best examples to represent the estate’s commitment to producing elegant and balanced wines, considering the 2017 vintage was not the easiest vintage to work with, according to Marrone.
The wine shows mouthwatering juicy notes of black currant, wild berries and hints of cedar, dried herbs and pepper, without any hint of the burned fruits or jammy notes that often mars a hot vintage. The 2017 vintage, coincidently, is the warmest vintage of recent memory for Marrone, who has 15 vintages and counting under his belt at the Bolgheri estate.
“The year 2017 started with a mild winter and this condition anticipated the growing season. Spring was characterized by hot weather with very little rain and subsequently the summer season was warm with dry weather resulting in a quick ripening and an early harvest,” the winemaker commented.
“Even though it’s a challenging vintage, the experience and expertise we had, and the additional vine age showed more resistance,” he said in relief, confessing in fact it was more thrilling to produce a great wine in trying vintage.
“In challenging vintages, as a winemaker you actually gain more satisfaction from making a wine that has dignity,” he says.
Located 100 and 200 meters above sea level, the winery also practices organic farming. Its flagship Grattamacco is made every year around 60,000 bottles. Aside from the flagship wine, it makes Bordeaux blend L’Alberello Bolgheri Superiore, Bolgheri Rosso and a Vermentino. Its total production stands around 180,000 bottles a year, with around 15% exported to Asia.