Banfi is a rarity among Italian wine estates, not just because of its size , its
composition of single vineyards, or its state-of-the-art winery, but because it
was started from scratch less than 20 years ago. Most of the land was covered
with forest and brush when the Mariani family found it; nevertheless, they recognized
that the site was exactly what they had been searching for.
John and Harry Mariani, successful American importers, joined forces with Italy's
leading enologist, Ezio Rivella; their objective was to produce top-quality wine
on a scale never before attempted in Italy. The first step was to find suitable
land. The criteria was direct: the climate and soil had to be ideal for the cultivation
of many of the world's noble grape varieties, and it had to be within a region
of Italy that already had a tradition of quality winemaking. The 4,500 acres that
they first found were near Montalcino, and eligible for the DOCG of Brunello di
Montalcino, one of the most prestigious of all Italian wines. By great good luck
the adjacent estate, of 2,600 acres, became available shortly afterwards. The
11th century castle was the final purchase, and was acquired in 1984. The estate
was renamed Castello Banfi.
When planting most of the international varietals, Castello Banfi's winemakers
relied on documented studies, professional advice, and their own experience to
select the proper vine clones for the diverse soils and sun exposures on the estate.
Yet they found no scientific standards or documented results for the Sangiovese,
despite a centuries-long history of that vine in the area. On their own, they
identified over 100 distinct clones of Sangiovese Brunello. They first narrowed
the selection down to 60, which they planted in experimental vineyards on the
Castello Banfi estate. Through subsequent field study and microvinification, the
selection was further narrowed to a final six clones,
based on their individual contributions to the final blend, including color, structure,
tannin, body, and bouquet. Not only did Castello Banfi plant new vineyards accordingly,
but shared the results with neighboring producers. The residual of this practice
is increasing quality standards throughout the region.