Amici in Bolla
The vineyard, creativity and connections.
Between the three of us,
we have everything we need.
Stefano, Marco and Riccardo: friends, business partners and so well-matched they’re always on the same wavelength.
There are phrases that strike a chord and, having done so, then remain firmly etched in our minds. The quote attributed to Einstein: "I, like God, do not play dice and do not believe in coincidences" is one of them.
Fourteen years ago, when I met Marco Mannini in Siena, I never thought that one day I would find myself walking with him through the rows of his vineyard sharing dreams, ambitions and projects. A vineyard that didn’t exist at the time and, for many more years to come, wouldn't be a part of his life, let alone mine. But, of course, coincidences don’t exist.
The road that we take to get to San Casciano in Val di Pesa winds its way through a soft landscape of repeated ups and downs amidst green woods and vineyards.
Whilst the weather today isn’t the best, the rolled-down windows fill the car with the scents of fresh wet grass, earth, rain, nature. Marco is waiting by the side of the road to guide us through this maze of small roads and dirt tracks.
It’s just like one of those Tuscan practical jokes made famous by the film “Amici Miei”. Me driving, slap bang in the middle of nowhere: knowing neither the road nor the destination.
After a few hundred meters bumping along a pothole-laden track (off-road mode is definitely NOT an optional here), Marco finally draws to a halt, leans out of the car window and smiles proudly, pointing down to the hectare of land unfolding on the hillside below us.
A small patch of land for him to share with his two business partners: two men who, before all else, have always been his lifelong friends. Yes, Monicelli's cult film and Marco, Riccardo and Stefano's project have something in common: friendship, real friendship.
The scene of the crime: a dinner in 2017. The accomplices: a few glasses too many.
Sitting round a table, the three friends were up until the small hours, exchanging madcap ideas and daredevil banter about far-fetched schemes and long-held dreams. At dawn the next day, not only had one of these ideas not faded away with first light, it had left a lasting impression on everyone's mind: "Why don't we begin producing a quality wine of our own? What’s stopping us? We have everything we need: Stefano has the vineyard, Marco has the inventiveness, Riccardo has the connections."
There it is, the flame of entrepreneurship bursting forth; and as I listen to the story of how it took hold and grew to this point, it truly warms my heart.
Five years ago, three young men, all with secure jobs and each well established and successful in their field, decided to invest time, energy and money into a shared challenge, starting from scratch.
Every month you go on a journey to discover a new, exclusive and surprising bottle. We search for and select the one that most excites us, and you receive it directly at home.
In 2017 Stefano Marinari, a professional oenologist working for one of the best-known wine producers in Tuscany, bought a hectare of land with his wife Andrea. She is also an oenologist, and the two met in Chile during the harvest period in Chile, before bumping into each other again in Tuscany during the Italian harvest period. Since then, she’s never gone back to Chile again.
Marco Mannini, an analyst, is the mastermind behind the sudden and unexpected “eureka moment” that convinced everyone, and also has the right commercial experience to handle the distribution of the brand.
Riccardo Bogi, the commercial director of an important company in Montalcino, has the right network of acquaintances to give credibility and drive to the project.
Friends for a lifetime, business partners for the future.
Standing at the edge of the vineyard is Riccardo, who explains to me that right from the outset, in 2017, they decided to produce a “Spumante Metodo Classico” because of their common passion for bubbles. “Sangiovese has always had similarities to Pinot Noir. They are both excellent bases that lend themselves to becoming sparkling wines, but we didn't have a full understanding of how to make the process happen. We needed knowledge and experience, and for this we turned to a dear friend of Stefano's, who lives in the Oltrepò Pavese, where Pinot Noir has undergone the sparkling process for some time. It’s a question of harmony: a perfect dialogue between the Tuscan character of Sangiovese and the elegance of the Pavese Pinot Noir. The former was born to be red but has characteristics of saltiness and minerality that the latter knows how to guide in such a way as to pave the way to bubbles."
Riccardo speaks and the other two just nod; no interference, no corrections, at most a small clarification.
I am witnessing a kind of a verbal dance: a dance where each performer is so attuned to the other, there’s not a false step between them. Now I understand why they’ve chosen to call themselves “Amici In Bolla” (“Friends on the level”).
Not only do they share a love for sparkling wines but, like the bubble in a builder’s spirit level, these three are always perfectly aligned.
Stefano approaches with a bottle of Sussulto, their first-born. However, before opening it, he stops to point out the illustrious names surrounding us: it is fascinating to see how this small hectare borders on the likes of famous wineries such as Villa Tignanello or Cantina Antinori.
I really enjoy tasting wines directly in the vineyard, it helps give me an insight into the hard, manual labour of the land before me. Labour which, in this particular case, is made even more arduous because here they farm organically.
Stefano is keen to tell us that, in his opinion, organic farming safeguards the plant, while conventional farming slightly reduces the lifespan of the vineyard. “It's like giving someone antibiotics. It's OK every once in a while, when it’s really needed, but you certainly can’t be dosing them out willy-nilly. Instead, by farming organically and replanting part of the vineyard, I manage to maintain both the quality and the age of the vineyard."
The foam is effervescent, the colour is brilliant.
What emerges is a really interesting sparkling wine; as redolent to the nose as the most seductive of champagnes. Exchanging glances, Simona and I beam broadly: no poker face needed here. We like it and we like it a lot.
Stefano, Marco and Riccardo are doing something truly extraordinary.
I can say this because when a wine can unleash my imagination, it means it’s capable of giving me so much more than a few mere sips of pleasure. And, as I’m drinking Sussulto, I really set to imagining...
About the serial that is my life, about how the episodes that have already aired would have been if other writers had worked on the script, or if the editing had been given a different pace.
About what the new seasons' episodes will be like, all of them as yet to be written, or rather, conceived.
And lastly, about how the present is the only time it makes sense to focus on.
Enough with imagining.
I open my eyes once more.
The hug I give Marco is more a form of congratulation than a farewell.
After all, even his “See you at the Palio, right?” sounds more like a papal bull than a reminder.
Ah, the Palio... so many memories.
Gunter's other travels
Island of Pico
Adega Lucas Lopes Amaral
My son is the youngest vigneron in the whole of the Azores Archipelago.
Just like art, wine is
an expression of
freedom: no one can
determine how to create it.
another travel, another story.