Made in Solomeo: the stamp of dignity

Read anything about Brunello Cucinelli and “dignity” is a word that comes up time and again, woven into the very fabric of the empire he has built. As the fashion icon releases the second vintage of Castello di Solomeo, we explore the philosophy behind the project
Made in Solomeo: the stamp of dignity

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Transitioning from the world of fine cashmere to viticulture might not seem an obvious move – and yet, for Brunello Cucinelli, wine is another arena to which he can bring new “dignity”. 

Cucinelli is a man of humble origins, born in a small Umbrian village in 1953. His family were share-croppers but moved to the city in search of better employment, with his father taking a job at a cement factory. Cucinelli saw his father struggle to make a living, and do so with little respect from those around him – a battle which has defined his work and philosophy. 

Despite training as a building surveyor, then studying engineering, Cucinelli ended up working as a showroom model for Ellesse in his early 20s while his girlfriend (and future wife) ran a small boutique. Inspired by this window into the fashion world and the brightly coloured clothes of Benetton, he decided to make a line of similarly vivid cashmere jumpers, launching in 1978, aged 25. Since then, the business has evolved – with muted, neutral tones replacing the lively colours that gave him his break. His clothes are defined by their understatement, the epitome of “quiet luxury”. 

Top of page: the winery at Castello di Solomeo, created by the "cashmere king", Brunello Cucinelli (above)

Today, the Brunello Cucinelli business is worth €6.3 billion. There is more to Brunello Cucinelli than fine fashion, however, with 20% of the personal profits channelled back into Cucinelli’s charitable foundation. He operates under a philosophy he defines as “humanistic capitalism”, wanting to offer his employees the respect his father didn’t receive and reclaim the value of crafts that might once have been deemed “blue collar”. 

A huge part of this is his work in Solomeo, the village that he calls home (and where his wife, Federica, was born). The couple got married there in 1982, making it the company’s headquarters in 1985. Since then, Cucinelli has invested significantly in the tiny, hilltop hamlet, gradually restoring it, and adding his own cultural flourishes – a School of Arts & Crafts, Forum of the Arts, Aurelian Neohumanistic Academy, theatre, amphitheatre, library and more. Over the last 30 years, he has – working with architect Massimo de Vico – transformed the village. 

Castello di Solomeo, the winery and vineyard, is the latest addition – but one that has been over a decade in the making. Michele Baiocco – who has been leading the project’s team since 2010 – met Cucinelli playing football. He’d been making wine in Perugia, and the two men met for dinner. Cucinelli asked him if he’d help him “give the agriculture world a new dignity”, and they decided to create a Bordeaux-inspired wine. Together they found the right site for a vineyard in Solomeo, and planted the first vines in 2011. 

The 2018 vintage was the first commercial release from the project

Cucinelli had always loved Bordeaux, but with Montalcino not too far away, and a wish to make something “typical” for the region, Sangiovese was an obvious addition. Extensive studies were undertaken to create a vineyard with the right soils and exposition. But – take a look at a picture of the vineyard, with its softly curving rows of vines that flow across the property – and it’s clear that this isn’t a standard vineyard. 

“The vineyard is like a painting,” says superstar winemaking consultant Riccardo Cotarella, who has been working with the team, especially on the blending process, since the 2018 vintage (the first commercial release). It is “an artist’s way to plant vines”, he explains – one that doesn’t make it any easier to work. Cucinelli’s inspiration, however, was a renaissance garden, and the fact that it forces everything to be done by hand is key to the project, emphasising the craftsmanship of making wine, as well as making a beautiful place for the team to work.  

The philosophy in the vineyard is driven by “reason and good sense”, with no chemical pesticides or fertilizer, using grass cover and cover crops. It’s a complex site – with five hectares, spread across four different soil types (more clay rich, more marl, sandier and more calcareous) and divided between four varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Sangiovese). 

The artistically styled vineyard at Castello di Solomeo, inspired by a Renaissance garden

Each of the 12 different blocks is vinified separately, something which they feel is key to terroir expression. They only make one wine from the site, and – as Cotarella says – “Working with Brunello [Cucinelli] always means the best quality.” Careful vineyard work is key, and the team has been reducing the production per plant, to focus the vines, encouraging complexity and concentration. Just like Cucinelli’s clothes, this is a wine intended to last. 

While Cotarella consults, Pietro Grelloni is the full-time winemaker dedicated to Castello di Solomeo, working alongside Baiocco. Grelloni was born locally and worked with Baiocco, but had travelled the world making wine before returning to Perugia, when Baiocco asked if he’d like to join the Cucinelli project in 2017, just in time for the vintage. It’s clearly a special project to be involved in, but – for Grelloni – it’s the long-term view that sets it apart. “We take care about the year, but we also have to take care of the future,” he says – explaining how it is not just about the vintage that will be harvested this year, but in 100 years’ time. As Cotarella says, “It’s a very special wine, with a very special philosophy.” 

Castello di Solomeo is exclusively available from FINE+RARE. The second vintage, 2019, is set to be released this week.


Sophie Thorpe
Sophie Thorpe
Sophie Thorpe joined FINE+RARE in 2020. An MW student, she’s been short-listed for the Louis Roederer Emerging Wine Writer Award twice, featured on and won the 2021 Guild of Food Writers Drinks Writing Award.