Cerbaiona is widely recognised as one of the top Brunello di Montalcino estates. Its vineyards are unique, located on the Cerbaiona hill, just northeast of the Montalcino town, and neighbouring another Brunello icon – Salvioni.
The success of Sangiovese grown on this specific site long pre-dates the history of the Brunello appellation. There have been vineyards located here for hundreds of years, with the wine historically known simply as coming from Cerbaiona. The soil is a distinct limestone shale infused with sand and – according to Cerbaiona’s winemaker – Matthew Fioretti, “almost by doing nothing, you can make an exceptional wine at Cerbaiona. Its vineyard location is that special and unique.”
It was the dedication and hard work of Diego Molinari that established Cerbaiona’s reputation as one of the leading names in Montalcino. Having worked as a pilot for Alitalia for 25 years and earning his nickname, “The Commander”, Molinari retired in 1977 to follow his passion for wine. He and his wife Nora bought the property the same year, replanting and expanding the historic site. The first vintage of Brunello di Montalcino produced under the Cerbaiona label was 1981, released in 1985.
From the outset, Molinari was inspired by Biondi Santi’s very traditional style of Brunello and believed in producing only lightly extracted and light-coloured wines that were built for long ageing. He became known for his meticulous grape selection, using grapes only from the lower part of the vine. He was also close to and influenced by Giulio Gambelli, a long-term consultant to some of Brunello’s greats, including Gianfranco Soldera and latterly Piero Palmucci’s Poggio di Sotto. Gambelli promoted a lighter touch when it came to extraction, in order to preserve the elegance and delicacy that Sangiovese is capable of, despite a richer, more full-bodied Brunello being more fashionable at the time. It was this elegance in style that cemented Cerbaiona as one of Montalcino’s greats today.
Due to ill health Molinari sold the estate in 2015, and Matthew Fioretti became the new custodian. On taking over the winery, it became clear to Fioretti that both the vineyards and winery required serious rehabilitation. Fioretti praises Molinari’s legacy and the work he had done to raise the profile of the Brunello appellation, but knew that the estate desperately needed modernisation. Fioretti’s outlook is very much inspired by what he calls the “tectonic shift” in winemaking in Italy (and elsewhere) over the last 30 years, with a move towards precision viticulture and a more hygienic approach to winemaking. Fioretti sees this as a change in mindset from winemaking as an art form to winemaking as craftmanship. In his mind, it was the pioneering efforts of producers like Romano del Forno in Valpolicella and Luciano Sandrone in Barolo which have shown what can be achieved in Italy when these become the guiding principles of an estate.
Fioretti’s wines will no doubt be compared to Molinari’s and it will be a fascinating comparison regarding the effects of vine material and age, viticultural techniques and winemaking practices versus the influence of this estate’s very special terroir.