Francesco Carfagna: the Giglio Island dream

It was not easy to get an appointment with Francesco Carfagna of Vigneto Altura. I contacted him over a month ago, he was pleased and surprised, however, he could not give me a date: ” We might be harvesting” was his answer.

At the end of August my family and I travelled to the Island of Giglio, off the coast of Tuscany, as agreed I called Francesco, but he was not feeling very well and busy with everyday life in the vineyard and cellar. He told me to call the day after and this happened for three consecutive days. I was almost going to give up, I did not want to intrude into his life, but I knew I needed to give it another try as I felt it was worth it.

He probably eventually understood my desire, or had enough of me (I am not sure!), however on the third day at 6,30pm he decided to welcome me. I rushed to the car and drove off to Giglio Castello, the medieval town perched on granite rock overlooking the entire island. The winery is actually his own house: an old round mill with the most amazing scenery at 360 degrees, underground there is a small room, very cramped, where Francesco make his wine.

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About 8 small stainless steel tanks (maybe less), one barrel, a destemmer crusher and a pneumatic press, nothing else. He takes me to the cellar and we try the Ansonaco 2015. There are 3 tanks and one of them still fermenting from last year. The wine is gold, unfiltered, although hazy it shines and vibrates. Made from one quarter of the grapes vinified in white, the rest is fermented in red with skin and stems for as long as needed. The gentle bubbles and small residual sugar show a wine “vivo” (= alive) as Francesco says. Rich of substance, fruity, dynamic, refreshing with a salty finish that reminds of the surrounding sea. I am stunned, I would like some more but I am too polite to ask. Francesco is worried about this tank :”By now” he says “It should be bottled, but how can I confine this wine yet! It is still fermenting over a year later! I must follow the will of the wine and wait. Nature should never be forced!”.

The next taste is a Chiaretto from Sangiovese grapes that Francesco buys from dear friends in Maremma. A few days of maceration, removal of the skin, then spontaneous fermentation, a splash of SO2 and the rest is experience. I feel I am drinking fruit juice, with an alcoholic hint, VA is at the limit, but it gives that intriguing character that enriches the wine and gives pure personality. I gulped the wine like never before, I am surprised it is not my habit to swallow!

We finished with a blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Grenache, Vermentino Nero and maybe something else. Francesco tells me that historically in Giglio there was more red grapes varieties then white. Already in the XVI century Andrea Bacci was dedicating a section of his work to the Giglio grapes. The island once was  covered in vines and as we travelled through a dirt truck to reach his vineyards, he shows me all the abandoned terraces now covered in wild bushes. The scenery is breathtaking: the ancient vines curled through the rocks, making their way, fighting for survival.

The grapes overlook the sea, sloping along the side of the granite south-west aspect, the silence around hits you hard, the total absence of noise fulfils the soul, I feel I am touched to the deepest part of my heart.

WP_20160831_19_12_44_Pro-3Every single intervention here is manual. The wild rabbits, this year, have had a feast and temporary fences had to be put to avoid their devastation. They eat everything, grapes and leaves and after three consecutive years the plant is lost forever. Sadness arises over Francesco’s eyes: it is the battle of a lonely man against nature, I feel for him and realised that over that apparent hard shell there is a big heart hidden away.

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The bright gold colour of the grape is the colour of the wine, the exposed part of the berry is burned by the sun: “Now you know where my wine comes from” he says. ” Look how generous the plant is” he points out with big pride: “These are plants that have not seen any proper rain since October and look how the vine responds. I have treated them twice this year with sulphur and copper..but the rabbits these are my real pests!”

The spirit of surviving through the difficulty and the adversity. This is my deep thought in the silence that surrounds us. I look at the distant sea and without voice I thank this man for this extraordinary experience. Out of the multitude of vineyards visited so far and the numerous tastes undertaken to understand the world of wine, this has to be one my most memorable moments. I had so many questions to ask, I was eager to come home with considerable examples from my MW study, but in all truth I could not ask any. What was I supposed to ask? How could I have questioned the dream of a man who started almost twenty years ago when the island became his home and after years of hard work has three hectares of land reclaimed? No I could not have asked any questions, this was not the usual visit, this was a human moment shared, a brief encounter between a master of experience and a woman in need to know. My full respect and silence was the only thing I could offer and these few lines dedicated to this man, his dream, his fantastic wines, his beautiful island and the genius talent that with great hope I wish someone, somewhere will be able to carry forward. Thank you Francesco and for sure see you again soon.

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