Last week I had the honor of meeting and having dinner with a man who leads his family’s 120-year-old winery. Among the highlights was this passing comment:
“Italians don’t drink very much wine,” Andrea Cecchi said in his thick yet soft-spoken Italian accent. “Only at dinner,” he paused for a bit, “and lunch.“
There were three of us sitting at the table with him and it made us chuckle. To Americans, that sounds like a lot of drinking, but we understood what he was trying to say. Wine drinking in Italy is very much a part of the meals and embedded in their routines – whereas here in the U.S.,
we’re more prone to drink before dinner, at dinner and then maybe again after dinner. We’ll find just about any excuse to uncork a bottle.
But it’s probably a good thing that Andrea sees Americans as drinking more wine: It’s his business. Together with his brother, he oversees Cecchi Winery, located in Castillino – one of the four municipalities located entirely within the Chianti region. It started four generations ago in 1893 and since the early 1900s, the winery has focused on bringing their wine to international mass markets.
Some of their finest wines come from the premier Chianti Classico DOCG, which
on Sept. 24 celebrated its 300th anniversary as the world’s first designated wine region. To celebrate, Andrea was here in Washington, D.C., to present a magnum of his family’s Cecchi
Riserva di Famiglia Chianti Classico to the Italian Embassy.
Producing wine from these historic grounds was a visible sense of pride to Andrea, as he pointed to the black rooster – the official designation that the wine is from Chianti – on the label of a few of the bottles he brought for us to try.
During dinner we tasted five of his wines: Two from Chianti and two from Maremma, which is southwest of Tuscany (and Florence) and along the Mediterranean coast. Maremma is its own separate wine region, but it’s a common place for Chianti producers to buy more grapes in the years when their Chianti vines don’t yield enough fruit.
The Cecchi Winery is among the leading producers to recognize Maremma’s value not just as a place for extra grapes and started bottling a line called La Mora, which includes a Vermentino and a Sangiovese. They were bright food-friendly wines with wonderful acidity. The Chianti Classico we tasted had more of the rustic charm I associate with traditional Italian red wines, while the Chianti Riserva improved upon the Classico with a beautiful depth. All four wines I’d certainly seek out again and would want to enjoy with a table full of friends.
The fifth wine, called Coevo, is a blend of both regions and composed of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Merlot. It’sdark and brooding with big fruit and big silky tannins that give you a refined elegance. With only 13.5 percent alcohol, it stays true to its old-world traditions yet takes on a new world appeal. And that’s the reason Andrea and his brother began producing this wine. Coevo, which Andrea said translates to “contemporary,” symbolizes their efforts to be a wine of the present among the international market with an eye to the future.
This modern thinking, however, isn’t just about a single bottle of wine. It’s in the fabric of the
company itself. A quick glance at their website shows off their modern facilities, their sustainability efforts and their work in helping the entire Chianti region innovate.
After four generations, naturally Andrea and his brother’s children are destined to carry the company into the future. Right?! No, said Andrea. Only one of them is currently interested in being in the wine business and Andrea said there’s no pressure for the others to join. He’s satisfied that the fifth generation is secure.
“In Chianti, we have a lot of dust,” he said, motioning a sweeping gesture off his shoulders to emulate how it can settle in one place. To be successful, he explained, they need managers who aren’t part of their family, but can work closely with them to help wipe away that “dust” and keep the business moving in a forward direction.