What do you do when you, a world-famous writer and singer of songs, and your wife, an actress, movie director and producer, are looking for a summer place for family vacations? You find a 400-year old estate in Tuscany and spend years restoring the house, the groves of olive and chestnut trees and vineyards. Along the way, you buy back vineyards that previously had been sold. You add beehives and restore vegetable gardens. After 15 plus years, you have a working farm with so much wonderful produce you start offering honey, olive oil and wine. Maybe even rent out the place for weddings when you’re not there.
In 1997, Sting and his wife Trudie Styler fell in love with and bought Il Palagio, an agricultural estate located near the village of Figline Valdarno, south of Florence. They kept on many of the staff, and with their help and that of many others, began restoring the 400-year old property. Among the experts they have relied upon was Texas-born Alan York, an inspiring leader and expert on organic and biodynamic agriculture until his untimely death in 2014. When I heard that York was involved, I knew this was not just another “celebrity wine.”
I have not visited Il Palagio, but I have experienced first-hand the results of York’s influence and advice from two sites: Benziger Winery in Glen Ellen, where the four estate vineyards are Demeter-certified biodynamic, and Emiliana in Casablanca, Valpariaso, Chile, where 74 percent of vineyards are Demeter-certified biodynamic. It is inspiring to visit a property like Emiliana that is treated as a self-sustained universe teeming with biodiversity in the form of llamas, geese and chickens and different row covers depending upon the season. The row covers lure seasonal beneficial insects toward the vines and repel destructive insects. Or at Benziger, which employs sheep, Scottish Highlander cattle and various creatures from their Insectory, which relies on natural predator-prey relationships rather than chemical solutions. I have seen the beauty, ingenious creativity, thoughtfulness and sensitivity that York has inspired people to create. So, I can easily imagine the scene at Il Palagio.
For winemaking, they rely on two consulting winemakers, Paolo Caciorgna and Daniel O’Donnell. Caciorgna has a wine company named for his father, Pietro. He has vineyards in Tuscany in the Casole DOC area as well as on Mt. Etna in Sicily. He consults with several other Italian wineries. O’Donnell has worked all over the world including South America, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, China and Turkey. He came on board in 2013, and converted viticulture practices from biodynamic to organic with a goal of increasing production. All of their wines are certified organic by Bioagricert.
I recently tasted several of their wines and was impressed by the quality and pricing. The wines, bearing the name of Sting songs, clearly display their Tuscan origins. The prices range from $15 to around $50. Their flagship wine, Il Palagio, Rosso Toscana IGT, Sister Moon 2015 ($50), is a Super Tuscan blend with 45 percent Sangiovese, 45 percent Merlot and 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon that was aged in French barriques for 24 months. Flavors of black fruits are intertwined with floral notes and woody spices in this full bodied, statuesque wine that is well-structured with a fine balance of delectable fruit, acid and burnished tannins. It is youthful and promises better things to come.
Il Palagio, Rosso Toscana IGT, Casino Delle Vie 2018 ($32) is another Super Tuscan styled wine with 80 percent Sangiovese, nine percent Cabernet Sauvignon, nine percent Merlot and two percent Cabernet Franc. It spends 12 months in barriques and another six months in bottle. No, Casino Delle Vie is not a Sting song that you missed. It’s named for a nineteenth-century farmhouse on the estate. The Cab and Merlot lend a touch of cassis to the black cherry aromas. In the mouth, the ripe black cherry fruit mingles with tobacco, cedar flavors and gets a buzz from zesty acidity and is supported by sturdy, ripe tannins. Serve it with a pork roast or Veal Milanese.
You may want to dance when you taste Il Palagio, Chianti DOCG “When We Dance” 2018 ($17). It is such a charming, carefree blend of unoaked Sangiovese spiked with a touch of Canaiolo and Colorino. The cherry, strawberry and plum fruit displaying earthy, wood spice notes is juicy and energized by snappy acidity and supported with grainy tannins. The wine is aged in stainless steel for six months and three months in bottle, ready now. It’s smooth and easy drinking, perfect for a pizza. All the wines are certified from organic vineyards by Bioagricert. The US importer is Taub Family Selections.
Sting has built a recording studio on the property where he has recorded several albums. During Sting's European tours, Il Palagio is often a good base to retreat to for a few days between concerts. The family (including seven grandchildren) spends August enjoying the beautiful property and its bounty. They probably had no idea how involved they would become in restoring this estate. They were just looking for a place to spend the summer with their family, not a place to make olive oil, honey and wine. Trudie’s father had farmed when she was young, so she had a certain comfort level and confidence going into the project of restoring and replanting the vineyards. Having Alan York as guide to restoring vineyards capable of growing grapes that can make wines that speak of a place must have been so inspiring. Certainly, their efforts are reflected in their wines.
Photography by Jaime Travezan www.JaimeTravezan.com
Connect with Rebecca Murphy on Twitter at @RebeccaOnWine.