Steeped in history, San Felice is also a place of intense research and innovation, reflected not only in the character of its wines but also in its many environmental, cultural and social initiatives. In this vibrant, in-depth conversation, Dr. Carlo De Biasi, General Director at San Felice, delves deep into the company’s evolution, foundational values and future challenges.
How would you define the working philosophy at San Felice?
Dr. Carlo De Biasi – The value that guides San Felice is, first and foremost, sophisticated authenticity. We respect our land, its culture and its traditions, and we celebrate all three by creating special, characterful wines of excellent quality. We strive to constantly improve and achieve the best, driven by an instinctive quest for excellence and the desire to raise the bar while remaining authentic. With this in mind, attention to detail becomes a daily practice; we know that a perfect experience is the result of attention to detail, even the details that seem irrelevant.
San Felice has long been a pioneer, introducing new – now classic – interpretations of Tuscan wines and grapes. Will we be seeing any new classics soon?
San Felice has a long history. In 1968 it gave birth to Vigorello, a single-varietal Sangiovese, when the rules of the Chianti Classico DOC still required the blending of white grape varieties (Trebbiano and Malvasia). It was the idea of Enzo Morganti, who revolutionised the strict disciplinary regulations of the time to create a full expression of the nuances of this great variety and terroir, deciding to downgrade the wine to ‘Vino da tavola’ (table wine), the bottom level of the wine quality pyramid despite the fact that it was made from grapes grown in vineyards located within the DOC area.
By the end of the 1970s, as research into other varieties began to bear fruit, San Felice added international grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, grown on the estate. In 2011, oenologist Leonardo Bellaccini decided to introduce Pugnitello, a native Tuscan grape recovered thanks to pioneering genetic profiling.Our effort will be to continue producing – both at San Felice and at the two sister estates in Montalcino and Bolgheri [Campogiovanni and Bell’Aja] – the wines that have always distinguished us and that remain faithful to the history and vocation of their terroirs. . In a rapidly changing climate, it will be no small effort.
If you could identify a ‘San Felice style’, how would you describe it?
San Felice is all about careful winemaking, respectful of terroir, history and culture. Our daily commitment is to produce wines with a strong identity, that encapsulate authenticity, elegance, terroir expressiveness and a wine culture that dates back centuries. We let the grapes express themselves in the wines, while also interpreting the vintage, without filters.
Can you tell us about the Vitiarium?
What led to its creation and how has it evolved? The Vitiarium, a collection of ancient native grape varieties, aimed at curbing the genetic erosion, is a perfect materialisation of San Felice’s philosophy. The experimental 2.5-hectare vineyard was first planted in 1986 with a collection of 270 grapes, 161 of which red. Subsequent phenotypic and genotypic analysis led to the selection of 30 varieties which underwent a second phase of research to identify their morphological stability and their best analytical and sensory profiles when vinified on a small scale.
Abrusco, Ciliegiolo, Mazzese and Malvasia Nera turned out to be of greatest interest and today, when blended with Sangiovese, they express the power of their indigenous character in San Felice’s wines. Pugnitello, on the other hand, immediately proved its potential to be vinified individually. In 1992, 1,000 cuttings of this variety were planted on a small farm not far from the Poggio Rosso vineyards, and used, in 2003, to make Pugnitello Toscana IGT, now one of the estate’s iconic labels.
Today, the collection represents a pool of viticultural biodiversity that is key to facing future challenges. Ancient varieties can express their ability to adapt to the changing climate, ensuring that San Felice wines continue to maintain their identity.
What will be the biggest challenges (and opportunities) for San Felice in the near future?
To continue improving quality in a context of climate change that has a direct and significant impact on winegrowing.
And how do you hope to tackle these issues?
We believe regenerative viticulture is the viticultural model best-suited to meet this challenge. It involves a long, but worthwhile, transition period; the end result is a resilient vineyard. While embarking on this path, San Felice has recently started a company-wide study of the soil microbiome.
These issues are, of course, too complex to be be tackled alone, independently. This is why we have joined the Paris-based Association Lien de la Vigne – Vinelink International, an independent intergovernmental association that brings together university research departments, international winemakers, and public and private interprofessional organisations, dedicated to collaboration, exchange and transfer of technological innovation for the wine sector.
San Felice received Equalitas certification in 2022. Exactly what does it consist of?
Equalitas is a joint initiative of Federdoc and Unione Italiana Vini, with the collaboration of CSQA Certificazioni, Valoritalia, 3Avino and Gambero Rosso, that promotes sustainability across the food chain. It recognises compliance with sustainability standards across cultivation, vinification, ageing and packaging of wines, based on three fundamental pillars: environmental, social and economic.
We wanted to certify ourselves because it is essential for a third party to validate our path of improvement sustainability. We chose the Equalitas certification because of its wide technical scope and management-driven approach which incorporates sustainability in the company’s dynamics, primarily through self-assessment. It helps us convey to the consumer what has long been our philosophy in the environmental, economic and social fields.
Hospitality is another important part of the company’s soul isn’t it?
Absolutely. The Borgo lies at the heart of the estate, in the hills of Castelnuovo Berardenga in the province of Siena, surrounded by the valleys of Chianti. Its origins date back to Etruscan times, but the Borgo, as we know it, is a child of the early Middle Ages.
Having undergone renovation in 1991, it was converted into a 5-star ‘scattered hotel’ in 2011 and has been part of the Relais Châteaux network since 1992. Nestled in the beautiful vineyards and olive groves, it is a wine resort with two restaurants, a swimming pool, a gym, two tennis courts and a spa. A place of memory and evocation, of history and well-being, immersed in nature and in the peace and tranquillity of the most authentic part of Chianti Classico.
San Felice’s ambition is to create moments of enjoyment that will stay with our clients and guests forever, celebrating and interpreting the finest and most distinctive Tuscan living.