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Winemaker-Vincenzo-AbbruzzeseWinemaker Vincenzo Abbruzzese insists on quality Valdicava is the name of the area that leads into the foothills of Montalcino. To the left is the La Casa vineyard of Caparzo, and to the right is Val Di Suga. The small hill in the middle of the property has the area's oldest vines, Madonna del Piano, which were planted on the property in 1970.

The Valdicava estate was one of the original members of the Brunello consortium, which was formed in 1967. Like everyone else in the region, the Abrusezzi family was trying to emulate the wines of Biondi Santi. The early years were tough, as the producers were feeling their way through production problems, and many did not have the facilities to produce outstanding wines.

But the 1970s brought a huge influx of newcomers to Montalcino. The Cinzano vermouth firm, with Coco-Cola money behind it, headed a group that purchased Col d'Orcia, an estate that has produced wine for years. Marchesi de Frescobaldi was involved with a group known as Enoviticola Senese, which had French, German, and Spanish investors as well. Their estate, Castelgiocondo, brought out its first bottles in 1980, not all of them Brunello.

The most talked about outsider was the house of Banfi, the largest US importer of Italian wines, which had prepared some 1,000 acres of vines (only 125 of them in Montalcino) at a place called Poggio d'Oro, or "the golden hill." All this new activity forced the old-timers like Valdicava to continually improve their wines to keep up with the foreign talent. Valdicava has been experimenting with rootstock and different clones of Brunello Grosso on their estate for the last thirty years, and today they seem to have the winning combination.

Valdicava is truly one of the stars of the Brunello district. The wines of this estate are the work of Vincenzo Abbruzzese, who is a perfectionist. He will settle for nothing short of excellence, and it shows in what he produces. He has seen the big companies come in and make a huge impact in terms of recognition for the wines of his region, but he loves some of the simple things. A goat and horse, for example, reside companionably together outside the winery. His father had a goat and a horse on the property that became comrades (supposedly not an uncommon thing in this part of the world), and when Vincenzo looks out over the vineyard and sees these two animals hanging out together, it makes him remember his father.

This estate has been dedicated to quality from the very start, with an ongoing experimentation of rootstock and clone selection refining every vintage of the wine. While the oldest vines on the property were started in1970, the youngest were planted in 2001.

Today, Vincenzo Abbruzzese is one of Montalcino's leaders in progressive thinking and cutting-edge viticulture. He believes that chemicals harm the long-term the health of the soils, that they are a short-term, easy fix to a specific problem and can cause even bigger problems in the long run.

The vineyard's combination of different soil types supports 3,000 vines per acre. Four different rootstocks and four different clones of Sangiovese make Valdicava one of the most unusual wines made in Brunello. Valdicava did years of research to find out which rootstock/clone combination did the best in each particular soil type, and the new releases from this winery soundly prove that this is one of the top producers in Brunello Di Montalcino today. The winery produces an average of 2,000 cases of Rosso di Montalcino, 2,000 cases of Brunello di Montalcino and 500 cases of the Riserva Brunello di Montalcino labeled "Madonna del Piano."

The limited production of these wines can make them very hard to find, especially when wine writers like Robert Parker Jr. give praise such as, "The 1995 Madonna Del piano is a candidate for wine of the vintage." And even more impressively stating that, "Vincenzo Abbruzzese is Montalcino's number one over-achiever with winner after winner since 1988. The secret is a willingness, indeed eagerness, to spend whatever it takes for quality, in addition to utilizing some of Italy's outstanding consultants: winemaker Attilio Pagli and agronomist Andrea Paoletti (the former Antinori vineyard manager). Pagli is unfortunately little known to the larger public, but no oenologist in Italy has made so many excellent wines since the mid-1980s."

We would have to agree with Parker, because whenever we do a tasting that includes Valdicava's wines, they almost always steal the show. Although most great Brunellos really do not offer immediate gratification, Abbruzzese 's wine has a fair amount of immediate appeal, due to its rich forward fruit. The Rosso Di Montalcino from Valdicava surpasses many Brunellos in richness and structure. The grapes come from the same vineyard, and in off years, the Rosso from Valdicava are some of the best buys from this famous wine region

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