15 Min Read

Discovering La Gerla: A Tale of Tradition and Innovation

There is no bigger name in Brunello than that of Biondi-Santi. They are perhaps the only winery/family in the world which actually “invented” a wine, the much loved Brunello di Montalcino. Founded back in the mid-1800s, for a long while, they were the only winery in this part of Tuscany, where they made some of Italy’s best wines. They were very much part of the reason that, in 1980, the region, along with three others, was the first in Italy to receive DOCG status.

Ken Gargett  17 May 2024

The Legacy of Clemente Santi and Ferruccio Biondi-Santi

The vineyards began with Clemente Santi growing Sangiovese. His grandson, Ferruccio Biondi-Santi, released the first ‘modern’ Brunello with the 1888, having isolated the strain of Sangiovese that still provides the wines today. But progress was slow. By the end of the Second World War, Biondi-Santi was still the only producer in the region, though their output was hardly impressive with only four vintages – 1888, 1891, 1925 and 1945. Their cellars still hold bottles of the first two.

The Birth of Fattoria La Gerla

In 1932, Ferruccio was posthumously dubbed, “the inventor of Brunello” by an interministerial committee. He had passed away in 1917 and Tancredi took over.

That has changed greatly these days and we have many wonderful producers offering thrilling wines. A new producer to these shores, La Gerla, has one advantage. In the early 1970s, Tancredi Biondi-Santi, Ferruccio’s son, passed away and the estate was split among his three children. Tedina, one of Tancredi’s daughters, sold her share, an old farmhouse and 6.5 hectares of vineyards, to Sergio Rossi, a gentleman from Milan (sounds almost Shakespearian), in 1975. And so was born, Fattoria La Gerla, although that name was not adopted until 1978. A gerla is the wooden backpack which used to carry grapes.

Evolution of Fattoria La Gerla

The estate has been expanded since then, notably with a five-hectare site in Castelnuovo, where they were the first to plant vines. The original site is one of the cooler in Montalcino while Castelnuovo is much warmer, and the two combined work wonderfully well. Combining sites in the region is less common than it is in many other wine districts. Their first vintage was 1976, making them one of the first 35 producers of Brunello. Today, of course, the number of producers is approaching 300.

When renovating the house on the property, the family discovered the ruins of the base of a house, or possibly a tower, that dated back to the 1100’s.

The Wines of Fattoria La Gerla

They make a range of wines, including Poggio Gli Angeli, a young style of red from Castelnuovo; Rosso di Montalcino, which sees two years in oak, one of them being in Slavonian oak casks; Birba, 100% Sangiovese (IGT Tuscany), which is declassified Brunello and spends a year in barriques before transferring to large format Slavonian botte; their classic Brunello; and finally their Riserva, Brunello gli Angeli, which is usually sourced from a single parcel of old vines from the Biondi-Santi section of the estate, though this is to change after the release of the 2021, to a more traditional blend of sites. The wine spends four years in large Slavonian oak casks before another year in bottle, before release. The standard Brunello is a blend of vineyards and spends three years in large casks and an extra year in bottle. There is a second Brunello called ‘La Pieve’, which was first released in 2017 from a single vineyard in Castelnuovo, planted in 1997.

Continuing the Legacy

Sergio sadly passed away in 2011, but his family continues the work and the wines continue to be made by Vittorio Fiore. Annual total production is just 90,000 bottles.

More detailed notes are available on the Reserve Cellar site, but a few favourites.

The 2021 Rosso is a serious version of this wine, full of big, bold cherry notes and a chalky backing. 2020 Birba is delicious drinking. The 2018 Brunello is a stunning wine (in fairness, I am perhaps more of a fan of the wines from 2018 than some critics – I love the elegance and refinement they offer). The 2018 Brunello Pieve is even more exciting.

These are thrilling Brunellos. If this is a region that excites you, seek them out. If it isn’t, and I can’t think of any sane reason why it would not be, these wines might just change your views.

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