By Giovanni Salvietti
In the Municipality of Radda in Chianti there is a gem to be discovered in all its facets and reflections. Thanks to the clear pure rural light it shines every day. On a glorious early morning we get to know our guides: Giovanna Stianti Mascheroni and her daughter, Federica Mascheroni Stianti – who take us to discover the Volpaia Castle.
The Volpaia Castle has been owned by the Stianti Mascheroni family since 1966, the year in which the terrible flood in Florence was recorded; Giovanna Stianti Mascheroni’s father, Raffaello Stianti, decided to organize a trip outside the city to show the family a portion of the Castle that was for sale.
At that time there were three shops inside the walls, a television owned by the farm manager and a public telephone.
The village was divided into three large properties: the first of the Orzalesi family – who ran Manetti & Roberts – the second of the Bartolini family and the third of the Canigiani family, now almost extinct.
We find the first written testimonies about the Castle of Volpaia in the Repetti which shows us how the castle was already built by 1172: the ‘curte et Castello di Vulpaio’ were received as a dowry by ‘Liquiritia, uxor Franculi’. The Canigiani family has undoubtedly left the greatest footprint on the castle, building the Commenda di Sant’Eufrosino – defined as a ‘commenda’ [type of medieval property contract, tr.] because with the wealth available, the ‘commended’ property could be kept in excellent condition. Inside the building we find the Canigiani family coat of arms and the coat of arms of the Knights of Malta. The architect is believed to have been Benedetto da Maiano also known as ‘Michelozzo’.
In the apse there was also an altarpiece by Cosimo Rosselli depicting a Madonna and Child between Saints Eufrosino and John the Baptist, now kept in Palazzo Strozzi. A current hypothesis is that the painter’s client Canigiani is shown in it. The original altar was not present at the time of the acquisition by the Stianti Mascheroni family and the nineteenth-century altar has been removed and given to the church of San Lorenzo in Volpaia.
Volpaia could be reached from all the tracks to the surrounding farms; proof of this is a map collected in the State Archives. A curiosity is the low and narrow alleys built to force riders off their steeds and walk through the streets of the centre.
In more recent times, during the Second World War, a part of the walls of Volpaia was ruinously destroyed by artillery fire.
Volpaia currently has 33 inhabitants and 4 restaurants: the properties have now been reunited in large part by the Mascheroni Stianti family. In addition to the prestigious winery there is also a farmhouse, a restaurant and a bakery. The vegetables that arrive on the Castle’s tables come from half a hectare of a strictly organic vegetable garden. In fact, since 2000, the Volpaia winery too has been certified as organic.
The winery extends within the village buildings, connected by an engineering masterpiece: an underground wine pipeline, which goes under the streets of the town.
During its construction each piece of pietra serena [a local stone] of the village streets was numbered and repositioned in its original location. The control centre is located in Piazza XVIII Novembre where the steel vats have been inserted directly into the buildings, by dismantling and subsequently reassembling their roofs.
The vinification process, from fermentation to fining, is now carried out almost exclusively by gravity, reducing the use of electricity. The ageing cellar is located next to the Commenda, on three floors. The Castle estate is about 390 hectares, 47 of which are vineyards, with an average production of 220,000 bottles in the best vintages.
It should be noted that in Volpaia the significant role of women returns periodically and in a fundamental way – starting from Liquerizia up to Federica and Giovanna, from 1172 to today.
We anticipate that on our next outing we will try the delicious dishes of the restaurant and the smooth wines of the Castle.