It’s not every day that a pair of Delta pilots land their jet in Pisa then hop into a rental car to make the nearly two hour drive to your winery.
Unfortunately, Paula Papini Cook wasn’t there to receive the pair, whose pilgrimage was inspired after reading about the winemaker and her winery, Le Miccine, in the airline’s Sky Magazine.
Cook laughs recounting the story, saying the pilots promised her mother – who was minding things while Cook was away – to return in a couple of weeks.
It’s just another day in the life of this 300-year old estate nestled among the hills of Gaiole in Chianti.
It wasn’t a given that Cook, who bought the estate in 2010, would be a winemaker. After all, she grew up in Canada – not exactly wine country, although she did pursue a degree in agriculture.
But wine as a career choice wasn’t exactly a foreign notion, either: throughout her childhood, Cook made frequent visits to her Italian grandparents at their home in Tuscany.
Then, as happens when one is trying to figure out what to do with her life, these ideas merged: become a winemaker and move to Italy. Thus, Cook earned her Master’s degree in Viticulture and Enology, following it up with internships in Chianti and Bordeaux.
Despite this experience, her efforts to get hired as a winemaker met with little success. So like any confident entrepreneur, she decided to seek out a winery she could purchase to run on her own.
Enter Le Miccine, whose owners were looking to retire.
The estate is just 7 heactares – a little over 17 acres, for those keeping track – planted with 47,000 individual grapevines that produce 30,000 bottles of wine annually.
Eighty percent of the vines are sangiovese, the main grape in Chianti, while the other 20 percent is made up of merlot, colorino, malvasia nera and the white grape vermentino. The fruit is farmed organically and hand harvested over eight days, starting in late September or early October.
Though the modern era of winemaking here dates only to the 1960s, growing grapes and making wine has always been done on these lands. In fact, Cook found the estate’s original recipe for wine and used it as the jumping-off point to develop her own style while honoring the traditional flavors and expressions of Tuscany.
In general, she lets the fruit ferment for seven to 10 days, until the yeasts consume all the sugar in the juice. Then she leaves the skins and juices for an additional two weeks to fully extract flavors and entice more complexity in the final wine.
In addition, if the press juice – what’s extracted from additional pressing on the skins after the “free run” juice is obtained from the initial crushing of the grapes – is any good (“…and it usually is,” says Cook), she will use it to enhance the final blend.
Some of the wine is divided into one of two enormous 4,900-liter (almost 1,300 gallons) barrels, which have a 25-year life span. The rest ages in 350 liter (92 gallon) barrels, which Cook will use for 5 or 6 years.
Then, at the appropriate time depending on the wine and its blend, everything is bottled and readied for sale. The wines remain unlabeled until their destination country is determined: Cook has labels that meet the varying requirements for countries from China to the US.
Which puts Cook in a pretty sweet spot. The winery is near peak production, her wines are sold around the globe, and people are beating a path to her door. Those pilots? They returned as promised two weeks later!
These wines definitely hit the mark when it comes to showcasing the classic Chianti style. Well, except for the merlot, which was in a class all its own! My notes:
Rossi di Conce Vermentio: Only 2,000 vines of this native Italian grape grow on the property, producing 600 bottles per year of this easy little white wine. I found it crisp and refreshing, with floral notes highlighted by a slightly nutty flavor. It had a nice creaminess to it as well.
Rosato di Toscana: This rose wine is made with merlot grapes. It was light, refreshing and not too demanding. It was nice alone, and would have been amazing with a plate of charcuterie and cheese.
Chianti Classico 2011: This wine had a lovely tomatoey quality in both the aromas and flavor. There were notes of black fruit and an acidity that Paula assured me would smooth out with another 18 months of age. Right now, though, pair it with food to take the edge off. This wine is 85% sangiovese, 10% malvasia nera and 5% colorino
Chianti Classico Riserva 2012: An all-sangiovese made in the classic style. My notes are pretty simple: great nose, so smooth, so delicious.
Carduus 2011: Crafted exclusively from merlot, this wine is a love letter to the Bordeaux grape. Lots of black fruit flavor comes through along with classic plum notes. Smooth and dangerously easy to drink!