Caiarossa is a biodynamic winery located in Italy in the quiet hillside town of Riparbella in the Pisa province just north of Bolgheri. Located off the coast of Tuscany, Caiarossa has a strong connection to France as its sister properties are two Grands Crus Classés in Margaux, Bordeaux: Château Giscours and Château du Tertre.
And overseeing the winery is Frenchman Dominique Génot. I had the pleasure to meet him on a visit to the U.S. a few months ago, along with my friend, Nathaniel Muñoz, a sommelier in Los Angeles who also visited the winery recently.
Génot has been living in Italy for 10 years. Originally from Nancy, France, he studied enology and winemaking in Burgundy, and agronomy and viticulture in Bordeaux, receiving degrees from two benchmark schools in winemaking. Following his studies and time working in California at Saintsbury in Carneros, as well as in Marlborough, New Zealand, Génot was looking for work in Bordeaux when he was offered the job in Italy.
Génot began with the biodynamic estate of Caiarossa in 2006. Immediately his main focus was to take what he was given and simply improve each aspect to the best of his ability.
This includes expanding the acreage, as it has grown from 12 hectares to 31. The estate vineyard, which has a direct view of the sea, ranges from 180-300 meters in elevation. And the vineyard is diverse in soil type.
There are striations of calcareous soils mixed with stones and compact clays, while in other areas there is rich argil, which is a mix of clay and oxidized iron giving a reddish hue or “caia-rossa” (red stone). There is also a very stony limestone area where chardonnay, viognier, and a bit of petit manseng are planted.
Muñoz recently visited Caiarossa and spent time with Génot, sending me his impressions.
“The winery itself is an inspiring achievement on its own. Feng shui architecture adds to the thoughtfulness of the estate. The outside walls are painted red while the inside are painted yellow. This follows the idea that the yellow will draw the sun into the winery and the red will draw the wine out...
“The building is also in an orientation that allows for sunlight early in the morning and later in the evening. While at midday the smallest surface faces the sun, which helps regulate the temperature of the building. The position on the slope was considered as well as it is not the highest on the hill, which would allow for much exposure to the elements and not lowest in the slope so that there were too many elements above the structure.”
He also described the biodynamic processes: “The winery is gravity fed. There is a philosophy of interacting with the wine as little as possible. Macerations are slow and low, the same idea of braising foods. The most flavor and nuanced textures are possible with these techniques. Wood is only used as seasoning as there is high value placed on growing the best possible grapes. This way, if you start with an amazing initial product, the work is nearly done. Low intervention.”
Génot is focused on respecting the territory and the style of the estate. “I almost believe the ‘laziest’ winemakers may be the best,” Muñoz explained. “They initially do a lot of work to make sure the vineyard finds balance. The ideal is to do the least work possible. If done correctly, the vineyard will essentially do all the work for you. The vineyard reflects this as I walked through yesterday. There is an efficiency to the canopy. Each leaf has a purpose. They don’t compete with each other to collect sunlight. There is a harmony in the maturation from one plant to the next. You can see an evenness to the height of the shoots and the color of the canopy. No irrigation is allowed, and this struggle is encouraged to help the plant survive and find the resources needed to perform near the end of the growing season when there is less rain. All of this is considered so that when it comes to harvest, Dominique and his team can make their passes through the vineyard efficiently rather than having to harvest in multiple tries.”
Caiarossa produces a modest range of wines. White wine is five percent of the production. The single white wine, Bianco, is a neutral-oaked wine made with 60 percent viognier and 40 percent chardonnay. The majority of the wine produced is red blends from merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, sangiovese, petit verdot and alicante (a blend of grenache and mourvèdre). The red labels produced are Caiarossa, Aria, Pergolaia and Essenzia.
Génot did not set out to make the wines to “be” Bordeaux or Chateauneuf-du-Pape but he was looking to do a Left Bank Bordeaux-style wine, a Right Bank Bordeaux-style wine and a Cote du Rhone-style wine. As a joke, he and his team decided to blend all seven grapes together. The team loved it so much that the seven grapes have been blended each year, in varying proportions, in Caiarossa IGT.
Aria is a similar blend to the Caiarossa but from younger vines. Pergolaia is made with a minimum of 80 percent sangiovese, as well as cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. As they purchase a portion of the sangiovese, this is the only wine that is certified organic but not biodynamic.
Essenzia is a special bottling that is not made each year. Always bottled in magnums, this wine is made when something stands out in a vintage, whether a varietal wine or a blend. Caiarossa also producers Oro di Caiarossa, a botrytis-affected petit manseng, and in some years Grappa di Caiarossa.
I hope to visit Caiarossa so that I can experience firsthand Génot’s intricate vineyard management and minimalistic winemaking approach. But, in the meantime, the wines of Caiarossa can be enjoyed as they are imported into the U.S. by Lyra Imports.