Michèle Shah meets Count Francesco Marone Cinzano, gentleman farmer and high-altitude hunter, who also happens to make great wine. Col d’Orcia literally means the hill overlooking the Orcia River, which marks the southwest border of the Brunello di Montalcino territory, linking the name of the farm intrinsically to the physical location where the vineyards are planted. The Val d’Orcia is a unique territory that was declared part of the Patrimony of Humanity in the year 2004. Purchased by the Marone Cinzano family in 1973, it is one of Montalcino’s historic estates situated in Sant’Angelo in Colle.
Count Francesco Marone Cinzano took over the running of the estate in 1991, converting it in 2010 to become Tuscany’s largest organic winery with a total of 142 hectares of vineyards, of which 102 hectares are exclusively planted to Brunello di Montalcino producing 250,000 bottles of Brunello and the same number of Rosso di Montalcino, the “younger brother” to Brunello. Col d’Orcia is also considered one of Montalcino’s largest wineries. Its 520 hectares of land offers great bio-diversity, allowing for animal husbandry and the farming of ancient grains, olive groves, honey, truffles, as well as tobacco, a commodity that until 1952 was valued more highly than Brunello vines.
“This is how I interpret the meaning of ‘luxury’ today,” says Count Francesco. “Being able to live the life of a land-owner in a clean environment, devoting attention to the produce of one’s land, knowing how the animals are bred and how the agriculture and viticulture are carried out.”
The Cinzano family originated from Piemonte. Count Francesco’s passion for wine comes from his family heritage and family name, Cinzano, which since the 15th century was involved in producing liqueurs, moving into Vermouth in the 18th century. They were first to put Asti Spumante – a sweet sparkling wine made from Muscat grapes from Piemonte – on the national and global map in the 19th century. Cinzano became a global enterprise thanks to the large following of Italian emigrants who settled worldwide.
Before becoming a “gentleman” farmer Count Francesco was responsible for the commercial part of the Cinzano business, which was sold in the early 90s to the giants Diageo, the proceeds going into the purchase of two Montalcino estates, Argiano, which went to Francesco’s sister, and Col d’Orcia. However, Count Francesco’s passion for wine did not stop with Montalcino. He was one of the first investors – together with the Torres and Rothschild families – to open up new horizons in Chile, where he purchased land in the region of Maule and created the Erasmo estate, which today produces some 100,000 bottles of premium Chilean wines, and where he spends part of his time.
When not busy farming or travelling between two continents, Count Francesco enjoys sailing in summer and skiing in winter. However, his passion for hunting is well known and has been passed down from his grandfather who obtained the shooting rights on the Italian side of Mont Blanc. “My father maintained the tradition and so have I. The mountain, which belongs to the state, is the most beautiful mountain shoot in Europe and I am the only one allowed to shoot there,” says Count Francesco who has invited some of the greatest guns, including the brother of the erstwhile Shah of Iran, the King of Spain and the author of Hunting magazine to shoot there. “Mountain goats are considered the most difficult prey for hunters,” says Count Francesco, adding with a wicked grin, “The more they boast, the more they miss.”
His future plans include turning the entire farm produce from organic to biodynamic and become even more sustainable by using solar energy. He has plans to open the estate, which by tradition has always welcomed visitors, more to tourism by creating a five-room suite for visitors to stay overnight and a catering facility for dinners and parties.
Col d’Orcia exports to over 70 countries, and in 2008 was one of the first to export Brunello di Montalcino to India. The wines stand out both for their classic elegance and their ability to age well. Count Francesco loves India and has travelled extensively in the country – in Chennai and Hyderabad – not only to open new markets but also for pleasure. He endorses the He endorses the India tourism tagline, “Incredible India”, and sees India as a growing market with a healthy curiosity about wine.