As you take a walk through the historical center of Montepulciano, it’s impossible not to stumble upon Cantina Contucci. It is located only a few metres from Piazza Grande, as you descend in Via del Teatro, a necessary passage for everyone visiting the town. This month we’re telling the story of one of the most ancient producers of Vino Nobile, one of the oldest companies of wine makers of Tuscany and of the world.
The name of the Contucci family begun to appear in Montepulciano around the year one thousand, a presence that seems to have always been connected to the agricultural activity. The building in which the cellar is currently located has been a property of the Contucci family since the year 1646: it was first built upon request of the Del Monte Cardinal and, after being owned also by the Grand Duke of Tuscany Ferdinando I, it became part of the Contucci properties. Before becoming a cellar, the palace had been part of guardhouse of Montepulciano.
Alamanno Contucci welcomes me in these very rooms, in which a significant part of the ancient history of Montepulciano and the history of his family are enclosed. Roughly fourty generations, a surname passed down from father to son, always keeping up the family business and the agricultural production, are demonstration of great administrative and entrepreneural skills. Alamanno tells me that, for him, his role in the family company has been fortuitous: he had studied to become a diplomat and he was about to participate to a competition to join the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Farnesina) when his life took a different path.
“If I had chosen that path, I would have travelled the world. But, thanks to the Vino Nobile, it’s the world that now comes to us. Today, Montepulciano is visited by people from every corner of the world, it’s almost like travelling, isn’t it?”
To this day, he’s been working in his farm for almost fifty years, and he’s happy about it. Alamanno has also been President of the Consorzio del Vino Nobile for over twenty years, so he knows the world of poliziano wine very well.
The Contucci Cellars isn’t just a company passed down by the family, but it’s currently run by its descendants: besides Alamanno there’s his son Damiano, who takes care of the agronomic matters. The administration, the relationships with the suppliers and the welcoming is handled by Ginevra, while the sales in Italy and abroad are managed by the nephew Andrea. Three important company branches are handled by three family members, but we shall not forget about their collaborators, like the historic cellar masters Adamo and Marco, or the consultants. The autonomy the family has over its own company is rewarding for them, because it grants them the chance to pass on their history and to have a contact with their customers.
As for the marketing, the location of the cellar in the heart of Montepulciano is an indisputable advantage. The Contucci Cellar is the only one left within the historical center that has the chance to conduct the whole productive process within its building. Also, thanks to about 70 thousand visits per year, they also manage to sell a good slice of their production right from the cellar.
In the last few years, export has become more and more important: if before it was Japan, United States, Austria and Germany, now there’s also new emerging markets. Since Andrea is in charge of sales, the marketing to italian restaurants and wine shops has also increased. The presence of the Contucci wines is strong in Milan, Rome, Versilia, in Florence and all around Montepulciano, among Valdorcia and Valdichiana.
Overall, according to Alamanno, this is a good moment for the Vino Nobile. Taking the economic cycles into consideration, in the last fifty years there has been a trend reversal: if once the cereals were what generated most of the incomes of a farm, now it’s the vine, which needs more care.
“We are an historical type of tuscan farm, we keep producing wine, olive oil and wheat. Olive oil is very expensive to make and it has low margins, while cereals are generally in crisis. Luckily, the market of tuscan and poliziano wine is going well, for the Vino Nobile is a favourable moment.”
Cantina Contucci believes that it is in such moments that investments must be made, because when a crisis comes you need to be ready to face it. The territory is doing that, it’s growing and it has many companies that are working well: Alamanno thinks that, in the last thirty years, a lot has been made, the number of producers has increased and now they’re over 75; that means that a lot of good work has been done.
“There’s no need to say that our wine is the best, we should help the others to make it better, to take more care of the result, to make the whole movement of wine and of the territory grow. The right mentality is that the area must grow together. A reality like Montepulciano isn’t made great by one single spearhead, but by the totality of the producers that aim to make products of quality.”
Montepulciano and the Vino Nobile have often been a vanguard: just think of the first DOCG released for the markets. Back then, the producers of Montepulciano were pioneers, they made way for everyone else, and right in that moment there was a trend reversal that pushed everyone to improve the quality of their wine. An evolution that brought the number of bottles of Vino Nobile produced every year from 450.000 to over 8 millions, a clear statement of its commercial success and of the good work behind it.
It is in moments like these that investments must be made, according to Cantina Contucci, especially when it comes to innovation. But this innovation must not force nature: they would never alter the natural methods, both in their mechanic and enologic aspects, and they don’t put additives into their wines. They know that their wine cannot please the whole world – also because it couldn’t possibly supply it all – but who knows it loves it because it’s natural and made with respect of the consumer. Cantina Contucci can’t grow much bigger than it already is, as its spaces are limited, but they still want to keep improving the outcome of their work, to grant to all the enthusiasts of their wine the chance to drink it: “There shouldn’t be people left thirsty with our wine, we don’t want that.”
The peculiarity of this cellar is that it’s one year late on the allowed commercialization schedule. This is because they only use historical vines that needs to be handled with traditional methods; they don’t use chardonnay or merlot grapes, which need less refinement time than sangiovese and prugnolo gentile. For this reason, the sales are one year behind compared to the two-years period expected by the procedural guideline, but the customers seem to relish this choice.
The production of Cantina Contucci is about 100 thousand bottles per year: it’s a small-medium cellar with 21 and a half hectares of vineyards, of which about 65% is used to make Vino Nobile, in the localities Salarco, Pietra Rossa, Mulino Vecchio and S. Albino.
The varieties of Vino Nobile produced are four: one classic, one ‘Mulinvecchio’ selection, one “Pietra Rossa” selection and one Riserva. Then there is one Rosso di Montepulciano and one white wine called “Bianco della Contessa”. Worthy of mention is also the table wine “Il Sansovino”, dedicated to their ancestor Andrea Contucci, also known as “Il Sansovino”, sculptor and architect. Last but not least, there’s the Vinsanto, which represents a very marginal part of the production, which testifies an ancient tradition. This is the product line with which Cantina Contucci aims to please all its loving customers, without giving up on their tradition and identity.
“The tastes change, but you can’t change the production accordingly: we’d rather sell our strong identity, without distorting ourselves.”