Corzano e Paterno. Two hills a stone’s throw west of Chianti Classico in the Colli Fiorentini, purchased on a whim in 1969 by a retired Swiss architect named Wendel Gelpke. The place was a mess back then. The whole region largely abandoned as people left for the city and the promise of a desk job. Corzano had been a farm with few vines and olive trees, no modern equipment, and no electricity or running water. The farmhouses on the property were leftovers from the mezzadria days when families worked the land and split the profits with the land owner. Wendel had a vision then. He took his 7 year old son Till, his nephew Aljoscha and Till’s dog, Sacha, and set about the long process of reclaiming the land and modernizing the property.
Last month I went to visit Corzano e Paterno as part of a larger trip around Tuscany. Katiuscia had been my point of contact and had warned me not to use the GPS to get there. And in my mind it was not on, even though it was. Distracted by Siri’s bleating, I miss a critical turn and lead us down a dirt road, past a field, and into a forest. The road turns into a path, the path in to pebbles. My driver would go no further. Our GPS veering in all directions, the phone cutting in and out, we call Katiuscia for a rescue.
She takes us to the farmhouse where we are staying. The building, spacious and rustic, has been renovated with a designer’s eye. Situated among the trees down a dirt road, passed the family home, it’s really not what I would call a farmhouse. It’s big and beautiful with large windows and a huge door, the walls built from the very stones that are found on the property. The kitchen in our flat is happily pre-stocked with wine and cheese. The common kitchen on the first floor has an open hearth. I am sad not to be here long enough to cook a big meal on it. There are several other apartments in this house and another house further on which are rented out to travelers.
I met Wendel’s nephew, Aljosha, last year in the store when he came to show Corzano e Paterno’s wines. Aljosha came to live on the estate with his uncle when he was 13 and is now the farm’s director. He and his wife, Antonia, have raised 5 children here. I see him now at the bottler giving direction to a couple of his crew as they run an emergency labeling following an overturned truck that morning on the dirt road. (I suddenly feel less stupid.) Katiuscia says that Aljoscha does everything around the winery. He greets us with a smile. He is not stressed, just problem solving. He shows us around the cellars, everyone working, going about their day.
Wendel’s daughter, Arianna, busies herself around the fermentation tanks, her newborn son, Sebastian, sound asleep in his carriage by the front door. He is undisturbed by the clanking of the bottler. Arianna is elegant and gracious as she shows us around her workshop. She was born here. Having studied Enology and Viticulture at the University of Florence, and later working vineyards in New Zealand and Bolgheri, she began working with Aljoscha as the winemaker full time in 2013. She says that they work very closely together on decisions regarding the wine.
Antonia runs the dairy. Donning rubber boots, we tried our best to stay out of the way as the cheesemaker’s dashed in and out of the rooms. They were some of the seemingly happiest people I have ever seen. Afterward, as we sampled the wines and cheeses on the terrace, I understood why. This was cheese to ruin all other cheese for all time. Fresh, melt in your mouth, delicate and flavorful. Unpasteurized and definitely not available here. All the cheese is accounted for as soon as it is made, destined for gourmet shops and restaurants in Florence.
Tasting the wines here at the vineyard was a treat. The white is always a surprise. Arianna blends Chardonnay, Trebbiano and Malvasia with Petit Manseng, giving it a racy quality you don’t normally get in Tuscan whites. The Rosso is a Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon blend, round, ripe and delicious. I was delighted to make a new discovery, the Tre Bori, which just became available in the U.S., is 100% Sangiovese aged in barrel for 23 months. Rich and complex, we now have it in our store. We also have some cases of the rosé.
The morning of our departure, a flock of sheep are being hearded down the path by a small car outside our window. I thank the sheep as they pass for all the beautiful cheese. As we leave on our way to the main road I thank the vines and the olive trees and let them know I plan to return.
Back in Boston, sitting at my computer, I look at Google Maps with Fattoria Corzano e Paterno in the center. I see Agritorismo Pallerino to the west which I now know is Aljoscha’s brother Wenzel, and Tuscany Ballooning just northeast, run by Aljoscha’s other brother, Pascal and Pascal’s son, Oliver.
It’s very easy to get a sense of this family. With two branches of them living on or near the winery, there are children and now grandchildren everywhere. The first time we turned down the dirt road toward the winery we passed the family home where a birthday party for Arianna’s second son was taking place, balloons rising out from behind the stone wall, a little hand made sign above the stairs reading “Children”. Cats and dogs share the road with you, then walk back to the center as soon as you drive by. It’s their walkway. We’re just passing through.
Wendel died in 2001. It’s incredible to consider the legacy he set in motion that day when he first saw the property and made the decision to buy it. His wife, Susan, writes so eloquently about the long violent history of the region and her family’s experience watching it evolve into the magical place it is today. Meeting them is an object lesson in grace. Their commitment to the land and to each other is evident in the beauty of the property they steward and the quality of the products they produce.