Gianpaolo Paglia, Poggio Argentiera (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
During my most recent trip to Toscana in May, I spent some time with Gianpaolo Paglia, co-proprietor of Poggio Argentiera, one of the top estates in the Morellino di Scansano zone, in the area known as the Maremma. I’ve admired his wines for several years, so it was a great pleasure to finally meet him, taste his new releases in the cellar as well as see his vineyards.
Paglia is a fascinating example of a producer who has altered his style. While he once made wines that were aged in small oak barrels, he has now changed his approach. He got rid of the barriques at his winery and now only uses large casks for maturation. He firmly believes that tradition is the way to go when producing wines in his area – as well as other zones in Tuscany. By that he means not only aging in large casks, but also the varieties used, so for his Morellino di Scansano, he uses only local varieties such as Ciliegiolo and Alicante to blend with Sangiovese, opting not to include international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah.
As Paglia drove me to one of his vineyards, he was only too happy to tell me about his winemaking philosophy.
GP: “There’s much better wine that can be made here if you stop following that kind of model (small oak). We don’t do those wines anymore and I can see the huge potential that there is.
“I think there are a lot of people who consciously or unconsciously doing that (moving away from producing international wines). Colleagues were coming to taste my wine at the last VinItaly. What is drawing them back is the fear that the market doesn’t want those wines (oaky, modern wines). They say, ‘I don’t want to make those types of wines (international styles), but that’s what the market wants.’ The market doesn’t want that at all.
The Maremma is a place where you can make beautiful, true Mediterranean wines without having to show the muscle, without all this new oak, without all this body from concentration. Just let the wines be what they are without forcing them. That can really show the true potential. And I can tell you that those wines are successful in the market as well, contrary to what they think. I’m proving that.
“We have had great success in the market and there are other people who said, ‘I was waiting for that.’ Especially the people in the trade. They said, ‘I don’t like the wines with oak, but that’s what the market wants.’ Actually, it’s not true. You ask those people what they like to drink and they tell you, white wines and sparkling wines. That’s because they don’t like heavy reds.
“We’ve been through that. I was at a wine dinner last recently. People who were there included local doctors, lawyers, notaries, retired professsional people, all of whom have a passion for wine. They’re not in the wine business. Several of the wines were light or pale garnet in color and people loved those wines. They told me, these are the wines we want to drink.”
“This is what can be done here. These wines are all successful and all demand a good price and are all true to the terroir.”
“I have received more accoaldes than ever this year. I think a lot of people will notice that and make wines like this. Once that happens, that’s good news for this area, because once you remove this structure of oak, the terroir really emerges in the wines.
“The more producers who make wine in this way, the more Scansano has an identity. Stop using a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It’s easier to work this way, because you are not following any model, you are following nature. That’s how the wines comes. OK, it’s not dark in color, but who cares? If the color’s not there, it’s not there.
“You go back to tradition and you make amazing wines. It’s like a pendulum. We’ve gone too far one way and now we’re going back.”
It’s only been for a short time that wines with small oak have been made here in Tuscany. They were made in a different way for hundeds of years. You can do a lot in ten years. It takes a bit of money as well as encouragement. But money is constantly being spent on a lot of things.
“Replace all the Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah and graft them over or replant Sangiovese. You can do that and reshape the image of your area. It takes a bit of vision, not a lot, just a bit.”
One of Paglia’s vineyards in the Scansano zone (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I asked Giampaolo about the so-called gurus who write for certain publications or websites who see themselves as opinion makers. Don’t they have a lot of influence on consumers and the way wines are made?
GP: “Perhaps, but there isn’t all the power there. Yes, for some people. But the vast majority of people don’t read that, they’re not interested. If you make the wine with a strong character from that particular area, people understand that. If something is true, if something is real, whether it’s a tomato or a bottle of wine, you feel that. And I can see that more and more and more.
“I recently started selling wines at Majestic, a retail chain in England. These stores have thousands of labels from all over the world. 200 shops, they move a lot of wine. We are selling the regular Morellino, made with Sangiovese and Ciliegiolo, so no international varieties, nothing to appeal to the international markets.
“People that buy the wine, they do not read Parker. They taste the wine, they see that is is real. They like it because this wine reminds them of something. Maybe they’ve been to Tuscany, they can connect with the place.
“You can only do this if the wine is real. Because if the wine is full of Cabernet or Merlot, it doesn’t connect to the place, it doesn’t do anything, it doesn’t connect.
“People love that. Give them something different. We notice that. Don’t give them what you think they want.
“I understand if you produce millions of bottles. If you’re somebody like Jacob’s Creek from Australia, you make wine a certain way. That’s a commodity. But we’re not in the same business.
“Take the wines as they are. Present them for what they are and people will see that you believe in them. People will taste them and see that they are real. They might not be to the liking of 100% of the people, but what is?
“People want to try something original. If you open a bottle of wine, you want, ‘Oh, this is the bottle of wine I tasted the last time and it tastes of something, it tastes of that place. It doesn’t taste like something else.’
“People who say that they have to follow the fashion (of making international wines) … it’s all in their minds. It just takes someone to show they can do it and they follow.”
We all owe a debt to Gianpaolo Paglia for making wines that reflect tradition, that show a sense of place. It’s true that there are many other producers that do the same; it’s just that they are not as outspoken on this topic as Paglia. But they share the same vision. As he says, “the pendulum is swinging back.”
It seems to me that the only way that Italy will continue to sell more wines in the world market is to make wines that are authentic. Bravo to Gianapolo Paglia and hundreds of other producers for understanding that!
Text and photos ©Tom Hyland, 2012