castello de Bibiune, cum ecclesia, cum casis, viteis.
First we have to talk a little about grapes, without which Bibbiano would be just another Tuscan place name.
The Sangiovese grape is a legend of the Italian wine tradition.
It looks a bit like the ugly duckling of Andersen’s fairy tale: even with a very ancient history, only in the last fifty years has it fully demonstrated its true potential and conquered the world, and in particular the hearts of true connoisseurs and lovers of Tuscan wines and the Chianti Classico.
The origin of the Sangiovese is lost in the twilight of history. The cultivation of this grapevine had Etruscan origins and then, through the Romans, the tradition passed to the inhabitants of Tuscany. The name itself seems to come from Sanguis Jovis and translates into Blood of Jupiter. Today it is difficult to say whether it is true or not, but undoubtedly it is an ancient variety with its roots in Tuscany.
Antiquity is not a defect but something to be proud of.
The Chianti region is the heart of Tuscany, the heart of Italy, which harks back to the first human settlements, then the Etruscans and the ancient Romans. To possess these lands, which constitute a unique natural and cultural area, noble families and powerful states fought each other. But long before the political struggles began in Tuscany, they began to cultivate grapes and make wine here.
It is believed that the name Chianti has Etruscan origins, which means it is no less than two thousand years old, while the name Bibbiano shows late-Roman roots and dates back to 200 AD, so it is 1800 years old. Also in this period the first topographical map of Rome was made, the capital of the Roman Empire, although at an early stage of its crisis.
The first reliable mention of Bibbiano dates back to the 11th century. It is a deed on parchment, dated 1089 and attesting that Donna Mingarda di Morando gave Giovanni di Benzo the “curte” and the “castello de Bibiune, cum ecclesia, cum casis, (…) viteis (…)”, namely the estate and the castle of Bibbiano with the church, the farms and the vineyards.
Historians claim that the real development of wineries in the Chianti area, between Florence and Siena, began in the 12th century. But the first document, in which our estate is mentioned and which is carefully preserved in the abbey of Passignano, clearly confirms that the roots of the tradition date back to even more ancient times.
The Bibbiano farm remains one of the oldest in the Chianti region, saddling its owners with a serious ethical responsibility. Which makes us proud not only of the centuries-old history but also of the deep roots of our wine. Not many in the Chianti Classico (but in general, also in Tuscany, in Italy and in all Europe) can affirm that right here, in this unique area, uninterruptedly, without changing varieties, wine has been produced for almost two thousand years.
Monks are good at managing the farm but only when they treat it as their own creature and not merely as a source of immediate income.
The turbulent sixteenth century, which shocked the European world, left its mark on the farm’s history. In 1498 Bibbiano is included in the land register of the Decima Repubblicana under the ownership of Matteo di Piero di Francesco Squarcialupi. Four farms are mentioned here “chon casa da lavoratore, chon terre lavorative, vignate, ulivate, boschate e sode”, namely farms, lands, vineyards, olive groves, forests and meadows. The Squarcialupi, who had important properties, were very powerful and their properties extended from Casentino to Val d’Elsa. But a rich family of the late Renaissance had to think not only of the growth of its own assets but also of higher objectives: the salvation of their souls. It was for this reason that in 1500, according to the will of the late Matteo Squarcialupi, the Bibbiano farms passed to the Catholic and Florentine hospital of Santa Maria Nuova. Thanks to this generous gesture, the Hospital was able to finance itself for its work of caring for the sick, while the donor – with this pious act – could aspire to the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Hospital received the Bibbiano property gratefully and handled it caringly for more than 250 years, preserving the wine-making traditions of the business. It was also good fortune for Bibbiano: in those times belonging to the Church allowed you to stay out of political perturbations, avoiding the intrusions of the violent and, at times, bloody rivalry between the two powerful cities of Florence and Siena. Who knows how the methods of cultivating grapes would have changed, and if it would have been the same estate, if Matteo Squarcialupi had transferred his property not to the Hospital but to his direct heirs.
A very detailed description of Bibbiano and its nearby small farm, called Bibbianuzzo, is found in the Campioni dei Beni di Santa Maria Nuova of 1564. These Campioni made up the inventory of the property owned by the Hospital. The description contains a precise representation of all the lands and their produce, from the grapevine to the olive tree, from the seeds to the fruit plants and the livestock, including chickens and rabbits.
The monks were really good farmers. The cabreo, which today is kept in the Florence State Archive, also includes a schematic ground plan of the two estates. A similar but more up-to-date description dates back to 1607 and is contained in the document called the Visita Generale dei Beni dell’Ospedale. With this document the Hospital re-inventoried its assets giving a precise description of the agricultural practices, the products, the heads of cattle, the sharecroppers and their families. In the meantime the estate was operating in a stable and solid manner, always maintaining a high quality wine made with the Sangiovese.
As often happens, with stability come to mind the ideas conditioned by the newest trends and administrators allow themselves to be swept along recklessly.
The New Times arrived with their cult of immediate money that prevailed over traditions. The Hospital decided to “enter the new waters” and take a path that should have brought greater profits. It is not known who it was in the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova that decided to change everything, and when, but the fact is that the Hospital no longer found it convenient to manage the properties directly and proceeded to rent them, receiving the payment of an annuity. This type of contract was called “allivellamento” and was common throughout the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It was a real privatisation given that, after a certain period of years, the tenant (usually a neighbouring landowner) could redeem the property with the payment of a residual sum, as if it were a lease.
In this way, the desire to take everything immediately won the day and Bibbiano began to be seen mainly as a mere source of income.
Bibbiano was leased from 1767 to 1780, which does not seem a long period from an historical point of view, but the consequences were serious: incomes fell, the Hospital had to sell the farms and the succession of owners began. From 1780 to 1833 they belonged to the Landi family, of which the first was Iacobo. In July 1833 his son Michele Landi sold the property of Bibbiano to Don Tommaso di Bartolomeo of the Corsini princes who did not intend to deal with the development of the properties because he was devoting himself fully to his diplomatic career and to the affairs of state. It was he who was the official representative of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany at the famous Congress of Vienna in 1815, and he died occupying the office of Prime Minister of the Grand Duchy. Finally, in March 1865 another Don Tommaso Corsini, the son of Neri, sold Bibbiano to the brothers Casimiro, a lawyer, and Pietro Marzi, an engineer, ancestors of the current owners. And then there was a little bit of hope that the Bibbiano wine-making traditions might be recuperated, since the brothers considered the farm not so much a simple profitable asset but rather a family estate and cultural heritage.
Our family at the helm of the estate. A family of responsible and passionate owners during the period of the world wars.
The new era in the life of Bibbiano began with joy accompanied by the passionate and thoughtful activity of the new owners who gradually, but in fewer than 50 years, before the end of the First World War, got the farms and the business back in shape and carried out an expansion. In 1880, Antonio Marzi, son of Pietro, added the property of Gagliano with the other estates of Gaglianuzzo and Padule to the property of Bibbiano. Fortunately, the storms of the First World War did not affect Bibbiano and the Marzi family. In the meantime, new grapevines were planted, the olive groves were expanded and new structures were built. Bibbiano wine was sold throughout Italy and was successful in other European countries. In 1919 the family decided to build the main villa. As Antonio Marzi wrote, “human happiness consists precisely in restoring traditions, conserving them with care and handing them down to future generations. And no other momentary pleasure is comparable to this”.
Unfortunately the peace concluded in 1918 resulted, as the French marshal Foch said, not in peace but a twenty-year truce. The new world war this time spared neither the heart of Italy, nor Tuscany, nor the Chianti region. In the summer of 1944, during the passage of the war front, there was a small unit of German paratroopers in Bibbiano, whose resistance to the advance of the French and New Zealand troops considerably damaged the business. Only by a miracle, and also thanks to the efforts of the farmers, were the stocks and the vineyards saved, even if almost all the buildings were seriously damaged, as well as other important structures such as the aqueduct. In just a single summer the estate was in a worse condition than it was in the nineteenth century when the Casimiro and Petro Marzi brothers bought it. But it was possible to save the heart, the essence of Bibbiano: its grapevines and its land. This gave strength to Pier Tommaso Marzi, son and heir of Antonio: the difficulties of the post-war period, the lack of the necessary resources did not discourage him in his plans to rebuild and give new life to Bibbiano.
The new beginning and the support of the great Tuscan winemaker Giulio Gambelli.
In 1948 the business joined the Consorzio del Vino Chianti Classico, which brings together local producers. Between 1950 and 1970 Pier Tommaso Marzi and his son-in-law Alfredo Marrocchesi, an engineer, began, with the help of Giulio Gambelli, a profound restructuring that concluded with the construction of a large wine cellar, the planting of 20 hectares of specialised vineyard, over 10 hectares of olive groves, as well as the total modernisation of the equipment. Pier Tommaso and Alfredo were responsible for the management of the process, but not only: they spent a lot of time together with the workers checking everything, there were many late nights designing the construction projects and, in parallel, they talked with Giulio Gambelli about the new systems, the ageing methods, the style and the wine bouquet, they maintained the relationship with the University of Florence, exchanged impressions and experiences with friends who owned other Chianti Classico wineries. In practice, this twenty years saw the laying of the solid foundations of Bibbiano’s current prosperity.
The business is currently run by the fifth generation of the family. Having excellent professional training and international management experience, Tommaso and Federico seek to respect the balance between modernity and the age-old wine-making traditions without in any way damaging the authenticity of Bibbiano wine and the way it is produced. If you come to visit the farm in autumn after harvesting, you could easily meet them while they oversee the upkeep of the vineyards.
A monument of Italian oenology, who was – and will be remembered – not only as a true professional, but above all as an important witness of the twentieth century wine sector, where the historical testimony, which has rendered over sixty-six vintages, are his style and his wines.
Wines made with passion and professionalism: these are the two key words that have marked Giulio Gambelli’s relationship with Chianti Classico. A passion he had as a boy and a professionalism that has grown over the years, giving life to elegant and sober wines, a natural expression of our territory and therefore deeply Tuscan like those who make them. At the age of fourteen the young Giulio Gambelli began to frequent the Enopolio of Poggibonsi, the town where he was born, where he had the chance to develop his palate under the guidance of the director of the institute, Tancredi Biondi Santi.
Giulio Gambelli used his fine senses to understand the character of the wine, its quality and its development. Therefore, Tuscan winemakers quickly understood the potential of the young taster and requested his collaboration. Above all, Pier Tommaso Marzi, who introduced him to Bibbiano in November 1942, and together they handled the renewal of the vineyards and the wine cellar from the early 1950s until the first bottling – with its own label – of the 1969 harvest under the aegis of Alfredo Marrocchesi, father of the current owners.
And then many other important collaborations with famous wineries, many awards from the sector institutions and press, harvest after harvest until thanks to his merits – and without the academic title of winemaker – the world of wine gave him the title of “master taster”.
Recently, Editore Veronelli dedicated an attentive and sensitive biography to him, written by his friend the journalist Carlo Macchi, followed by a second edition of the Editore Giunti Slow Food.
Giulio Gambelli, the last master of the Sangiovese, died in his native Poggibonsi on 3rd January 2012.