It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention but for Gilda Musetti and her brother Edoardo it became the catalyst for re-invention. When out of necessity the two siblings had to suddenly fill the shoes of their pioneering grandfather after his sudden passing in 2011, they chose to completely reinvent the wines by embracing organic and biodynamic principles.
Their grandfather, Giorgio Tendola, left them in a good place to start however because over many years he had built up a rare single site of 30 acres nestled in a natural amphitheater sheltered by the steep hill up to the town of Castelnuovo Magra in the Colli di Luni DOC. Giorgio was one of the early champions of Colli di Luni Vermentino and his Il Torchio vineyards date back to the 1970s.
In 2011 Edoardo was already in the process of obtaining an oenology degree and together with Gilda’s law degree the Musetti team had a solid educational foundation for both the winemaking and all the commercial activities that are essential for running a modern winery today. Within two short years they were in full control and their new direction was set. Today they are proud members of the growing Raw Wine movement, defined and loosely organized by Isabelle Legeron, MW.
We have written about other Raw Wine members like Terraviva and Rocco di Carpeneto as well as other winemakers who embrace all or some of the principles or rules of Raw Wine like Gianluca Bergianti, La Ricolla and Ca’del Bric. Some stop at organic, some are biodynamic and others seek simply to reduce or eliminate the addition of sulfites at any stage of the winemaking process.
No two wineries are completely alike in their philosophy it seems so we don’t seek to categorize them under one heading but rather just describe their individual approach in the vineyard and in their winemaking. We are simply consumers not industry insiders so for us it all comes down to how the wines taste and the value proposition they present. One thing that many 'natural wines' seem to have in common however is that they are often more expensive than similar wines from the same area made conventionally, sometimes significantly so.
That being said, we do have a certain respect and admiration for those who choose the biodynamic approach because it involves a lot of additional work, mostly manual, and greater attention to detail at every stage of the process. Even if at times the end result in the glass is not quite to our liking, the most laudable aspect of most of the wineries that loosely fall under the banner of 'natural wine' is the extra steps they take to promote healthy soil and biodiversity in the vineyard.
On that subject, Edoardo and Gilda have left over a quarter of their acreage in its natural state to promote the integrated ecosystem concept embodied in biodynamic principles and they farm and harvest their land by hand.
They use minimum amounts of copper sulphate in the vineyard and nourish the vines with sovescio (green manuring) as well as a diverse panoply of biodynamic composts and sprays, including the use of algae and citrus. They also keep several beehives (above photo) on the property for natural pollination purposes.
In the cellar they employ spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel (or terracotta amphora for the Lunatica) and the wines undergo malolactic conversion which permits them to either eliminate or significantly reduce the addition of sulfites at the bottling stage.
Grapes from different parcels of land in the vineyard are vinified separately and then blended rather than mixing all the grapes prior to fermentation. This helps them better understand the impact of the variations in soil and aspect as you move around the different sections of their property.
The Raw Wine organization rules limit sulfites to a maximum of 70 mg/L (versus 150mg/L maximum per the EU regulations for organic white wine) and the Il Torchio wines are significantly below that threshold coming in at between 10 and 26mg/L for all their white wines.
Maceration times vary according to the particular wine but they are not afraid of long maceration times which in the case of the Lunatica result in a deeper colored or orange wine as well as a different flavor profile. This is an area in particular that often divides consumer opinions
The Il Torchio wines do not undergo either fining or filtration so, given the very low sulfite levels, this requires real care in the winemaking process to avoid any risk of unstable wines or spoilage.
Il Torchio is located within the Colli di Luni DOC zone but they prefer to utilize the IGT classification in order to give themselves more flexibility to make wines more closely aligned to their own philosophy. Overseas markets are generally more receptive than the Italian market to ‘natural wines’ such as these, especially the UK, Canada, Japan and the US. Annual production today is in the region of 24,000 bottles.
The third member of the small team at Il Torchio is Alessandro Chesi, Gilda’s husband, who is a sommelier with significant experience working in wine-related fields in London and elsewhere and he is the person you are most likely to see in international markets evangelizing the message of natural wines and the Il Torchio wines in particular.
Il Bianco 2020 - Liguria di Levante IGT (12% alcohol)
This is their bread and butter entry level 100% Vermentino wine from the more clayey soils towards the bottom of the hillside. Fermented in stainless steel with up to two days maceration on the skins followed by brief ageing in stainless steel before bottling.
Quite a notable yellow/orange in the glass from the skins contact, this has a very perfumed nose with citrus and a little jasmine to the fore. Very dry on the palate with yellow fruits dominating. This is immediately appealing and refreshing and would be a perfect summer white wine as it's quite light in body and alcohol. 14 euros.
Stralunato 2020 - Liguria di Levante IGT (12% alcohol)
This is a blend of 80% Vermentino and 20% Moscato/Sauvignon Blanc. Fermented in stainless steel with up to a full week's maceration on the skins then aged in large oak barrels neutralized by prior use at the Querciabella winery.
Orange veering towards amber in the glass, this has a very fruit forward nose, not unlike Daniele Parma's wines at La Ricolla. This is not your typical Vermentino because of the addition of more aromatic grape varieties. It's light, elegant and quite perfumed with notes of citrus and mediterranean herbs. This is an easy drinking wine produced in small quantities and priced at 23 euros in Italy.
Lunatica 2020 - Liguria di Levante IGT (12.5% alcohol)
This is 100% Vermentino from hand selected grapes. Fermented and aged on the skins in terracotta amphora for up to seven months.The 2020 is not yet on the market. A very small production wine of less than 1,000 bottles. The extended skin maceration puts this firmly in the orange wine category and just a little cloudy. Not normally our favorite type of wine but this is light, very refreshing and completely clean. There's a little iodine and musk on the nose and ripe citrus on the palate and it has good acidity and a persistent finish. I never seem to quite recognize the Vermentino grape with 'natural wines' like these but those in the natural wine camp will love this wine. At 26 euros however I'll leave the value proposition to others.