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Authenticity And Quality Is All About Sustainability

 Combating Climate Change Sustainability at Torre Bisenzio

By Katarina Andersson and Li Valentine

Climate change has been a defining issue for several years now, and is weighing heavily upon the minds of many. Climate change and/or global warming, leading to changes in the average temperatures and amount of rainfall has been significantly impacting almost every industry. From fishing, farming/agriculture and forestry to energy, insurance and tourism, companies big and small are tasked with finding ways to survive. The wine industry is certainly not immune and has its share of challenges. Problems range from water shortages or too much rain/water, extremes in hot and cold temperatures and shortened or extended seasons, all of which affect vineyard soils.  Wineries have had to be adaptable and devise ways to combat climate change. Sustainable farming is one such way. Sustainable viticulture, farming or agriculture involves being aware of the ecosystem and utilizing all natural resources, plants and animals to maintain without compromising quality.

I have spoken with several producers who practice sustainable viticulture and tasted the fruits of their labor.  The theme this month, September 2020, is Sustainability to Combat Climate Change in the Wine World in the Italian Food, Wine, and Travel (#ItalianFWT) group. This article features a producer in Umbria, Torre Bisenzio. As there are travel restrictions for me in the States, here is a first-hand account from Katarina Andersson of GrapeVine Adventures in Italy:

One warm and sunny day in August, I went for a drive down to Umbria to visit Torre Bisenzio. It is a winery that is located very close to the Tuscan border, between Fabro and Allerona. The owners Neena and Mike Rees invited me down for lunch. Torre Bisenzio is a hidden gem in a corner of Umbria where nature feels almost untouched. As you can imagine, in an area like this, sustainability is at the core for Mike and Neena. Read on to learn more about their view on sustainability.

An English family in Umbria

The owners of Torre Bisenzio are, as I mentioned earlier, the British couple Neena and Mike Rees. They used to work in the banking world and lived in Singapore but were to return to England in the early 2000. Therefore, they were looking for a project to invest in and found a rundown estate in Umbria where they saw great potential even though, of course, it would be a big long-term project. The estate that they bought in 2003 was Torre Bisenzio that is situated just on the border between Umbria, Tuscany, and Lazio. Furthermore, it is close to the Monte Rufeno national park.

Mike told me that his wife Neena is fluent in French, so it would have been more logical to invest in something in France, but they fell in love with the estate in Umbria. And now, Neena speaks Italian too!

Torre Bisenzio has a long history that goes back at least to the 4th century when it up to the Middle Ages was known as Oreste’s Tower Estate and probably was a watchtower due to its position. In the following centuries it then changed ownership many times until Neena and Mike acquired it more recently.

Neena and Mike are very much projecting their work with long-term goals in mind. Their general philosophy is focused on quality and authenticity via sustainability. It is important for them to be as self-sufficient as possible and to work in sync with the local community. More about this below…

Nature and environment around Torre Bisenzio in Umbria

What is interesting for the theme in this article is that Torre Bisenzio is in a part of Umbria with a unique surrounding nature and landscape. Millions of years ago, in the Pleistocene era, this part of Italy was a seabed and, therefore, the soil is rich in fossil shells. Archeologists from the University of Perugia have also found remains of fossilized sperm whales close to the property. All this favors minerality in the wines.

Now you might think…what is a sperm whale?

The sperm whale is the largest toothed predator whale. It gets its name from the spermaceti that can be found on their heads and that is a sort of wax-like substance. The fossilized remains found in the clay soil in Umbria is basically whale poo, so-called ambergris.

Returning to talk about the estate, it comprises 175 hectares of land and then they rent an additional 90 hectares. Most of the land is forest, fields, and pasture, with only about 3 hectares of vineyard and 650 olive trees. The estate is organically certified and, in the vineyard, they also apply biodynamic methods.

Most of the grapes grown at the estate are indigenous – such as Grechetto, Sangiovese, and Canaiolo – as they believe in valorizing the local heritage. However, they also grow Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir to give an international flair to their wines. The international grapes can be considered to be influenced by the local terroir and unique nature and thus, still, give an expression of the local territory.

Quality, Authenticity, and Sustainability at Torre Bisenzio

What about the sustainability aspect at Torre Bisenzio, then?

Mike explained that he sees their vision to be based around the three core pillars of Quality, Authenticity, and Sustainability. I have mentioned this briefly earlier, but what he means is that quality in everything they do is of the essence for them at Torre Bisenzio. However, it must be quality that has to have its ground in authenticity, i.e. that their work is linked to and built on the values of the local culture, territory, and community. Last, but not least, quality and authenticity need to be based on sustainable methods and work.

If we look at it from an environmental point of view, they are working as far as possible towards implementing methods that reduce the environmental impact as far as possible.

The entire estate is organically certified, and they also use biodynamic methods in the vineyards to as far as possible safeguard the vines and the soil. They are breeding grass fed Chianina cattle.

However, it does not stop there…

At Torre Bisenzio, they are taking things one step further and constantly thinking about how to improve and do more. Mike told me that they tried to have their own biogas station to be able to recycle all waste and transform it into energy, but they did not manage due to limitations in local regulations. Instead they are using solar panels for energy, they work only with battery driven tools to eliminate all use of petrol, they are no longer buying water in plastic bottles which reduces waste and saves the environment, and so much more…

I asked Mike what he sees as the biggest challenge when it comes to climate change and sustainability. His answer was that water is their biggest vulnerability. Here he means that when it rains the water just rushes down the hill and sometimes even wash away the small bridge at the border of their property. The challenge for them is to figure out a way to store the water to limit the waste.

Mike thinks that water will become precious in the future and it will be imperative to find a way to store it for further use. So far, in the past, water has been wasted as there has been no thoughts about being cautious.

At Torre Bisenzio, they also have an attention to social sustainability in the sense that they value the local community. Most of their staff comes from the local area and they are favoring personal development and career growth to be able to do more within the company. Torre Bisenzio is also trying to be a part of everyday life in the local community, for example they are sponsoring the local football team.

The Wines at Torre Bisenzio

They are currently producing the three wines Bianco di Bisenzio, Il Pugnalone, and the 100% Sangiovese. They are all IGT Umbria wines. Bianco di Bisenzio is a blend of Grecchetto and Sauvignon Blanc while Il Pugnalone is a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah.

When I was visiting Neena and Mike at Torre Bisenzio, I got to taste a Sauvignon Blanc that is soon going to be released. It is a wine where 30% of the juice has been fermented in steel, 30% in oak, and 30% in amphora. It is a wine that I found interesting, complex, and smooth and with a good acidity. Generally, I am not really much of a Sauvignon Blanc fan but this one I like. 🙂

Are you interested in finding out more about Torre Bisenzio?

Then you can contact them directly via the website.

Read on below for more about Sustainability to Better Tackle the Climate Change with our fellow writers:

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Planted, harvested and aged in NY. I have a background in education and marketing, with a love and passion for travel...and all things wine. In addition to writing about wine, I also maintain an online wine boutique (thewininghour.com) that caters to the winelover, as well as the weekly vinous winechat (#WiningHourChat) on Twitter (see page for more info).

One Comment

  • Lynn G.

    Torre Bisenzio has done some great things on their property, the best simply saving the estate. Kudos to Mike and Neena! I’ve enjoyed engaging with them on Twitter and hope to not only taste their wines but also olive oil ;-D

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