Quick—how much time and labor do you think goes into making a world-class wine? According to Emilia Nardi, owner of Tenute Silvio Nardi, a legendary Brunello di Montalcino, one should budget about 300 hours per acre and $675,000 in labor costs per year. When I hear these numbers, as I stand in her impossibly beautiful vineyards scribbling notes, my mouth gapes. Emilia smiles and nods knowingly, reading my mind as she adds, “If you aren’t a bit crazy and don’t like risk, then you cannot be a winemaker.”
I can assure you she is not at all crazy. In fact, she is very much like her wines: elegant and precise, bold and refined. At first glance she appears to be the very picture of tranquility and ease, farming grapes on a quiet Tuscan hillside. Yet, beneath the quiet is Emilia’s attentive never-ending effort to manage the risks of making wine—an effort that started when she was just out of her teenage years.
From Love Delusion to Wine Love Story
Driving up the steep hillside adjacent to her vineyards, Emilia, in her pearls and silk, deftly maneuvers the truck over a gutted, dirt road and explains that her winemaking life really began with a rocky romance gone awry. At the ripe age of 20, deep in the throes of what she calls a “love delusion,” Emilia was compelled by her parents to return home and take up residence at the family’s struggling wine estate in the remote and quiet town of Montalcino. She shakes her head at the memory, “The business was in terrible shape, but imagine coming out here at that young age.” She sweeps her arm out, over wild, barren vineyard slopes adding with a sigh, “When you are 20 you want rock n’ roll, not wheat fields, farming, and vineyards.”
Indeed, what she got was an estate of olive trees, vines, and wild boars for company and a deeply struggling family business. “The estate was losing money because no one was taking care of things in a serious way. There really was no one on site to oversee things, so that person became me.” She began as a secretary, but also as a set of eyes to watch the business. “I was young and there were a lot of things we had to do, so I told myself, ‘roll up your sleeves and get to work.’” Her attitude was no surprise to her large family says Emilia. “My siblings will say that since I was born I knew how to get what I needed. As the youngest of eight, everyone knew I would have to be in charge of something.”
Prized Vineyard Land
The sprawling 200-acre Nardi estate was founded in 1949, shortly after her father, Silvio Nardi, who owned a successful farm equipment business based in Umbria, bought the land as country home and a place to rest. At the time, Montalcino was as sleepy Tuscan town, not known for world-class wines, and Nardi unwittingly purchased what ultimately become prized vineyard lands. After some urging from his new country neighbors, Nardi started cultivating grapes, making him the sixth official producer of Brunello in Montalcino—essentially one of the region’s founding fathers who just happened to live in Umbria.
Not only was she given a herculean task of making the winery profitable, she inherited one of nature’s most mercurial and unpredictable grape varieties: Sangiovese Grosso, also known as Brunello. I prefer to think of Brunello as something like a teenager—changing personalities depending on the conditions. Paying constant attention to myriad little details is critical to success with this varietal. Emilia’s trademark discipline and her detail-driven management style (witness her piles of 100-page ledgers stuffed with data on everything from pruning efforts, pest control treatments, and weather conditions for each year) are a natural fit for managing Brunello.
Not only was she obsessed with daily details, Emilia put in 15 years of research and experimentation on her vines as well. She and world-renowned viticulturist Andrea Paoletti and the late Yves Glories spent over a decade alone experimenting with different clones to ascertain which ones did best on her unique vineyard sites. In the end they discovered five Sangiovese clones that performed beautifully, ultimately lending more complexity to the final wines.
The Bold Brunello Personality
The original estate, Casale del Bosco (pictured in cover image), is located in northwestern Montalcino where cooling influences tend to make a more precise and polished wine; the other two estates, purchased years later, are in southeastern Montalcino. In this regard, Nardi has a distinct advantage—her northwestern grapes lend her wines a precision and polish, an enviable freshness, not found in the more strapping southern wines where the sunshine and exposure are far more intense. Blending grapes from these two different areas—mere miles apart but worlds of difference—lends her Brunello a proprietary elegance others can only dream of.
Making a legendary wine was not her father’s plan 65 years ago when he purchased the estate—he wanted a place to rest and enjoy the countryside. Yet, it seems that rest is not really in the Nardi DNA. Today, decades later, her wines are considered to be some of the world’s finest expressions of Brunello, attracting high scores from critics and praise from collectors. In 2004, Italy’s Agricultural Ministry praised Nardi as a Female Agricultural Innovator and she is widely considered to be one of the pioneering leaders of winemaking in Brunello. Indeed, the five clones she researched—Tenute Silvio Nardi 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5—were ultimately approved by the Italian government for use by other Italian winemakers. Despite the praise and awards, she confesses that she feels like a farmer at heart. “I am a farmer, just a farmer, but I like the freedom this affords me.”
When given freedom, Emilia Nardi is rather unstoppable: one sip of her wine settles that.
The Nardi Wines
Tenute Silvio Nardi Brunello di Montalcino Manachiara: The grapes from this single vineyard wine are the estate’s oldest at roughly 50 years old. They grow on one of the estate’s unique microclimates that features extensive sun exposure. Suited for long aging, but velvety enough to drink now.
Tenute Silvio Nardi Brunello di Montalcino: This is a blend of the finest grapes from the Manachiara and Casale del Bosco estates, polished and powerful. It can easily age for 20 years—but like all of the Nardi wines, it is silky enough to be consumed now.
Tenute Silvio Nardi Rosso di Montalcino: Grapes for this wine are hand harvested from the esteemed Casale del Bosco estate, fermented in stainless steel, and aged in old oak casks. Very approachable and ready-to-drink now.