Barbara Kronenberg-Widmer was in her last year of enology school in Zurich in 1998 when her father bought the 170-acre Brancaia estate in Maremma, the up-and-coming coastal region of Tuscany that some believe may one day deliver wines that rival Chianti Classicos or even Brunellos di Montalcino.
"I had no problem deciding on the subject of my final thesis," says the handsome blond, 32, who commutes between Zurich and Tuscany on a monthly basis. Her paper, "How to Build Up the Brancaia in Maremma Winery," has been a step-by-step manual for the development of the estate.
Brancaia in Maremma is located about 7 miles from the sea, southeast of the city of Grosseto. The property includes 87 acres of Sangiovese, Cabernet, Merlot and other varieties planted on steep hillsides. A large stone-faced winery blends in with the rugged terrain of the area. Kronenberg-Widmer's first wine from the estate, the 2002 vintage, is due for release in 2004.
"It's like a dream come true," enthuses the Swiss winemaker. "Brancaia in Maremma has been my baby from the start, and it has been a marvelous opportunity for me to be able to build up something from scratch. Maremma is a beautiful place and presents a new challenge for me as a winemaker."
Kronenberg-Widmer has already proven herself as a talented young winemaker. Besides overseeing the winery project in Maremma, she took over the winemaking at her family's winery in the hills of Chianti Classico near Castellina in Chianti, which is called Podere La Brancaia. Her first harvest there was 1998, while she was still in enology school in Zurich. With the help of consulting enologist Carlo Ferrini, she has produced some excellent wines -- particularly the Brancaia 1998, a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It was the first outstanding wine from the estate, and one of the vintage's best wines from the region.
The Brancaia estate in Chianti Classico was started by her father, Bruno Widmer, in 1980. It actually comprises two estates, the original Brancaia and another a few miles away called Poppi, which contains a new winery as well as the family home. The two sites together contain about 50 acres of vineyards, which provide grapes for the Chianti Classico and a couple of super Tuscan reds.
Kronenberg-Widmer says that it hasn't always been easy for the family, as non-Italians, to stake a claim to a piece of traditional Chianti Classico territory. "For some local producers," she says, "we are regarded with a little suspicion, because they think we might be trying to undermine the traditional winemaking methods." Indeed, Brancaia opted out of Chianti Classico's key growers' association, Gallo Nero, in 2000, in order to concentrate more on the marketing of their Toscana IGT brands. "But, at the same time," she adds, "we've had a lot of support from producers in the area who were interested in what we were doing." Kronenberg-Widmer originally planned a different career; she studied architecture for two years at the University of Zurich but never finished the program. In 1994, she took a trip down to the family property in Tuscany to think about her future. The visit coincided with the grape harvest. "That visit was the turning point," she says. "I began to relate to the vineyards and the whole process of winemaking for the first time. I was converted."
Today, she spends more and more time in Tuscany with her husband, Martin Kronenberg, and their year-old daughter, Nina Johanna. Kronenberg is now in charge of sales for Brancaia. She and Martin are fanatical collectors -- it could be pots, pans, old glasses, terra-cotta pie molds or boule balls -- in short, anything that tickles her fancy as a self-confessed "lover of nice things."
"I'm very happy to be doing what I'm doing," she says, "and I really feel that I am able to make the wine I want. Luckily, there are a number of people out there who think the product is good."
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