At the southwestern edge of Chianti Classico, the hillside vineyards around Castellina in Chianti become less steep, lower in altitude and warmer than those in the heights of neighboring Radda.
The Sangiovese-based wines here also tend to be approachable (think sunny splashes of cherry flavor). Monica Raspi, a rising-star producer at Fattoria Pomona, embodies that easygoing spirit.
“My idea of wine is drinkability,” says Raspi, 56, a veterinarian and mother of two who sold her clinic and fell into wine 14 years ago. Or as she puts it, “I fell down in wine, and kept falling down,” until she learned to walk and then run.
Earlier this year, her first three wines to be tasted blind by Wine Spectator senior editor Bruce Sanderson earned outstanding scores. All are pure Sangiovese: the Chianti Classico Riserva 2016 (92 points, $35), Chianti Classico 2017 (92, $25) and Toscana Piero Rosso 2018 (90, $20).
Those are modest wine prices for a boutique organic producer. Raspi makes about 2,000 cases a year, from more than 11 acres, and speaks of her wines with down-to-earth simplicity.
“I love Sangiovese, and in my opinion, Sangiovese was born to go with food,” she says, slicing into a wedge of Pecorino that she shares along with fava beans to be pulled straight from their hulls. “The only thing you have to worry about with Sangiovese is ripeness. But if you have ripe Sangiovese, you have a beautiful wine.”
Yet getting to this point hasn’t been easy.
Pomona has been in Raspi’s family since 1890, when her great-grandfather Giovanni Bandino Bandini bought an old country hamlet with a small terracotta factory and turned some of the vast acreage around it into a farm, sharecropped by two families. In the 1950s, the farm was essentially abandoned, until Raspi’s father, Enzo, a doctor in Siena, decided in 1979 to replant the vineyards and make wine.
“My father first planted 1 hectare [about 2.5 acres] of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, because in the 1980s international blends were the fashion,” Raspi says.
The farm sold its wines locally and in her mother’s native Germany under the label Bandino Villa Pomona.
In 1991, Raspi and her husband, a rheumatologist, moved onto the farm to be close to their practices and help out during harvests. After the death of Raspi’s father three years later, her mother, Inge, took over.
In 2004, Inge began planting more vineyards, all of which are located on gently downward-sloping land that lies on the other side of a two-lane road from the farmstead. But the following year, she announced her retirement.
“My mother said, ‘I can’t do it anymore. It’s too much. Either you run the estate or we sell,’” recalls Raspi, who had grown attached to the farm and wouldn’t think of selling. So, she says, “I decided to sell the clinic.”
When Raspi took over Pomona in 2007, she knew nothing about grapegrowing or winemaking. She plunged herself into viticultural study with the help of a Naples-born winemaker, Gabriele Buondonno, who owns a small winery in Castellina in Chianti.
Raspi immediately started making Chianti Classico from 100 percent Sangiovese. At the start, she spent most of her time in the cellar, guided by a local consulting enologist who set a schedule for vineyard treatments—mostly fungicides.
“In 2008, it was so rainy, and the enologist was saying ‘You need to spray this and spray that,’ and I thought, “Why am I spraying all this poison?’ But for three years, I couldn’t change because there was too much else to do, and I was falling down all the time.”
With the help of Piedmont agronomist Ruggero Mazzilli, Raspi began converting the vineyards, largely on heavy clay and calcareous soils, to organic farming in 2009. And she began spending most of her time outdoors. “He told me, ‘You need to go into the vineyard. You need to understand plants the way you understand animals.’”
“A vineyard is like an animal,” she says with confidence as she walks through Pomona’s vineyards, separated by patches of forest and deer fencing. “Maybe there is pain or a problem in one part or the other, and you have to understand why. Vineyards—like animals—don’t talk.”
Pomona today is a kind of back-to-the land idyll, though parts of the farm and cellars that belong to cousins remain abandoned. Raspi’s husband, Enrico, grows vegetables, cares for the chickens, cultivates mushrooms, cooks and dabbles in folksy yard art. The couple’s eldest child, Cosimo, is a trained enologist who now works with an agronomy consultant.
Raspi makes tiny quantities of white Trebbiano and a single-variety Cabernet Sauvignon from vines planted by her father, along with the three Sangiovese mainstays.
The Pomona Chianti Classico Riserva is made from her oldest vineyard with the poorest soils; her Chianti Classico draws from two other vineyards. Both wines are aged principally in large oak casks. Her youngest vines produce Toscana Piero Rosso, fermented and aged in steel. And last year “as a way to play during the pandemic,” she released a fourth Sangiovese from the lowest vineyard rows; called Piero Grosso, it comes in oversize one-liter bottles fitted with humble pop tops.
As for what lies ahead, Raspi doesn’t envision creating the single-vineyard crus pursued by many of her Chianti Classico peers, nor is she driven by an idea of perfection.
“Pomona's future is to keep going,” she says. “To keep making you want to pour another glass.”