As a young man in postwar Rome, Italo Zingarelli lived a colorful life as a boxer-turned–movie stuntman who worked his way up in the industry to become a film producer.
Yet despite his urban middle-class roots, Zingarelli harbored a dream of running his own agricultural estate.
“At the beginning, he thought about raising cattle,” explains his son Sergio, 61. “But people said, ‘Why don’t you think about wine?’ So he did.”
In 1973, following a pair of spaghetti Western hits, Zingarelli was flush enough to invest in land. After months scouring Piedmont and Tuscany, he found a dilapidated and largely abandoned medieval farming hamlet called Macìe on a stony knoll outside of Castellina in Chianti in southern Chianti Classico.
A bearded, beefy, larger-than-life character, Zingarelli dreamed big. He bought the works, about 200 acres—though only a few were planted to vines. He set about planting Sangiovese and other varieties and built a modern winery in stages, making his first vintages from purchased grapes.
In late ’73, he doubled down by buying an even larger farm nearby called Tenuta Sant’Alfonso. Guided by instinct, he was convinced that Sant’Alfonso would produce good Sangiovese, though the conventional wisdom of the day discouraged planting vines in the farm’s compact clay soils. As family legend has it, Zingarelli’s enologist warned him not to plant Sant’Alfonso. Zingarelli fired the enologist and planted away.
Zingarelli’s wine business saw explosive growth. Within a dozen years, he was releasing more than 80,000 cases annually from a mix of estate and purchased grapes and wine, and exporting Rocca delle Macìe to the world.
In 1985, the youngest of his three children, Sergio, was debating a career choice after business school. “I loved movies,” recalls Sergio on a bright winter day at Macìe as a crew of vineyard workers trims the gently sloping rows of vines below. “And I asked my father ‘What is our future?’”
“He told me, ‘It’s wine,’” Sergio continues. “My father said he was more excited to see his wine on a table in a New York restaurant than he was seeing a line of hundreds of people outside a theater in Milan to see one of his films.”
Sergio moved from Rome to Macìe with his young family and quickly took over as the estate’s chief administrator.
To lay the groundwork for the next phase, Italo and Sergio launched three single-vineyard wines with the 1985 vintage, including the Tenuta Sant’Alfonso, a 100 percent Sangiovese, from those scoffed-at clay soils. The other two were the Riserva di Fizzano Chianti Classico from the sandy Fizzano farm they had just purchased and Sergioveto, a Chianti Classico Riserva from the 15-acre Pian della Casina vineyard on the Macìe estate.
Over the following 35 years, Rocca delle Macìe became a rare success story of a family-run company that worked its way into the club of high-end Tuscan producers. It managed to achieve bright points of quality, while keeping its substantial volume—125,000 cases—from more than 500 sustainably farmed acres in Chianti Classico and Tuscany’s coastal Maremma region.
The winery succeeded by periodically reinventing itself—first in 1995.
“We had to make a decision in the mid ’90s—to continue to grow or to improve the quality of the wine,” remembers Sergio, a tall, charismatic man with a streak of determination that has gotten him through seven New York City Marathons.
Sergio says he wanted more from the estate wines. “I like this business, but I want to give the people who buy our wines an experience—an emotion.”
He cut production and added personnel, growing the company to 100 full-time employees. At the same time, he began replanting estate vineyards plot by plot, in a process that has continued over 25 years.
“The vineyards weren’t giving us the kind of grapes we needed. We had too many clones mixed together with different ripening periods,” Sergio says. “It was difficult to control quality. We started to replant vineyards that were in production, which was considered crazy.”
Through the late ’90s and beyond, Macìe made what Sergio now views as overripe wines, aged partly in new barriques. Italo died in 2000. By the end of that decade, Sergio was again looking for change.
“I was a tired of full-bodied wine,” he says. “When a wine is overripe, we lose aromas. People wanted wines with more typicity and elegance. And Sangiovese is naturally closer to Pinot Noir than it is to Cabernet.”
In 2010, he hired consulting agronomist and enologist Lorenzo Landi, known for his focus on terroir. The barriques began disappearing in favor of traditional larger casks to keep the oak from overshadowing the fruit. In that year, Sergio produced the first edition of his showpiece Chianti Classico called Sergio Zingarelli, from a carefully planted terraced vineyard at Macìe, where each terrace contains a different clone of Sangiovese. (The most recently released vintage, 2015, scored 94 points and cost $100.)
With so many different bottlings, Rocca delle Macìe can be hard to define. In Chianti Classico, it produces both elite small-production wines and Chianti Classico bargains like its Chianti Classico Famiglia Zingarelli Riserva. (The 2016 vintage, priced at only $27, scored 93 points.) It also makes reds, whites and rosés in the Maremma and bottles and distributes purchased wines from across Italy.
But Rocca delle Macìe is strongest in its home territory, where it has hit its stride in the past decade; since the 2010 vintage, it has produced 26 wines that have scored 90 points or higher from around Castellina—including six Chianti Classicos and its Cabernet Sauvignon Roccato Toscana IGT.
At home in Chianti Classico, Sergio served six years as president of the local wine consortium, ending in 2018, during which he introduced Chianti Classico’s top designation of Gran Selezione, which now appears on two of the winery's bottlings.
Looking to the future, “The goal is to produce the same quality as a boutique winery,” says Sergio, who has been joined by his son Andrea, 33, the production manager. “We have a better name for quality than for excellence. Now we are working on excellence.”