Snuggled in the hills along the border of the ancient lands of Emilia and Romagna, there is the opulent Umberto Cesari winery. An early champion of sangiovese grapes, Umberto Cesari has established it in the wine world as a top variety with his label Tauleto. It has one the title of Best Sangiovese in the World, twice.
Sangiovese was, for many years, a misunderstood grape. With a history that is believed to stretch back to the time of the Ancient Romans, its vines are intimately rooted in the Central Italian territory. The name is derived from the Latin sanguis Jovis - meaning the ‘blood of Jupiter’ in English - because of its deep purple-red colour and its powerful taste. After all, Jupiter was the Roman King of Gods. Despite this long history, it only came into popular favour amongst wine drinkers in the last half-century, thanks in part to winemakers such as Umberto Cesari who poured passion and innovation into their bottles of sangiovese.
All of us on The Grand Wine Tour team understand the joy of a well-made bottle of Sangiovese but we wanted to understand the philosophy that has driven Umberto Cesari all these years to continue to produce such exceptional wines. Below is an exclusive interview that opens Cesari’s cellar doors a little wider to our TGWT readers.
Umberto Cesari, founder - by Umberto Cesari Winery
An Interview with Umberto Cesari, a Master of Sangiovese
The interview has been translated and edited for brevity and clarity.
Aleeshia: Emilia-Romagna is generally considered the royal seat of Italian gastronomy; some of the most famous foods worldwide are deeply rooted in this territory. However, wine from this region is not regarded in the same way - Tuscany and Piedmont are more recognizable as Italy’s famous wine regions. So in the land of Lambrusco, what originally drew you to growing Sangiovese? Why highlight a grape varietal whose link the territory doesn’t automatically seem apparent?
Umberto: Italy is able to boast about a number of native vines and wines, just as only a few others in the world can, and certain regions have promoted and valorized this wealth of wine before us. So if we speak of great Italian wine it is much easier to think of Tuscany or Piedmont, of Brunello or Barolo, but in truth, every region is a cradle of excellent wine. After being confronted with the realities of the best-known wines, both Italian and foreign, in my youth, I realized that my own region had all the resources to play on an equal field as Tuscany or Piedmont. And so I decided to embark on a challenge to make sangiovese in the land of Romagna a wine of excellence and prestige.
A: Can you please explain your philosophy of terroir? It seems to me that there is a great importance placed on connecting your wines to not just the physical landscape but to the cultural landscape of the region as well. Projects such as Villa Marcona and Umberto Cesari’s horizontal partnerships with other prominent sectors in Emilia-Romagna come to mind here - do you think this changes in any way, how people regard your wines?
U: Wine is a product of the culture of a people, so it is correct to say that my wines are closely connected to the cultural landscape of my land, and it is this heritage that I seek to promote along with my wines, in Italy and the world. The image people have of my wine are strongly influenced by the context of where they come from and the land that they represent. Whoever tastes my sangiovese can envision the food valley, the cradle of Italian gastronomic treasures, the motor valley, the artistic beauty of our region and the Emilia-Romagna spirit which sets us apart from the rest. Only by conveying the cultural richness and the uniqueness of our land will we be able to ennoble the image of the Sangiovese and the wines of the region.
The Vines in Autumn - by Umberto Cesari Winery
A: You founded the winery with a humble 20 hectares of land which has grown to now include 6 separate estates and 175 hectares of vineyards. Why differentiate the estates? Besides the separate microclimates of the varying vineyards, does the differentiation amongst the estates relate to the winery’s various lines of wine in a significant manner?
U: Each plot of land is characterized by a diverse soil, insolation, altitude and microclimate. This means that each estate is best adapted to the cultivation of certain grapes over the others. Depending on the characteristics of each estate, the type of grape planted and the style of management was carefully chosen. Two of the same grapes from different estates do not have the same characteristics and do not give life to a wine with the same personality. This variety is indispensable to the creation of diverse wines with diverse identities.
Entrance to the Tasting Room - by Umberto Cesari Winery
A: Umberto Cesari winery is actively engaged in producing wines that respect the environment. Can you explain some of these sustainability practices and how they impact the overall quality of your wines?
U: For us, respect for the environment is an indispensable prerequisite. Vineyards are a resource whose conservation is fundamental, so our viticulture follows the dictates of integrated defence and healthcare treatments are minimized. To gradually reduce the environmental impact, particularly CO2 emissions, we have replaced the bottles with a lighter model since 2015 and as much as possible we try to use alternative energies. We have installed solar panels that can meet at least half of the company's entire business needs.
A: Cesari is a winery intimately tied to the history of the land and strives to uphold the traditions of the past. How do you balance the intersection of tradition and modernity?
U: We have always pursued a path of wine growing tradition combining it with research and the application of new technology. Wine is a product of tradition and respecting this is basically law for us, however, we try to do this while also utilizing advanced technology and our professional opinions. This marriage between tradition and modernity is apparent at the level of production, but also in the bottle. We produce emblems of tradition, such as Sangiovese Riserva, which coexists with wines stamped with a bit more modernity such as Liano or MOMA. I believe that evolution is inevitable, but as we change we must never lose our links to our origins.
The Wine Shop - by Umberto Cesari Winery
A: Lastly, while we know each tasting experience is unique to the drinker, what are a few of the things guests can expect when visiting Umberto Cesari winery?
U: Emilia-Romagna is a region noted for its warmth in welcoming visitors and we strive for nothing less. That is why I can confidently say that one of the things anyone can expect from a visit to our winery is to experience hospitality that has become famous the world over. We strive to ensure, both for small and large groups, high-level, well-cared for and personalized service. Being greeted with care and attention, I believe makes a difference, and leave guests with wonderful memories. Furthermore, we open our winery doors to the entire production process, a practice not common, so guests can see how our wine is made from vineyard to bottle.
The Grand Wine Tour is a mark of excellence in hospitality distinguishing Italian wineries throughout the country. Book your luxury day tour to Umberto Cesari today!