Paolo De Marchi’s Legacy: Elevating Chianti Through Isole Olena.
In the heart of the Tuscan countryside, the Isole Olena winery stands as a testament to the enduring passion and commitment of Paolo De Marchi, a visionary winemaker who has spent a lifetime dedicated to the art of winemaking. Paolo’s journey into the world of wine began at a young age, shaped by his family’s long-standing involvement in the wine industry and nurtured by his experiences both in Europe and abroad. Today, Isole Olena is celebrated for producing some of Tuscany’s finest wines, with a portfolio that includes the iconic ‘Cepparello’.
Isole Olena: A Winery of Timeless Tradition
Isole e Olena is more than just a winery; it is a living testament to the timeless traditions of Tuscan winemaking. The history of this remarkable estate reflects the evolution of Chianti, from its pre-DOCG days to the present. The estate’s journey parallels the transformation of Chianti itself into a world-class wine region.
Paolo De Marchi’s connection to winemaking is deeply rooted in his family’s heritage. Paolo’s family acquired the vineyard when he was just a child of five, at a time when Chianti did not yet hold DOC status, let alone DOCG. His upbringing in the world of winemaking instilled a deep appreciation for the land, the vines, and the winemaking process.
Paolo’s passion for winemaking was further nurtured during a transformative period in California in the early 1970s. At that time, Californian wineries were experiencing a renaissance, characterized by a spirit of openness and experimentation. Winemakers readily exchanged ideas, and this collaborative atmosphere left an indelible mark on Paolo. It taught him the value of embracing change while preserving the traditions that make Tuscan wines unique and cherished around the world. This insight is supported by Paolo himself in interviews and articles where he emphasizes the importance of balancing tradition and innovation in winemaking.
The Isole Olena story through its Wines
Chardonnay Collezione Privata: A New Perspective on White Wine
In the early 1980s, Paolo embarked on a mission to redefine white wine at Isole e Olena. No longer bound by the requirement to blend white grape varieties with Sangiovese for Chianti wines, Paolo seized the opportunity to craft a distinct Chardonnay. His initial attempts were blends of various white grapes, but it was in 1987 that he unveiled the first 100% Chardonnay wine from the estate.
Situated on hills with optimal elevation, cool nights, and limestone-rich soil, the vineyards at Isole e Olena were ideal for producing high-quality Chardonnay. The resulting Chardonnay Collezione Privata was a revelation, characterized by its elegance and complexity. Demand for this exquisite wine has surged, yet production remains limited, with only around 25,000 bottles crafted each year.
Earlier we reviewed the 2021 Chardonnay Collezione Privata and awarded it with a 93-point DWA score. You can read the full review for this wine here.
Chianti Classico: The Evolution of an Icon
Chianti Classico, the hallmark of the estate, represents the essence of Paolo’s winemaking philosophy. The recent shift in regulations, slated to raise the minimum Sangiovese requirement to 90% from the 2027 vintage, reflects the ongoing evolution of Chianti Classico. This change aligns with Paolo’s belief in the intrinsic quality of Sangiovese grapes, which he has championed for decades.
Paolo’s emphasis on preserving the purity of the Sangiovese grape has been a driving force behind Isole e Olena’s success. His unwavering commitment to quality shines through in every bottle of Chianti Classico. The wine is a celebration of Sangiovese’s ability to express the terroir of the estate, from the gentle elevation of the hills to the distinctive character of the soil.
The decision to cease the use of white grape varieties in Chianti Classico wines after 2006 was a conscious step toward upholding the tradition of pure Sangiovese expression. While this transition was met with its share of challenges, it underscores Paolo’s determination to honor the integrity of the wine and the heritage of the region.
Earlier we reviewed the 2020 Chianti Classico and awarded it with a 92-point DWA score. You can read the full review for this wine here.
Cepparello: The Epitome of Sangiovese Excellence
The Cepparello, a pinnacle of Isole Olena’s winemaking journey, represents the culmination of Paolo’s quest for excellence. The meticulous vineyard selection process, spanning over a decade, gave rise to a wine that embodies the purest essence of Sangiovese.
Paolo’s decision to create a wine solely from the highest quality Sangiovese grapes, rather than blending, was a bold departure from tradition. The result is a wine that proudly bears the IGT classification, emphasizing that quality surpasses labels. The name Cepparello, derived from the ancient Borro Cepparello stream, holds a deep connection to the land and the history of the estate. It is a testament to Paolo’s deep appreciation for the terroir and the local heritage that shapes Isole e Olena’s wines.
Earlier we reviewed the 2020 Cepparello and awarded it with a 96-point DWA score. You can read the full review for this wine here.
Isole Olena’s Role in Shaping the Italian Chianti Region
Isole e Olena and Paolo De Marchi have played a significant role in shaping the Italian Chianti region and elevating it to international acclaim. As one of the pioneers of the region, Paolo’s tireless dedication to quality and innovation has set a standard for others to follow.
The winery’s journey, from its humble beginnings to its current status as a world-renowned producer of fine wines, mirrors the broader transformation of Chianti itself. Paolo’s willingness to embrace change while preserving the essence of tradition has been instrumental in showcasing the true potential of the Sangiovese grape and the terroir of Chianti.
In Paolo’s view, his unique perspective on the estate’s history plays a vital role in his winemaking philosophy. The “old way of doing business” in Chianti, as he describes it, is a precious heritage that continues to inform his approach to winemaking. This rich blend of history, tradition, and innovation is a cornerstone of the winery’s identity and sets it apart in the world of Italian wine.
A Legacy of Excellence in Tuscan Winemaking
Isole Olena’s impact extends beyond its own estate. Paolo’s willingness to share knowledge and insights with fellow winemakers, much like his experiences in California, has fostered a spirit of collaboration and excellence in the region. The estate serves as a beacon for those who aspire to craft exceptional Chianti wines while staying true to their heritage.
In Paolo De Marchi and Isole Olena, we encounter not just a winemaker but a custodian of history, a pioneer of innovation, and a guardian of tradition. Their story is one of unwavering commitment to producing wines that honor the land, the grape, and the heritage of Tuscany. Each sip of their wines is an invitation to partake in this remarkable journey through time, reminding us that the marriage of old and new creates something truly extraordinary in the world of wine.
On Friday the 10th of November we will host a live edition of our Talk Show Cellar Talks on our Instagram channel, together with Paolo. In a personal introduction Paolo will tell you all about his amazing story. For more information on the interview (which is free to attent) click here.
In 2022 the Isole Olena estate was sold to EPI Group (owners of Charles Heidsieck champagne and Biondi-Santi in Montalcino). Paolo De Marchi is currently working with a new technical team to whom he will transfer his work. He will remain connected to the estate as its advisor.
This article is written as part of our project ‘Tuscany, a Journey through Five Lenses’ by our own Niels Aarts and Liza Verbeek. To read more about this project and Isole Olena click here.