"A place of cultic importance in the wine world. We Italians often complain that we do not have our own Chateaux Margaux, our Romanée Conti, our Opus One. But we are wrong, for we do have here in Italy some wine "houses" that are something better, something beyond the normal cellar. Relatively few, perhaps, but true domains of Bacchus where everything is utterly flawless, where time assumes the feel of history, the memory of timeless impressions, the quintessential ingredient in the evolution of wine. Castello di Ama is one of those places where one encounters the Platonic absolutes (...)"
Carlo Cambi - Il Buon Vino - Ist. Geografico De Agostini - 2005
Ama is small hamlet nestled among gentle hills, in the commune of Gaiole in Chianti, in the province of Siena. At some 500 metres' elevation, it lies in the heart of the Chianti Classico storico zone, where vineyards and olive groves and woods weave intricate intersecting patterns among themselves.
The winery, begun in 1972 as a result of the love of four families from Rome, currently comprises some 250 hectares, of which 90 are in vines and 40 in olives trees, growing at an average altitude of 480 metres. Annual production, exclusively from our estate vineyards, amounts to about 300-350,000 bottles, or some 3,500-4,000 bottles per hectare. The winery standard-bearer is "Castello di Ama," a wine produced by a rigorous selection of sangiovese grapes from the most outstanding vineyard parcels.
Archaeology and local place names agree in their testimony that Ama is located in an area already settled in ancient times. All indications point to an uninterrupted existence from late classical antiquity through the high Middle Ages. Between the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th centuries, a local noble family, vassals of the Ricasoli, settled here, evidence being two "privileges," the first (from 1197) issued by the emperor Henry VI, and the second (from 1210) by the emperor Otto IV. In confirming to Ranieri Ricasoli dei Firidolfi properties and jurisdiction over certain Chianti-area castles and their inhabitants, the documents also mention rights over one of their subjects, Drudolo da Ama.
Dating to a few years later (1219) is an act by which a certain Diotisalvi di Drudolo di Ruggiero da Cacchiano sold to the Badia di San Lorenzo in Coltibuono, for "80 lire senesi," half of his belongings located in the "castello d'Ama." At the end of the Middle Ages, when the Catasto fiorentino was being organised (1427), the status of Ama seems to have changed. It was no longer referred to as a "castello," but seems to have a demographic profile similar to the other population centres under the church of San Polo in Rosso. Only three families lived there, however, all small landed proprietors.
The safer climate that marked Tuscany under the Grand Duchy and after the annexation of Siena in 1555 certainly had a positive effect on the agricultural economy. Ama too showed evidence of this, since between the 16th and 17th centuries larger landowners emerged, in all likelihood descendants of those same families appearing in 15th-century documents, the Pianigiani in particular, and the Ricucci.
A century later, the rural area surrounding Ama probably had become some kind of model agricultural system. Indicative of this are the remarks of Grand Duke Leopold on the occasion of his 1773 visit to Chianti as he admired the geometrically-ordered ranks of vines and olive trees: "...around the 'castello d'Amma' lie the most beautiful hills and valleys in all Chianti, with meticulously cultivated and fertile grain fields, olive trees, and vineyards, well aspected and sunny, all maintained as well as gardens, with a goodly population and houses scattered throughout the countryside; this is the most famous area of Chianti..."
Only Villa Ricucci has preserved largely unchanged its original 18th -century appearance, its handsome façade enhanced by a double stairway crowned with an elegant balcony.
Villa Pianigiani, on the other hand, was completely revamped into a vaguely neo-classical style; a large square building, of solid and severe elegance, its roof housing a dovecote-tower, much like the farmhouses of that era.
Throughout the 19th and to the middle of the 20th century, Ama had fully four agricultural operations and was thus a rural centre of some importance: its resident population ranked it among the main frazioni of the commune of Gaiole.
Notizie storiche (Historical notes) taken from the Quaderni del Centro Studi Storici Chiantigiani, edited by Prof. Renato Stopani.
In 1982, Marco Pallanti assumed operational responsibility of the winery. Pallanti was a young viticulturalist who in a very few years had become one of the most highly respected winemakers in Tuscany. In 2003, he was crowned "Oenologist of the Year" by Vini d'Italia, published by Gambero Rosso and Slow Food. He began, in those early years, a long project to evaluate, with precision, the potential of the local area, with an eye to vastly improving the quality of its wines. Subsequent division of the various vineyards into separate, homogeneous parcels and his study of the various ripening phases revealed the path to follow: the singling out of the best spots to grow sangiovese, with absolute quality as the only guiding principle.
At the same time, he began experimenting with non-traditional varieties, merlot, chardonnay, and pinot noir, in order to see if, in those areas that proved unsuitable for sangiovese, other varieties might thrive in Ama's distinctive terroir. In other words, the continuous search for growing areas specific to each separate variety would ensure that every wine would be an eloquent expression of the extraordinary terroir of Ama.
Over the five years 1982-1987, some 50,000 vines were grafted over, a truly enormous number, considering that the vineyard density was 2,800 vines per hectare. Another cornerstone for the future success of Castello di Ama wines was experimentation with new methods of training the vines, all with the goal of improving fruit ripeness. In 1982, and for the first time in Italy, vines were grown with the foliage trained into V-shaped vertical canopies, known as the open lyre system, the result of trials in France for low-density vineyards. The purpose is to raise fruit quality by increasing overall canopy surface, thus enabling more leaves, functioning as so many panels, to capture more sunlight to transmit to the clusters.
In a very few years, 23 hectares of vineyard, largely sangiovese, were re-structured. As one can easily see from all of this, it is the vineyard that has received the most intensive investments, a strategy that continues over the years, thanks to an annual programme of replantings and vineyard management.