I have met kings, queens, tycoons and superstars and one of the few things that I am certain of is that money can’t buy elegance. No matter how many tailored suits or couture dresses you have made, elegance is innate. Fabrizio Noccolaini, owner of winery Massa Vecchia, is one of the most elegant people I have ever met. To me he represents the beauty of what is l’eleganza contadina, lost in translation as “farmers elegance”. It’s a phenomenon closely related to the loss of ego and acquisition of a genuine spirituality that comes with facing nature daily and working the land without shortcuts. Fabrizio doesn’t want to leave an imprint on Nature but rather aid and contribute the right elements to let Nature best express itself. Fabrizio has done just that, producing wines that reflect the land and traditions where they come from. He has been at the forefront of “organic” farming and the natural wine making movement since the late eighties, and now wants to live an honest life as a farmer living off of what he produces.
An homogenisation of wines happened in the late eighties, the palates of a few wine critics and journalists, that shall remain unnamed, dictated how wine was made. They had a colossal influence on the market, their reviews could make or break you. During this period many regions, zones, areas and appellations started to mimic the style of wines liked by these “unnamed” critics and wines started loose their traditional and territorial character. This is still very much going on today, but with new generations recognising the importance of traditions and organic farming the resistance has grown.
One of the godfathers of the resistance in Italy, who made real wines without chemistry, was Fabrizio at his winery Massa Vecchia, located in Massa Marittima (Tuscany). When the rest of Tuscany was poorly imitating the iconic Sassicaia and marketing wines as Super Tuscans though nothing was super about them, Fabrizio started making natural wines that reflected the terroir and traditions of his native lands.
With more and more producers making natural wine today, it may not seem has such a big deal, but in fact thirty years ago in Italy (and especially Tuscany) it was a brave move that would make him a pioneer and an iconic figure in the natural wine making world.
Fabrizio knows how to make clean and technically precise natural wines. Yes, there are clean and technically precise natural wines. I am one that does not tolerate wine faults with the excuse that it’s a natural wine and that’s how it’s supposed to be because there are no chemicals added. During my last visit, Fabrizio opened a 2006 rosè he had made with no added sulfites – it had evolved into something layered and complex while maintaining freshness and fruitiness. I get goose bumps just writing about it. For Fabrizio, natural wine making was the only option. “At first, it was out of pure instinct, because of my bond with this land. I could never think of spraying it with herbicide. As I matured, it became a way of life”.
Fabrizio is a self-taught winemaker who takes decision out of instinct and observation- he doesn’t want to mold or manipulate nature but rather give it a chance to best express itself. He brought back varieties and wine making styles traditional to the area. He macerated his vermentino, a local white grape variety, as it was traditionally done. Tuscany always had white wines of substance and flavour, elegance was something that wasn’t looked for or achievable. He collaborated with the “Collio Crew” , like famed producers like Stanislo “Stanko” Radikon and Josko Gravner, pioneers and natural wine makers in Friuli. After various experiments and a lot of explaining people started to take notice and Massa Vecchia started to have success. Fabrizio found this success to be, as he puts it a “DRAMA”
“You are either have success or are a loser, there is no middle area. No way to make an honest living from your work. It’s hard, if you don’t ride that wave of success and all that come with it, you are forgotten and loose everything you built,” tells Fabrizio.
Fabrizio didn’t want to expand, didn’t want to cultivate his image or do the least bit of marketing. “I’m not a manager, I’m a farmer.” He viewed the wine business as a corrupt machine and didn’t want to have anything to do with it. Most of all he didn’t want to lose contact with what’s important and what got him to the dance, nature.
At the first opportunity, Fabrizio did just that. At peak success, he left the winery to his daughter and went back to nature. His project was to bring back the old way of the Tuscan farming system, centred around the podere, a Tuscan farm-house which they now rent as “villas” but that’s a whole other subject, and returned it to its traditional use. [A podere was the nucleus of a farm, each room had a working purpose, from the stables to cool ageing cellars for wine, cheeses and prosciutto.] Fabrizio just wanted to live honestly with what was being made in his farm creating a sustainable farming cycle. The animals would eat the grass and grains, they would produce, cheese and meat, and their manure would fertilise the fields that they would feed on.
With the milk from his cows, he makes a taleggio (soft cheese) type cheese and also an aged version at various stages, even up to three years. He has some cinta senese pigs and makes an excellent prosciutto. Maybe the highlight of the farm is the small pinot noir vineyard in the middle of a secluded forest from which he produces Aiavecchia. He has made five vintages and, until the day of my last visit, I had never tasted it, needless to say it was exceptional. A good friend and also famous farmer and producer says to me every time we speak of Fabrizio, laughing almost in disbelief, “that man has hands of gold, he cannot make something that’s not special.” Unfortunately, it’s a tiny production and it will be difficult to find.
Fortunately for us, he was brought back in the game and is now making wines at Massa Vecchia again. Writing out of pure speculation, I think his children realised his genius and thought it best to have him make the wines. I thank them because he still has a lot of ideas and needs to express them through his wines. Fabrizio is a magical man part farmer part philosopher with a big heart and hands of gold. He is one of my favourite people to visit, every time I leave inspired and enthusiastic, he gives me hope that there are real people who care about this planet and can make the most exquisite products working alongside nature in an ethical way. Fabrizio is substance and the upmost attention to detail without any gimmicky redundant marketing or press releases to sell you on anything, just a product that’s a reflection of the land it comes from and hard work.