Luce della Vite, the highly regarded Super-Tuscan blend from Montalcino, is celebrating its 25th vintage with the excellent 2017. To mark this quarter-century milestone, and to explore the roots of this iconic wine, I sat down to a Zoom conversation—and, of course, a glass of wine—with Marchese Lamberto Frescobaldi. He is the 30th generation to serve as winemaker in his family, and the man who, along with Robert Mondavi, created the brand that would become such an icon on both sides of the Atlantic.
The first vintage of Luce della Vite was 1993, and it was the result of a partnership between two of the leading wine families of the United States and Italy. Indeed, from the beginning, both families were personally involved, working vintage after vintage to not just produce a great wine, but to express the land from which it came. Luce began with an existing parcel that the Frescobaldi family already owned, and it was only later that more land was purchased for the project.
Even then, the focus was on finding additional parcels nearby, as opposed to five or 10 miles apart. According to Frescobaldi, it’s “better this way to express the location.” He explained that, in his view, crafting a wine from a range of disparate sites can result in “a lovely wine, balanced, but you don’t do something that has a grip, has nails, [that] is able to leave a mark, its sign on you.”
Finding a way to express their land has been a focus since the earliest vintages. The 1994, Frescobaldi explained, received positive reviews, but both he and Mondavi wanted to make it better. “This was the great thing” about Mondavi, Frescobaldi told me: He was “always raising the bar.” Everything was on the proverbial table: Modifying their soil management, changing the fermentation, how each individual cluster was treated on the vine, and more.
“Wine is not the result of the winemaker, it’s the result of land,” Frescobaldi said, adding that these days, “Everybody can have anything, but what is unique is the site. So a good winemaker is able to capture the uniqueness of the site and not interfere with that site.”
In 2004, when Constellation purchased Robert Mondavi Winery, Frescobaldi bought back the remaining 50% of the shares of Luce della Vite, but decided to keep “this jewel on its own,” labeling the bottle simply as Luce della Vite and not including any reference to either of the founding families. He wanted “to have Luce sit on its own, and be independent.”
Over the years, it has remained a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot, though of course those percentages change…