Robb Reader: Giovanni Dolfi

The Fattorie dei Dolfi proprietor on his unique approach to oenological craftsmanship.

An independent winery on the coast of Tuscany, Fattorie dei Dolfi’s unique selection of grape varieties and the vineyard’s painstaking attention to detail are combining to create wine that’s got tongues wagging amongst the wine cognoscenti. Ubiquity, he says, is the enemy of  luxury…

What is the reasoning behind selecting unusual grape varieties?
When I started the project of reviving and upgrading my century-old family vineyards, my goal was to replant the vines which had already been thriving there, instead of moving some other vines over. This was because at that time, my mentor Dr Tachis and I believed that these vines had best adapted to the local environment and would produce great results. During the massal selection, we found international grape varieties including cabernet and merlot, but also unique varieties like Prognolo Gentile, a very old clone of the modern Sangiovese, and later on I also found this special white wine variety which could be Pinot Chardonnay, the older variation of Chardonnay. I have to admit, instead of saying that I’ve selected these grape varieties, they’ve selected me.

Giovanni Dolfi 

What else makes Fattorie dei Dolfi wines so unique?
I was asked to come back to take over the family vineyards because my parents were no longer physically strong. And when I started, the world of wine was already getting more commercialised. Many wineries chase the market taste trends or perfect “points”. Dr. Tachis disapproved of this kind of practice. He strongly believed that we should make wines that could represent our unique terroir. And what we do – our process – is not considered “perfect” commercially, but we understood that this feature could become the uniqueness of this wine.

I always seek perfection and make no compromises when it comes to the end results of my work. Over the past decades I have used the opportunity when I travel abroad to continue learning from the best. So you will not find me being confined by local practices of my region. Would you call that a “positive disruption”? Maybe.

How are tastes and priorities with fine wine changing as new generations of oenophiles come of age?
The world is changing very fast. There are all kinds of consumers in the market – some like fruity wines, some like high acidity, and so on. I don’t go after any market trends. My goal is to make wine of the best quality possible, true to its origin. And I truly believe that more and more drinkers, old and young, will appreciate the uniqueness of the wines from Fattorie dei Dolfi.

What has changed the most is, of course, how people communicate. I’ve recently taken my first step into social media with the launch of an Instagram account. We will, for sure, increase the investment in the new media channels so that we stay connected with the young oenophiles – we need to meet them on their own home turf.

What is the fondest memory you have, involving wine?
There are two stories I’d like to share. One is, when I was a little boy, my grandfather always took me walking in the family vineyards for hours and taught me everything he knew about vines. This was when I realised that vineyards are unique and special places – almost magical. And this is why I still like to work in the vineyards myself. The other story involves the times when I was tasting wines with Dr. Tachis, who was an incredible man with a lot of talents but also worked very hard. He was a very tough man, taciturn, very strict when he was working, never made any compromises. Working with him was very challenging, but also very rewarding. I remember the many times we tried tasting together in the cellar, and when I got the answers right, he would give me an almost unnoticeable nod to show his approval.

Tell us about Oenofuture… 
Oenofuture is the latest partner working with my winery. His founder Daniel is a very passionate young man whom I got to know last year when he came to visit. We got along very well together because he could understand my philosophy very well. He’s dedicated to discovering and promoting independent and unique wineries like mine. I think this world is getting more and more diversified every day: while many are still going after the famous labels, more and more consumers also want to discover unique bottles that are hard to find.

What’s your personal definition of luxury?
Personally luxury is something that is true, beautiful but hard to find. A product that is everywhere is not a true luxury, even if it has a high price tag. For me, I work long hours in the vineyards every day, so a little holiday could be my luxury.

Who – dead or alive – has inspired you the most?
If you want to strive for the best, you always look up to great figures to learn from them and hope that one day that you could emulate them. I’m a lucky man in that I have encountered many great men and women in the fields of racehorses and wine-making, including the Queen Mother who visited my stable in Italy decades ago.

But if I think really deeply, the people who have shaped me the most are my parents. My father has taught me, by example, how to think and act as an entrepreneur: to think creatively and out-of-the-box, but at the same time execute all the ideas rigorously, in a disciplined way and without compromises. My mother was also a remarkable woman who was never afraid of trying new things or to stand out in the crowd. Just imagine: she was the first woman to get a driver’s license in the whole region! I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.

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