Colline di Sopra
Ulrich Ziegler does not like half measures. He prefers to think wide, deep and big. But not loudly, rather loosely. With a smile on his face and after 30 years of searching, he has now reached retirement age and throws himself into the wine adventure of his life.
In the midday heat. July. Montescudaio. Costa Toscana. The shops are closed. The village is empty. Forty years ago Montescudaio was known in wine circles, Bolgheri wasn't. Today the opposite is true. Best conditions for someone like Ulrich Ziegler (64). But just so. Step by step. "I spent 30 years looking for a winery," he says, adding that he actually found one in Germany. "Shortly before the notary appointment, however, I began to have doubts. He turned it down. He has slowly begun to bury his dream. Until the day the call came. And then, after a brief stopover, everything went quickly. "The place touched me, and something magically attracted me," he says. That was 2015, and in the spring of 2016 he sealed the purchase of the Colline di Sopra winery, founded in 2006, in the legendary DOC Montescudaio. The place radiates peace and quiet. So he says.
But since he has been here, no stone has been left upon another. "I wanted an existing winery that suited me, that I could continue to build, in a place with potential. So I was quickly involved in the vinification of the 2015 vintage," he says, "but nothing more. "A good wine must show that there is something different about it. It must bring a smile to the face," he adds. Sounds like kitsch. But it works. And he could prove it. As if it wasn't proof enough that a Reto Vergani, washed with all the wines he could drink, unceremoniously tested a Quattroporte from the Maserati car partner to get from central road 141 to Via delle Colline 17 quickly and in a relaxed manner. Here we are, while Ulrich Ziegler is already three steps further on. He has purchased 50 hectares of land, in Montescudaio, on the other side of the hill from the winery. 12 hectares of it, overlooking the sea, have already been planted with vines. "Bonanza," says Vergani. "Monte Petruzzi", says Ziegler. "The soil is ferruginous, north-west direction, the old farmers have affirmed that this is the best land in the place. Ten kilometres from the sea," says Ziegler, and anyone who knows him knows that he has also meticulously evaluated soil analyses. The new vines have been planted. In the lowest part, at 50 meters above sea level, he had Viognier planted on two hectares. Except for the uppermost part, at 120 metres above sea level, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot were planted. "Incredible", says Vergani. "The setting sun?" asks Ziegler. Get in. Drive on. "A year ago I sold my business, the Specken Drumag Group, now I live here and finish the job. Finished means it's never finished, but that's exactly what I enjoy doing," he says on the way to the next vineyard.
At 64 and after an international career, retirement is out of the question for him. But who is he actually doing it for? For me", he says like a shot, "he still has a few years to live and he wants to make a difference, to tackle something. "I'm building something for the next 30 years," he says, adding that his parents are 90 years old after all, and yes, well. At the foot of the second "new" vineyard, the soil is different. Loam. Sand. 7 hectares. Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Sauvignon. Petit Verdot. "Bought in January," he says, and slowly you begin to be amazed by its dizzying pace as a new winery is being built. Ten metres deep. Radiation-free barrique cellar. Modern design. "Unique," says Ziegler. Investments so far? Ziegler is covered: "It costs every year. Something always breaks." He'll break the ten million-franc barrier soon. Also because in July this year another vineyard, this time 8 hectares, will be added. "So in five years we'll have a hell of a lot to do," he sums it up. Especially if you know how people work here. Biodynamic. By hand. With targeted sowing. Rigorous selection in the vineyard. Dynamization. Moon phases. Et cetera. "I want to drink healthy wines, and I don't want my employees to be left behind," he says. And something else on the subject of manual work: "Last autumn I also spent four weeks at the vibration table sorting out grapes. I'm not going through that any more! Now I've bought an optical selection machine," he says. He does not need to add the following sentence. "Today people say that after four years we have created the best vineyard in Montescudaio. People here aren't used to this happening so quickly," he says, and there it is. The smile on his face.
«A good wine must show that something about it is different.»
Ulrich Ziegler, Winemaker
"We'll take things in hand and we'll do Discuss? Yes. Think. Yes. And then do. Fortunately, Gianluca Matia, the long-standing cellar master who knows everyone in the region very well, is on the same line, because not only is the vineyard area growing (it will amount to about 30 hectares by the end of the year), but the nine-strong team is also growing, and the employees are extremely important to Ulrich Ziegler. "I have built up a company in the field of fluid technology and electronics with 200 employees, and as a trained ETH agronomist, I am not afraid that we will not be able to manage Colline di Sopra properly," he says and adds in a relaxed manner: "But it is not only the terroir that is decisive. He gets into the story: "When I arrived, I saw the six grape varieties and tasted them from the tank. I immediately realized that I wanted to do something else. No blending. The oenologist went crazy and quit his job. I've been doing it myself ever since. You just have to know what you're doing and what you want. I'm not a Bordeaux fan, so I don't want to tinker with a blend. I'd rather try to work with each grape variety and take what the variety offers. Nobody here does that," he explains. And we are talking about: Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier and Roussanne. In the cellar, they are all the same, in other words, Ziegler wants to develop them more or less the same way, and so the result is varietal wines full of tension and compactness. Concentrated, but not opulent, no cumbersome alcohol and tannin bombs. "I'd rather implement the Burgundy style," he explains, but that's easy to say. "After my studies, I was able to work at DRC and at the Domaine Leroy under the supervision of Lalou Bize-Leroy. Now, 35 years later, I'm transferring that to Tuscany," he adds, quite immodestly.
In the shiny cellar you can understand him, even if he mumbles: "Cold maceration. About 25 days of maceration. Tapping. No pressed wine. New Icône barriques from Seguin Moreau. Batonage. Two years. Sulphur only reaches the wine afterwards, just before bottling and minimal." And the white wines? "It's demanding to make good white wines here. I don't like palatable wines, I love white Burgundies and the white wine style of the Rhône Valley. White wines with potential. Viognier is on the rise, with half a hectare of Roussanne we are taking our first steps", he explains with the pipette in his hand. We swivel the glasses. And we still don't quite understand the secret of how this natural concentration can come across so fresh. On average, less than 3 dl of wine is produced per square meter. "You can compare this yield with a large Chambertin," says Ziegler. Is that what he found? Balance?
Text: Andrin Willi | Picture: Lukas Lienhard | Source: Edizione Vergani 12