It is said that winemaking is an art form and not a science. It is Bibi Graetz that epitomizes this philosophy to the fullest. Bibi’s wines are exceptional, and many consider his wines a liquid art form that is best expressed in a wine glass. Bibi has a rich and colorful history of winemaking. An artist by background his wines have reached a cult-like status in a matter of two short decades. Not only is Bibi Graetz a talented abstract artist, but he is also world-renowned as one of Italy’s most ingenious winemakers.
I recently had the pleasure of tasting Bibi Graetz’s wines with him in New York City, during the celebratory release of his new Colores Bianco 2018. Tasting the wines with Bibi, gave insight into his eccentric and very honest persona. To hear his story of how he started making wine and his family background, it was apparent that we were tasting some very special wines. These were wines created with an artistic vision. Bibi stressed his philosophy was to produce wines from indigenous varieties with an emphasis on old vines. His focus has been to showcase the possibilities of Sangiovese, Colorino, and Canaiolo for the reds and the indigenous varieties of Ansonica and Vermentino for his whites.
Bibi Graetz – Background
Bibi crafts his wines from his family home, Castello di Vincigliata, a hillside castle that has been a part of his family for 60 years. His family has owned vineyards in Tuscany where they made wine that was mostly for family consumption. Wines that they enjoyed over grand harvest gatherings. Bibi told stories of how his family from around the world would come to Tuscany to celebrate the harvest with fun and lavish parties. In the late 90’s it came time for Bibi to make decisions about the family estate. It was then that he decided to make an artistic transition from the canvas to the cellar.
Bibi Graetz – Visual Oenologist
Being an artist, Bibi had no formal training in agriculture or oenology. He is a self-taught winemaker, where he learned winemaking in the cellars and in the vineyards. At first, he hired a very talented winemaker, but within a few short years, he felt the need for his own creative space and wanted to make wines with his own hands and with his own vision.
With a love for the sea, Bibi acquired property on the Tuscan Island of Giglio in 2000. His relationship with the island was very intimate, as he recalled spending many precious summers of his childhood on the Island. It was here on the island, amongst the ancient terraces, the old cellars, and traditional winemakers that he fully understood the art of winemaking.
Giglio was an island of old traditions and old winemakers. Modern winemaking techniques were not a part of the culture. Winemakers on the island had been making wines with ancient techniques and philosophy. Wines was being made in the same manners as their forefathers had for generations. This is where Bibi learned winemaking. Bibi explained that he learned more from the winemakers here on Giglio than from most modern oenologists. He stressed that “when you are in the old cellars, you learn the ancient art of winemaking. Here you understand that wine has been made for thousands of years, and it is not oenology that counts, it is the passion that matters.” This was Bibi’s schooling in wine and he feels grateful and fortunate to have learned winemaking from the traditional winemakers of Giglio.
This experience allowed Bibi to become daring and adventurous in his winemaking. Bibi says, “It is not just about books and studying. I am a winemaker by passion, and my passion is with an art background and so my oenology is visual.” Bibi prefers to look at what is happening in the vineyards, especially during harvest time. He says it makes a difference to use your eyes to harvest, instead of using instruments and lab analysis. All the work is done by hands, and so to Bibi, this is where he makes a difference. His belief is, if the grapes are amazing then wines will be amazing. It is not about the cellar techniques.
Bibi works with some of the most spectacular old vines in Tuscany, which are 40, 60, 80, 100, and even 130 years old. His preference is to work with old vines because they deliver elegant wines with great finesse. The wines are less powerful but they are deep and intense.
Testammata and Colore from the Island of Giglio
The wines from the Island of Giglio are made from the indigenous varietal Ansonica that are cultivated on granitic soils on terraced vineyards. While tasting the Testamatta and Colore Bianco, Bibi invited us to close our eyes and visualize the granite, the rocks, and the sea.
The soil on Giglio is very different, so Anosonica on the Island of Giglio is more special and unique than Ansonica from the mainland. Here the grape variety delivers minerality, acidity, and salinity. The main difference between Testamatta Bianco and Colore Bianco is the harvest. The grapes of Testamatta Bianco are harvested early, so the alcohol is lower and acidity is higher, giving more freshness to the wines.
The grapes for Colore Bianco are sourced from the Pietrabona Vineyard, a terraced vineyard on the southwest part of the island, facing the sea at an altitude between 200 and 500 feet. The vines, which are up to 100 years old are planted on thousand-year-old terraces built out of the rocky, granitic soils of the island. Colore Bianco is harvested later than the Testamatta. The vineyards are harvested two weeks after the normal maturation. In this time, you loose close to 50% of the juice, giving you wonderful concentration and aromatics. This is an extremely special wine that has aromatic notes of orange flower, honeysuckle and almonds. The wine delivers a taste of the island and imparts minerality, acidity, and salinity. The 2018 Colore Bianco is the first production of white Colore and only 900 bottles were produced. Bibi believes that Colore Bianco could soon become one of the greatest white wines of all of Italy.
Testamatta & Colore Rosso
Bibi Graetz is known as a rebel and trailblazer in the Tuscan wine world. His greatest work of art is the creation of Testamatta Rosso and Colore Rosso, which are admired by wine lovers and collectors around the world.
Colore Rosso is the most beautiful expression of Bibi Graetz’s artistic creation, coming from rare and old vineyards from Siena, Lamole, and Vincigliata. The vines range in age from 135 years to 40 years. It is a wine that exhibits the pure excellence of Tuscany. Made from traditional grapes, the Sangiovese represents the structure and the power of the wine, Colorino fruits, and velvety tannins, Canaiolo minerality, and intensity. What sets Colore apart, is that it is made from only the best barrels of the whole production. The 2016 Colore Rosso is powerful with a solid structure. It is a beautifully dense wine with notes of black fruits, There are hints of plum and blackberries, followed by notes of tobacco and spice. Colore Rosso is a wine that lingers on the palate and keeps you wanting for more.
“Testa-Matta” means someone with a strong personality, which is an ideal name for this wine, that has a distinctive style and attitude. This Super Tuscan is made with 100% Sangiovese from old vines. Testamatta is a work of art that exhibits Bibi’s creative expression, whereby elevating Super Tuscans to a whole new level. The 2016 is generous, balanced and elegant with notes of red fruit, tea, and tobacco. A wonderful freshness is present in the wine with a long generous finish.
Bibi Graetz – Bollamatta
Bibi once again stresses that he is a visual oenologist, he needs the vineyards to look beautiful and so they don’t do green harvesting. He feels the green harvest takes away from the beauty of the vineyards as it is grossly unappealing to him to see all the grapes on the vineyard floor. So instead of green harvesting, he decided to produce sparkling wines to address the problem. Instead of green harvesting at the beginning of August, he decided to wait another 20 days and do the first harvest at the end of August. They make sparkling wine with this first harvest picking.
The wine is aptly called Bollamata(meaning crazy bubbles). It is a fun way to make wines. Bibi says, “there are no rules, whatever you do with passion, gives you interesting results”. The results are beyond interesting, Bollamata is crisp and perfectly balanced with fresh fruity notes and bright acidity. A beautiful and rare sparkling wine, as there are very few producers that make sparkling Sangiovese.
Bibi Graetz’s wines stand apart from his Tuscan counterparts, his wines are artisanal winemaking at its finest. The wines are complex and elegant and are a treasure for any wine lover and wine collector. Bibi’s artistic sense and flair have elevated his wines to cult status, and today he is considered one of Italy’s best winemakers.