Tenuta Degli Dei a wine – not a fashion item!

Interview with Tommaso Cavalli son of fashion designer Roberto Cavalli

By Katharina Woitczyk

Has Tenuta degli Dei always been a wine estate or was that an activity that you and your family have developed? Please tell me something about the history of the vineyards and winemaking on the estate.

Originally the vineyards were not in one plot and these old vineyards have been progressively removed, as my trotter horses breeding grew. When we decided to plant the new vines, ten years ago, we did it in accordance with the terroir.

Our five hectares of vineyards are planted with closely spaced rows of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. The plantings were done after careful analysis of the terroir, today the vineyards are in the sunniest and highest areas of the estate, at elevations ranging from 400 to 450 meters above sea level. My vineyard faces entirely south, and is planted on fairly firm soils that are rich in Galestro, a local rock type, and well drained: Perfect terrains for producing well-structured wines of great depth, with considerable intensity and character, and a marked mineral component. We chose to match the elegance of French grapes to the elegance and the tradition of the Panzano in Chianti’s territory. I do not use any modern technology but try to process each phase of the production with the approach of an artisan, only determined to get the best quality and it’s my great passion to do so. Each grape is harvested by hand, vinified and aged separately, only the best parts resulting in the final blends. Once they reach the winery, the grapes, divided by vineyard plot, are sorted two more times. Every imperfect berry is removed, and so are all traces of leaves and stems. The grapes thus selected are dropped by gravity into temperature-controlled vertical steel fermentation tanks.

I have understood that Tenuta Degli Dei has been the property of your family for about 30 years now, is there anything significant to tell about the estate before your family bought it?

In the early 70’s almost the totality of the land in the Panzano area was the property of the Duchess della Robbia, a lady from a noble Florentine family that in order to preserve their Hotel Le Barone of Panzano in Chianti were progressively forced to sell many of their estates. My father fell in love with the place and bought it as a family shelter, a place where to relax from the pressures of the fashion world. Me too, I fell in love with this place the first time he brought me here.

What is actually the link between you and your family breeding horses at Tenuta degli Dei and the family name Cavalli? (If any)

Actually there is no link at all. I have lived in Panzano in Chianti since 1989, combining work and passion, but have always loved this area. My father and I were used to coming here whenever we could during my childhood. We took long walks, and he taught me to horse ride. Here horses and vineyards are an integral part of the landscape, and I cannot imagine this place without them, like I cannot imagine myself far from here.

How, where, when and why did you get the wine bug? 

As explained I have always been attracted to the Chianti’s countryside and fascinated by its lifestyle rather than by the glamour of fashion. For this reason, after having run a successful trotting racehorses breeding for almost twenty years, I found it easy to put the same enthusiasm and ambition to carry out the wine project. It was officially set up in 2000. My father had encouraged me to start a boutique winery in Degli Dei estate for many years. However, it was only when I was introduced by coincidence to Carlo Ferrini, one of the most experienced Italian winemakers that I made up my mind. Carlo showed a tremendous confidence in my project, thanks to the soil and the exposition of my land.

Celebrity wines are currently a big thing, however I have the impression that Tenuta degli Dei is not really to be placed in that category in the sense that it’s more you than your father making the wine. How would you qualify the wine estate?

Absolutely. Lots of famous people are getting into the wine business, but only quality, tipicity and consistency still make the difference. My project aims at remaining a limited production, quality oriented and based on the full respect of the territory we belong to. As already explained I do not use any modern technology but try to process each phase of the production with the approach of an artisan, only determined to get the best quality and supported by a greater passion.

Do you feel that it is an advantage or not to have a famous name when marketing a wine? What are the consequences?

Of course, I cannot deny, it helped me a lot.  At the same time, as in the case of presenting my wine, at the beginning of this activity, most members of the traditional wine establishment have shown diffidence towards my project because of my family name. My first challenge has been convincing the conservative wine world of the great commitment behind the production of Tenuta Degli Dei wines. And gradually my wines have got the deserved respect and credibility for their growing quality.

What have you done before turning to the wine business?

After graduation, I spent two years at West Palm Beach, Florida, working in a horse breeding company there my intense passion for this activity grew even stronger. In 1989, back from the United States, I decided to move to Panzano in Chianti and live at Tenuta degli Dei, which my father had bought at the end of the 70’s. For years it was just a family escape, but I decided to transform the country home into a productive enterprise, successfully raising competitive trotter horses, and, then in 2000, taking up winemaking with the typical determination to excel of my family.

In how far do you feel that there is a link between the world of wine and that of fashion?

The two worlds are often associated as luxury goods, perceived as ideals of exclusivity and hedonism. I believe that the real connection might be probably found in the obsessive search for quality that all major brands carry on in both industries. Probably this is also the source of that unique Italian lifestyle that both fashion and wine communicate so well to the rest of the world.

Thank you for this interview!