A newfound love for farming, winemaking and olive oil production.
Margot and the Ultima Pietra team
Where does your passion for wine originate?
Wine is something that I’ve always loved and that passion deepened even further as I became a farmer. Now when I enjoy a glass of wine, I think of the hard work (and good fortune) that goes into each aspect of creating a memorable wine. Being passionate about wine is easy, but the hundreds of individual decisions necessary to produce the very best fruit, responding to weather conditions, farming organically and all the surprises presented by a particular vintage, make you realize that what is finally bottled is truly a bit of magic.
At Ultima Pietra, our goal is to create artisanal wines that reflect the unique properties of this special terroir. We are now certified Organic and following Biodynamic practices. Farming is guided by respect for the land and work in the vineyard is entirely done by hand. As I work with our team in the vineyard, I try to learn every detail about vineyard management like how to prune and shoot selection. Spending time with the vines makes you understand how time consuming and challenging it is to make a truly handcrafted wine.
Being part of the agricultural community is very important to us. My husband, Mark and I feel a deep obligation to care for the Tuscan lands that have been here for thousands of years. We are just temporary caretakers of this land and feel the responsibility to do our very best with this magnificent hillside.
Ultima Pietra from above
What brought you to Val d’Orcia?
During my Junior Year at Williams College, I studied art history in Florence. After that, Mark and I continued to travel to Italy whenever possible. In 2016, we visited dear friends and stumbled on the property of our dreams—with a gorgeous south-facing wheatfield. The aspect and altitude, 500 meters, of that special hillside field made it perfect for a vineyard. The stars aligned and a moment of awakening happened when we saw the property that is now Ultima Pietra.
The story? I arrived in Florence in January, 2016 in the middle of a icy snowstorm and drove, but literally slid, all the way down to Trequanda. When I finally reached the top of the hill, to see the what is now our property, the land was blanketed in snow, and I could see all the way to the towers of Siena and Montalcino… it was just so magical. I hadn’t expected to be overtaken the way that I was. After nine months of negotiations, the house and surrounding 8 hectares including that magical wheatfield were ours.
There are two hundred magnificent old olive trees on the property and the day after we closed, Marco Nespolo, our incredible general manager, handed me nets and green buckets and said it was time for the olive harvest. We had no idea what we were doing but he patiently taught us the ropes. It was immediately evident that I needed to immerse myself and learn everything I could about olive oil.
I enrolled in and completed an olive oil sommelier certification in New York including olive oil sensory analysis and production. Olives are often viewed secondary to wine for many wineries given the proximity of the two harvests. We do things a little differently– sending samples of our leccino olives to be analyzed every week beginning in late August to follow the maturation curve and choose the perfect moment for harvest. Marco Scanu brings his expertise to our olive oil production. We harvest our olives earlier than is customary, to ensure excellent oil, beautiful flavor profile and high levels of polyphenols. The downside is less volume of oil –the reason so many farmers do not tend to harvest as early as we do. We won a Gold Award for Ultima Pietra Organic Olive Oil in our first year at the New York International Olive Oil Competition. Our team is dedicated to doing everything possible to produce the highest quality olive oil—and wine.
Ultima Pietra olive harvest
It’s great that you started with olive oil and quite different to what people in this area usually do…
Trequanda is known for its excellent olive oils and our oliveto is over 100 years old. The vineyard was just planted in early 2017 so you could say we did things backwards. But we saw the possibilities of this beautiful ridgeline and trusted that this land would produce fabulous fruit. Planting a new vineyard is a big risk. The potential of our young vineyard has already shown in the 2019 vintage, our first, to be released later this year–there will be a Bordeaux blend and a Chardonnay.
Did you ever think that one day you would have a house in Tuscany and produce olive oil and wine or was it just a series of coincidences that made it happen?
It was the dream of a lifetime, and a big jump off of a cliff to try to start a wine and olive oil business in Tuscany. At some point the fear evaporates and you realize that life is finite and “if not now… when?”
The people we have met on this journey have been extraordinary. I think about Sebastian, Giovanni and Giulia from Podere Le Ripi who came for an aperitivo to see our vineyards and then completely facilitated our ability to produce our first vintage. What an incredible gift! There have been so many people who have gone out of their way to help us and we are incredibly grateful for those friendships.
The new Ultima Pietra cellar
Ultima Pietra wine labels
Mittelberger casks in Ultima Pietra's cellar
You definitely have figured out how you market your olive oil, a very high quality product, that you’re selling to the States, what about your wine?
Ultima Pietra is a small production, handcrafted, boutique wine. At full production we’ll be making only between ten and fifteen thousand bottles and we are dedicated to producing the highest quality wine that reflects our unique and magical place. We planted international grape varieties because that’s simply what we love, and, more importantly, because they were the ideal choice for our pliocenic soil. Our not yet released 2019 vintage wines, a Bordeaux blend and 100% Cabernet Franc, are beautiful with amazing structure and elegance! And, the Chardonnay from the more northerly facing rocky vineyard is a lovely surprise.
Each small parcel of our vineyard is harvested and fermented separately, The developing wine is gently exposed to oak–large Mittleberger casks–the neutrality of vessels is important in bringing out the terroir and character of the fruit while imparting structure. We rely only on natural yeasts and minimal winemaker intervention. The vineyards have life —with tall vibrant cover crops in each row. We’re not afraid to let our wines express their unique personalities.
Giovanni Stella is our winemaker. He has made incredible contributions, been our fearless leader and we love the way he thinks about farming and wine—we just keep learning from him. Corinna Banti is our exceptional cellar master, a recent addition to our small (but mighty) team. We believe it is super important to hire and support women in wine and olive oil.
Ultima Pietra is a family business and our three sons and two daughter-in-laws have all helped so far in one way or another—this is a full family endeavour that we hope will continue for generations.
Is there a scent that represents Val d’Orcia for you?
The gorgeous aroma of freshly pressed olive oil. And, of course the nose on a beautiful Brunello…
Which is the place in Val d’Orcia that moves you the most?
Our home –the Ultima Pietra farm. From the house you can see Monte Amiata every minute, in all its many moods. Siena is visible with its beautiful medieval towers and, in the winter, vistas are even clearer because the air is so crisp.
David Mangan, head chef, La Bandita
What are the most beautiful places and hidden gems that you love the most?
The hike from Montalcino to Sant’Antimo, descending through the vineyards and then arriving at the Abbey feels like you are discovering Sant’Antimo for the first time. And the breathtaking views of the Crete Senesi, driving along the road from Taverna d’Arbia to Asciano.
For hidden gems, we love La Bandita Townhouse, as we stayed there on and off for almost two years while we renovated our home. If I could eat in one place it would be the Townhouse Cafe–the chef David Mangan is amazing.
Ultima Pietra grape harvest
Which is your favorite season here and why?
Can I answer every season? As a farmer, autumn takes on incredible importance because it represents the harvest and culmination of a year of work. But the cycle of the seasons here is indescribably beautiful– from the verdant Irish green of spring, to the ever-blooming roses of summer and the serene winter mornings with fog nestled in the valleys as far as the eye can see. Coming from a cold climate like Chicago, every season in the Val d’Orcia is stunning.