Andrea Franchetti / Photo by Giuseppe Gerbasi/contrasto/Redux
The Italian wine world is mourning the death of Andrea Franchetti, founder and owner of two of Italy’s most prestigious estates, Tenuta di Trinoro in Tuscany’s Val d’Orcia and Passopisciaro on Etna’s northern slopes.
Franchetti was a visionary who inspired numerous winemakers.
Before becoming a winemaker, Franchetti owned a restaurant in Rome, where he grew up. The son of an American mother and an Italian father, he moved to the United States in the early 1980s and distributed fine Italian wines in New York.
Franchetti’s foray into producing wine began in the early 1990s, when he planted vines at a property in southeastern Tuscany that he’d acquired in the previous decade. Located near the borders of Umbria and Lazio, the area had no tradition of quality winemaking. Franchetti changed all that in 1991, when he started planting Bordeaux varieties from cuttings he sourced from some of the French region’s top estates. The resulting rich, ageworthy reds were an overnight success with critics and wine lovers.
In 2000, Franchetti began a new adventure. Arriving on the northern slopes of Mount Etna, he found abandoned vineyards and desolation. He also saw what others hadn’t: Untapped potential thanks to high altitude, intense sunlight, marked day and night temperature differentials and extremely old, free-standing bush vines called alberello. Many of the plants had survived phylloxera and weren’t grafted on American rootstocks.
One of the first of the modern pioneers on Mount Etna, Franchetti had to drastically change his winemaking approach on the volcano. As he told Wine Enthusiast in a recent interview for an article on Etna’s northern stars, “Unlike wines I make in Tuscany with Cabernet Franc and small amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, Nerello Mascalese doesn’t need lengthy skin contact during vinification. On Etna, I basically make wine from the juice. And instead of aging in barriques, we age in large neutral casks.”
The results are stunning, focused and terroir-driven wines all about depth, extreme elegance and vibrancy.
Franchetti was also fundamental in promoting Etna’s varied subzones, or contrade. Not only did Franchetti create five contrada-specific wines, but he also founded the most important annual wine event on the volcano, Le Contrade dell’Etna, where journalists descend on the volcano to try the latest releases.
Franchetti inspired producers across Italy.
“Andrea was indeed an extraordinary man, his talent and vision were without compromise,” says Alberto Tasca, CEO of Sicilian firm Tasca d’Almerita. “Elegant but not formal, stiff but also inclusive. His Etna wines imparted a lot of knowledge for me regarding the tannins and maturation of Nerello Mascalese.”
Daniele Dinoia, owner of Villa Guelpa in Lessona, recalls meeting Franchetti in 2017. “Andrea came to Alto Piemonte for an event and to taste the wines,” he says. “He told me he was captivated by the elegance, depth and precision of the area’s best offerings. He said they reminded him of the wines from Etna.”
Dinoia invited Franchetti to visit his vineyard in Mottalciata, which he was replanting with Nebbiolo.
“Andrea suggested that I increase the planting density because the area’s great light and luminosity combined with higher plant density would result in more balanced grapes and wines,” he recalls. “I only had one section left to plant, and followed his instructions, and am glad I did.”
“Andrea was indeed an extraordinary man, his talent and vision were without compromise.” —Alberto Tasca
I once had the pleasure of conducting an event in Biella alongside Andrea Franchetti that showcased Alto Piemonte and Etna wines. When I asked him to compare the two areas, everyone was expecting him to talk about the soils, microclimate or the similarities between Nebbiolo and Nerello Mascalese. Instead, Andrea dazzled us with an in-depth and passionate talk on the importance of light and luminosity in the vineyards and how this impacted the grapes and the wines, and how the light was similar in Alto Piemonte and the slopes of Mount Etna.
Andrea Franchetti always did and said the unexpected, following his instincts as opposed to taking the safe, well-trodden path. He will be greatly missed, though his impact on Italian wine will undoubtedly endure.