Interview: Karen & Jim Drake

D. Why Italy?
R. Karen’s father is Italian (of Abruzzese descent) while Jim’s grandfather was Italian (of Udine descent) and over the years we spent an inordinate amount of time in Italy. When we decided to buy a vineyard in the northern hemisphere, Italy was the natural choice for us-in fact, our three children insisted on it!

D. What brought you to Tuscany / Chianti
R. We searched all over Italy for five, six, seven years, from Sicily to Piedmont. We settled in Tuscany because we found Montecalvi. It was really love at first sight.

D. Describe the moment when you visited Montecalvi for the first time: what were the factors that struck you the most?
A. We visited Montecalvi for the first time in April 2017. The delightful Jacqueline Bolli showed us around the property. It is a very beautiful estate! Then we sat under the big oak tree and she showed us her wines. We were immediately impressed by VV 2014, the wine that comes from the old vines, and at that moment we decided to buy Montecalvi.  It would have been easier and cheaper to buy the bottle but …

Q. When you first received the keys, what was the first thing you thought of doing?
R. We spent the first few weeks in Montecalvi walking through the vineyards, olive grove and forest. We wanted to taste it all. We formulated so many plans that week, some have already been implemented, others will be something for the future.

Q. You have worked tirelessly since you arrived in Montecalvi: what is the most rewarding change you have implemented?
R. We’ve definitely implemented a number of changes, but we’re proud that we’ve been able to keep the fantastic staff we’ve always had. Laura Vegni manages our winery, participating in bottling and labeling (and cooking during the harvest), Yahya El Harchaoui works tirelessly tending the vineyards (and olive trees). 

In terms of changes, the most important was to bring in Tim Manning as winemaker. Tim worked in Tuscany for more than 20 years (Riecine, and Il Borghetto) and brought all his experience and talent to the winery. Some of the other changes we are still working on are:

  • The renewal of the Le Terrazze vineyard. This is one of the oldest vineyards in Tuscany (if not the oldest), planted in 1932 on dry stone walls. It is a field blend, mainly Sangiovese but also Colorino, Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo, Malvasia and Trebbiano (an ampelographer’s dream). We are taking scions from these vines and replanting them over time. It will take about five years in all, but our first rooted cuttings will be planted this year and we are very excited about it.
  • We focused on native Italian varieties, so we replanted two existing Sangiovese vineyards and a new Ciliegiolo vineyard.
  • We introduced a Vermentino to our range, which we vinified in a more complex way (skin contact, malolactic fermentation, aging on lees), which proved to be a great success.
  • And we have become certified organic, which is very important to us. The list goes on …

D. Karen, where is your favorite place to sit in Montecalvi?
R. There is an oak bench in the olive grove, overlooking the vineyards and Greve. It is a beautiful and quiet place to sit and think (or drink). That was my favorite place in Montecalvi, until one day last summer when we heard grunting and crawling behind us. We turned around slowly and found a family of (huge) wild boars wanting to join our picnic! We left them to it.

Q. Could you describe how you feel when you drink a glass of your Chianti Classico?
R. We are very proud of what we have in Montecalvi, and there is nothing better than sitting at the table under the arbor with family and friends and drinking our wine. That’s what it’s all about in the end, isn’t it? (By the way, our table was a very generous “welcome to Greve” gift from our wonderful neighbors, Marinella Coppi and Jose Barranchini.)

Q. When you are not in Montecalvi, what do you miss most?
A. The light, the beautiful Tuscan light.