The beauty of Tuscany is well documented, from its warm Mediterranean lifestyle to the dreamy landscapes of rolling hills and ancient cypress trees. Tenuta di Arceno, located in the southernmost corner of Chianti Classico between the cities of Siena and Florence, also lies in the fork of two rivers, Ambra and Ombrone, which made it the ancient nexus of the mighty Etruscan civilisation. When Jess Jackson from California’s Jackson Family Wines and longtime master vigneron Pierre Seillan first visited in 1994, they embraced not just the vineyards but also the history of the region, naming it Arceno after the Etruscan word archè, “point of origin”.
More excitingly for Singaporean vinophiles, the wines made by Tenuta di Arceno are now available locally, with brand ambassador Pierre-Marie Pattieu recently leading a masterclass on both the Sangiovese range as well as its Bordeaux-styled Super Tuscan Arcanum range. To understand how significant these wines are, it's worth noting that Pierre Seillan has received 100-point scores from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate not once but 13 times, and many of those were for his Californian Le Désir Cabernet Franc at Vérité winery (also under the Jackson Family Wines umbrella). To find out how Cabernet Franc is shaping up to be the superstar of the Arcanum range, we got in touch with Teunta di Arceno’s resident winemaker, Lawrence Cronin.
When California meets Chianti
In 2002, New York transplant Lawrence Cronin – who got his professional start at Edmeades Winery in Anderson Valley – joined Tenuta di Arceno. Calling Mendocino and Castlenuovo Berardenga (where he now lives) his most favourite cities, it’s easy to see the Mediterranean connection between the two regions. Home is currently an old Tuscan house from the 1500s, where he plays football with his son in the bran. The winery is a 7km motorcycle ride away. “The best wines are made in the vineyard and a winemaker only needs to guide it safely to the bottle,” says Cronin of his minimal intervention style. Calling Pierre Seillan the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” of the wine business, Cronin explains that Seillan is a master at blending.
“I try to watch, learn, and remember his approach to making each blend. Tannin management is critical, especially the 15 to 25 days on the skins during fermentation, and Pierre has his secret method. With over 50 years of experience in winemaking, he is one of the few people that is an expert in all aspects.”
Cronin is equally full of praise of vineyard manager Michele Pezzicolo, likening their team as yin and yang. “He is the expert in the timing of the vineyard operations. Weather and nature rule his life and he needs to adapt to all the elements and make the best decisions for 110 hectares of grapes. He is more connected to the soil and land of Arceno than any living person.” To sum up his influence, he says, “You can't make a great wine from bad grapes, but you can make a bad wine from good grapes.” Frequent stints overseas have helped Cronin get a good grip on diverse grapes, from Sauvignon Blanc at Cloudy Bay and Semillon at Cape Mentelle, to Carménère in Chile and, of course, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Petit Sirah in Anderson Valley. He credits his love for winemaking to his days in Anderson Valley with 1-ton hand punch down bins of grapes. “It’s beautiful simplicity – punching down on a dark moonlit road behind the winery, bats flying over your head, pushing the cap down with your own muscle, smelling and seeing the fresh juice flow over the skins. It’s wine being made by your own hands.”
From dream to reality
The Arcanum, a Bordeaux-style blend, began in 2002 as a predominantly Cabernet Franc blend. In 2016, the first 100% Cabernet Franc Arcanum was achieved, followed by 2017, in what Cronin describes as a dream come to reality. “They will both express the years in which they were born; a bit more earth tones in 2016 and a bit more fruit tones in the 2017,” he describes.
“When we started we had 1.1 hectares of Cab Franc, and today over 17. With over a dozen blocks at Arceno we can build the architecture of the blend that really expresses the soil and land of Arceno. You can change clones and rootstocks, but in the end the soil is king and decides what the wine will be. I feel we are blending the different soils of our estate and expressing it through the beauty of the Cab Franc.” Some years are tougher than others, with very warm weather in 2017, and cold in 2014. Thanks to climate change, hail has become more of a problem, from an occurrence maybe every three years, to annually.
While the property consists of over 1,000 hectares, just 110 of those are planted to vines, with the terrain climbing from 300- 500 metres above sea level. When the Jackson family replanted the vineyards, they developed new maps of the soil, topography and climate details, eventually creating 63 individual micro-crus. “Some micro-crus perform better in warm years, some better in the cool years,” Cronin elaborates. “It is all about coaxing the best out of each block in each individual year. Every area has something unique. The area in front of San Gusme where we have some great Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc never disappoints, but the whole is better than the parts.”
It may sound simplistic but the Holy Grail of many wines is to have perfect elegance with underlying power. Cronin sums it up, “I have found this balance in great Barolo, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and now we are in search of the perfect Cabernet Franc.”