Fontodi: the family that tiles the Duomo

Eight generations deep in clay

Emily O'Hare
November 12, 2016 - 10:12

For three centuries the Manetti family have been producing terracotta from their furnaces in Greve in Chianti. Eight generations have worked with the unique clay composted of local soils to create terracotta of such quality that the family were chosen to be the official furnisher of tiles, made to Brunelleschi’s original design, used for the restoration of Florence’s Duomo. Their tiles also cover the floors of the Botticelli room in the Uffizi. In 1968 Dino Manetti acquired Fontodi, an estate comprising thirty-five hectares of land with ten hectares of vineyards in Panzano. In 1979 Dino asked his sons Giovanni and Marco, aged 16 and 19, to take care of the vineyard estate and winery. Under the guidance of renowned consultant Franco Bernabei, the boys managed the estate together for nine years, whilst their father ran the furnace.


In 1988 Dino asked that one of the brothers join him in the terracotta business. Giovanni and Marco made a deal: Marco would start with the terracotta and Giovanni would remain at Fontodi, and every three years they would switch roles. That switch never happened.


Twenty years later, an unexpected collaboration has occurred between Marco and Giovanni. Giovanni now makes his wine using the ancient techniques of the Greeks and Romans: fermenting and ageing wine in beautiful clay vases known as amphorae. The Manettis had made clay amphorae for many years—for the storage of wine and olive oil—but in the 1930s demand dwindled, and production stopped.


Production of amphorae began again at the furnace in 2008, and Giovanni’s first amphorae vintage of pure Sangiovese, sulphite-free wine was made in 2012. He named it “Dino” after his father.

Fontodi


Emily O’Hare: Giovanni, do you remember when your father bought Fontodi?

Giovanni Manetti: Yes, very well. My father insisted I go with him to the notary to sign the contract. I can still recall the image of a  very dark room full of old books and with everybody smoking except my father and I. Probably it was a sign of destiny that I would one day run Fontodi.


EOH: Had your family always made wine?

GM: My family owned two smaller vineyards in Greve. Making wine was my father’s hobby, but his dream was to buy a vineyard in Panzano. It has always been an area with a great reputation for high-quality wines.


EOH: Is it the soil here that contributes both to the quality of wine and terracotta?

GM: The soil in Chianti Classico is a unique earth called galestro. It’s calcareous clay schist that works beautifully with Sangiovese as it’s rocky, allowing rain to drain through the soil. Roots can dig deep into the soil because the rocks are friable. It contains a very high chalk, marl and limestone content that can be felt in the high acidity of the wine, and gives the wine a great sense of minerality. The furnace is located north of Greve with the same geological origin, surrounded by that same galestro clay, which is also perfect for making amphorae. The clay has special qualities: its bright red colour, resistance, robustness and porosity. It also has anti-oxidant and antibacterial properties, which mean that wines can be made without the need to add sulphites.


EOH: How many men and how long does it take to make one amphora, Federico?

Federico Manetti: It takes one man up to four months to make one amphora. It requires two months for crafting, one month for drying, five days for firing at 1,000 degrees and twenty days of soaking. We follow an ancient technique that takes years to learn… I broke quite a few when I began in the trade; I was going too quickly with the firing and the drying.


EOH: Giovanni, what do you like about making wine in amphorae?

GM: I love working with amphorae not only because I feel emotionally involved—they belong to my roots—but also because I like how the wine can breath oxygen naturally through the pores of the clay without it influencing the flavours as a barrel would.


EOH: Federico, is demand growing for your amphorae or do you just supply Fontodi?

FM: Demand is definitely on the rise, but our artisan production using ancient techniques means that we are only able to make a maximum of 60 amphorae every year. Our main markets are California and South Africa, followed by Italy, Austria and France, though we are receiving requests from Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

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