The eclectic winemaker is making the move from the countryside of Castello di Vincigliata to the urban embrace of the hilltop town. "I guess I’m never satisfied. The fact is, we’ve been successful with our wines, but we’re still at the beginning and there’s still a lot to do. You need to put yourself out there. We’ve always been ahead of the curve and now that the winery is going well, we wanted to try something new and take a risk.”
The wager’s not for the faint-hearted: shifting the winery’s operations from the medieval castle east of Fiesole to the town’s central piazza. Based on the French château-style setup, the Graetz family intend to live on the first floor, while the barriques will reside in the basement. The building in question was once Hotel Villa Aurora, commissioned by the wealthy Sir W.B. Spence in 1860 and whose historic halls have hosted Queen Victoria, and members of the Dutch and Belgian royal families.
“The fun thing is that the hotel is historic, but the Blu Bar dates to the 1970s, so there we can do whatever we like,” exclaims Graetz, as we explore the dilapidated lacuna that’s set to become the fermentation room. “We viewed a few places in Florence, but something was missing in terms of beauty and volume. When we walked into Hotel Aurora, we were astonished by all the space. We’d been looking for a place for years, but leaving Vincigliata isn’t easy. I live above the barriques, so I wake up and it’s all under control. People drop by—there’s no schedule—but it all stays under control in some way. I guess I’m more of an Impressionist; my wife’s more precise about things.”
We skirt the ex-conference room edged in period details, whose purpose will be the barrique cellar for Graetz’s renowned Testamatta and Colore wines. “We’ll have our offices over there, plus we’ll open a tasting room, which will be smaller than this huge space at the moment. We’re a family-run winery, so it needs to reflect that in its dimension. In a nutshell, this will be a winery with a view.”
As the afternoon mist clears, the Duomo and the Franchi Stadium beckon in the distance. “Apart from the fact I don’t play football very well, I’m a real Florentine,” he chuckles. “I went to school in Santa Croce, but my mum is Norwegian and my dad’s Israeli with Nordic roots. My grandmother was German and there’s some Russian blood in the family.”
Also in the works are a boutique hotel on the upper floors and a restaurant. “But that’s stage three, let’s say.” The aim is for the winery to be operational in Fiesole by the 2020 grape harvest.
Back upstairs in the space that’s about to reopen this spring as the Testamatta Wine Bar, Graetz explains how he came to wine in the first place. “In the beginning, I had absolutely no idea about what I was doing or about the wine world. I was playing with two vineyards. My mum used to make wine in bulk, which wasn’t even really bottled and it was all very normal for me. Then there was a strange moment when one of my best friends had seen me experimenting and he suggested trying to make good wine. We went to go and see a winery owned by some friends, and I was awestruck. It was the best thing I had ever seen and from that moment I haven’t stopped.”
The new winery’s location and Bibi Graetz’s penchant for parcels beg the question of an urban vineyard. “Well, the bar will have a pergola. The entire lower part on the grounds used to be a garden—I’d have a lot of fun planting a micro-vineyard somewhere.”