Il Palagio Vineyard – A Piece of Paradise in Firenze, Italy

Il Palagio Vineyard, Firenze, Italy

The first time I can remember ever consciously listening to a band – not just listening to music – I was sitting by the radio in the kitchen and waiting for “Every Breath You Take”, “Wrapped Around Your Finger” and “King of Pain”. It was 1983, I was 12 years old, and this was some of the most passionate sound I had ever heard. I became, though the Synchronicity album, a fan of The Police.

Very little changed for me two years later when Sting began to explore his solo career: Sting went through jazz to Celtic to Spanish-influenced and was even recognized for contributions to classical music. At the same time I was going through that hormone-induced metamorphosis from pre-teen through angsty teenager and on to the madcap evolution of a young adult. All of these genres resonated with me at one time or another… And as I sit in my second floor office at home, two decades later and my children playing so loud in the living room below that I’m forced to wear headphones, I marvel that once again I’ve found resonance with Sting’s work.

But this resonance is with music – of a different nature: wine.

I recently read that Sting has told his children that they shouldn’t count on a fat inheritance to provide for them when he parts this mortal coil; he and wife Trudie plan on spending it all! Of course, one’s thoughts instinctively turn towards the “musician lifestyle” and how this couple must be “tripping the light fantastic” in nightclubs with rare bottles of Champagne, bathing in pools of rubies and wearing golden underwear. You would have to do all of that, and more, if you wanted to burn through an estimated fortune of $300 million dollars, right?

But try as I might, I can’t imagine Sting practicing Jivamukti yoga after umpteen bottles of bubbly, nor the couple who have helped raise over $25 million for the Rainforest Foundation Fund wearing gold-plated anything. The truth is actually more spectacular than even I could have dreamt: Trudie and Sting have invested a significant portion of this hard-earned wealth in the renovation and rejuvenation of a heritage estate in Tuscany. Il Palagio Vineyard.

Estate: just the word conjures images of a decadent lifestyle filled with too much tennis and wine, too little hard-work and callouses. And that image may have been accurate in the past, when Il Palagio Vineyard was the home to nobility; there were lavish meals, many bottles of wine and, yes, there is a tennis court! But with changes to a global economy the noble lord who owned this land up to 1997 was forced to sell off bits and pieces of the property, forgoing maintenance to many buildings on the (originally) 800+ acres. The gem of Figline Valdarno (the local town) was becoming a bit – dated.

It was Trudie who found the property… unless one wants to be metaphysical about it and then it was the property who found her. In either case, Trudie had spent 7 years searching for a patch of land that would bring solace to a family that spent an inordinate amount of time working and, when they worked, working sometimes 7 days a week for months at a stretch (Sting did a reunion tour with the Police in 2007 that lasted 15 months). Trudie wanted to find a hidden corner where rest could be found and the family could give something back to the land.

At Il Palagio Vineyard Trudie and Sting have found this and much more.

I could talk about the honey for another 1000 words and that’s without ever having tasted it! The intrepid couple are both ardent bee-advocates and Trudie has spear-headed the establishment of over 80 colonies on the property. The resulting honey is now sold via the estate (and on-line) and has a devoted following. But the spin-off from this effort is what’s most exciting for me…

By raising their sleeves, digging their hands in the dirt, two people have helped re-create an environment that everywhere bursts with life! This is why customers pay $20 USD for a bottle of the olive oil, this is why people willingly fork over almost $10 for a jar of the small-lot honey offering such individual flavors as “Chestnut”, “Forest” and “Thousand Flowers”. Some might say that there will always be consumers willing to pay these prices because of the “star-factor” that’s attached.

“Bollocks to you” I retort.

It’s no secret that a poor product with a significant name attached is inevitably doomed to failure. And it makes the a-fore mentioned star look like a schmuck. People; locals and tourist alike, line-up to buy a bounty of products from Il Palagio Vineyard as, indeed, they did hundreds of years ago. And it’s because two dreamers fell in love with this hillside running down to the village and the way the wind sounds in the centuries-old olive groves where once strode Italian Dukes, the weight of the world seeming on their shoulders but finding solace in these glens. It is this love, this feeling of “home” that compelled Sting and Trudie to invest heavily in returning a fading beauty to her proper place in the community.

In doing so, they have created not only a beautiful home for themselves, their friends and family and you – should you have the means with which to do so… they have created an anchor in the community. There is work here for those who want it; meaningful work. And there is rest. And there is harmony with nature. And there is wine… very, very good wine. And I’ll step out on a journalistic-ledge and contemplate that this is the hidden meaning behind the name of the wine. It’s like the famous guru Zig Ziglar said “Help enough people get what they want and you’ll get what you want”. Trudie and Sting reached out to a community, to a special place, and gave it the love and attention it needed and in giving of themselves have found some measure of peace at last. At least that is, until you finish this article and book your next trip to Fiorenze!

I hope you enjoy the wine, and the “Message in a Bottle”, as much as I did.

2011 “Message in a Bottle”
Rosso Toscana IGT
Sangiovese 70%, Syrah 15%, Merlot 15%
91+ points, $22+ USD, EXCELLENT Value

…it is my personal opinion that the work that Trudie Styler, Sting and the entire Il Palagio team have done to create a vineyard filled with bio-dynamics and bio-diversity is paying off huge dividends. This wine is fantastically concentrated with pure, elegant expressions of varietals and local terroir. On the nose are huge aromas of wild blackberries/blueberries, musky notes like damp forest floor and wild mushrooms and the sophisticated finish of freshly crushed black peppercorns (thank you Syrah). The palate is fresh, clean, brisk and alive! Medium+ red currant/young raspberry acids work symbiotically with a full, fine yet chewy tannin structure to deliver flavors perfectly in-sync with the bouquet. Excellent balance, structure and concentration, this wine drinks superbly now (thanks to Merlot) but will reward cellaring. Enjoy 2015-2020+

…wine with such dimension will pair easily with a variety of foods and, given the ease with which it was consumed in my house, needs no food at all to be enjoyed thoroughly! However as a chef, and husband to a beautiful wife of Calabrese descent, I suggest: baked penne with roasted garlic, chickpeas, fresh basil and Asiago. The bright acid will certainly delight in a touch of fat, the savory tones to the wine will evolve next to earthy garlic and chickpeas, the fresh basil will play well with the fresh berry tones and the salty Asiago brings the minerality in the wine back into focus.

Many thanks to Maritime Wine (importer to the USA) and Il Palagio for the very generous sample bottle.

Trained chef, certified wine steward and proud journalist. To Chef Kristof it is the story that takes priority: to tell the tale of common people accomplishing uncommon goals. In the world of wine these tales are prolific. It is Chef Kristof’s privilege to have worked with, and/or told the story of, luminaries such as Pierre-Henry Gagey of Maison Jadot, Nik Weis of St Urbans-Hof, Ray Signorello of Signorello Estates and Ezra Cipes of Summerhill Pyramid Winery; leaders in the industry. With over 20 years experience working with the synergy between food and wine, Chef Kristof is proud to share the stories of these amazing stewards of the land; written with a profound reverence for the family aspect to winery culture as, to this writers understanding, nothing has ever had a more far-reaching effect than the love and devotion for a parent to a child. All great wineries are built by parents for their children and grandchildren and it is because of this that Chef Kristof writes.

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