Producer Profiles

At Dievole, Extra Virgin Without Boundaries

Aug. 24, 2015
By Luciana Squadrilli

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The coun­try­side between Siena and Florence, in the heart of Tuscany, is one of the most enchant­ing areas of Italy: a breath-taking, seam­less suc­ces­sion of vine­yards, ver­dant woods and huge olive groves inter­rupted by charm­ing cas­tles and pic­turesque ham­lets.

It’s no sur­prise it seduced blue bloods, artists and writ­ers over the cen­turies, luring them to settle down among the gentle slopes and the ancient vil­lages and choose them as the scenery of their works of art.

These days the attrac­tion con­tin­ues, espe­cially for wealthy tourists and wine lovers. This is the so-called Chianti Classico, a name that defines one of Italy’s most renowned wine DOCGs (Denomination of Origin Controlled and Guaranteed), that owes its origin to an edict issued by the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo III in 1716 to delimit the area.

Moreover, extra virgin olive oil pro­duced by the roughly 400,000 olive trees and 240 grow­ers here can proudly hold the Chianti Classico PDO label. It is how­ever con­sid­ered some­how a lesser son of this won­der­ful land and many olive groves lay aban­doned or have been replaced by more vines.

At the end of 2012, Alejandro Bulgheroni — a South American entre­pre­neur of Italian origin involved in the oil and gas field in Argentina but also an owner of wine estates in Uruguay, Patagonia, Napa Valley and Bordeaux — bought the his­toric estate of Dievole.

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Bulgheroni decided not only to turn back to nat­ural farm­ing and local grape vari­eties, but to invest in extra virgin olive oil pro­duc­tion and olive groves recov­ery. To do so, he called two people he could rely on: the Tuscan wine­maker Alberto Antonini and the Sardinian olive oil pro­ducer Marco Scanu. Both had already worked at Bulgheroni’s estate in Uruguay, Bodega Garzón.

Alejandro Bulgheroni

We met Scanu in the lovely Dievole resort, made of luxury cot­tages, swim­ming pools and gar­dens sur­round­ing the old villa at the heart of the estate dating back to 1090. He seemed to have well set­tled in Chianti Classico as he over­looks an ambi­tious project which could rede­fine the tra­di­tional Italian oil pro­duc­tion: an inno­v­a­tive mill, an olive oil “acad­emy,” a sci­en­tific research pool and a lot more to come.

Starting their job at Dievole with the 2014 har­vest after one year of plan­ning was not an easy task for Scanu and his staff, which also includes the young pro­duc­tion man­ager Matteo Giusti: Tuscany was par­tic­u­larly affected by the unfor­tu­nate year and the project to pro­duce the Chianti Classico PDO and the Toscano PGI extra virgin olive oils could not be achieved.

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Scanu found a bril­liant solu­tion though, trav­el­ing to Southern Italy, where olives were abun­dant, to buy the best ones before prices rose too much.

The great­est part of the olives processed at Dievole last year came from a huge olive grove in Basilicata, which they per­son­ally super­vise, and from Apulia: mostly Coratina olives — round and gen­tler the Basilicata ones, harder and with a stronger flavor the Apulian ones. They were processed together to create a won­der­ful and well-bal­anced Coratina single vari­ety extra virgin.

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Dievole’s Coratina drew a lot of atten­tion and won a Gold Award at the 2015 New York International Olive Oil Competition. They also brought to Dievole Ogliarola, Leccino and Peranzana olives that, along with Coratina, were used to pro­duce the pleas­ant blend “100% Italiano,” a gently pun­gent extra virgin with fresh notes of tomato, green and floral fla­vors and a bal­samic bitter after­taste.

Olives had to travel for about 600 km, all the way up to Dievole, but this did not worry Scanu.

Marco Scanu

“We were there often to check har­vest­ing and ship­ment pro­ce­dures,” he recalls. There was a con­stant con­tact between who was in the field and who stayed in Tuscany and the olives trav­eled and were stored at a steady tem­per­a­ture of 4°C to pre­vent fer­men­ta­tion. This year, we also mon­i­tored the olive groves and we are already start­ing to orga­nize the har­vest­ing.”

The long trans­porta­tion weighed on costs, but Dievole insisted on the project to pro­pose qual­ity extra virgin olive oil made in Italy at an acces­si­ble price: the 500ml bot­tles cost around €1 to €15 in Italy, but in tins the price goes down to about €9/liter. “Offering a good qual­ity, 100% Italian extra virgin at an afford­able price and in great quan­tity could be a real thorn in the side of the oil indus­try sell­ing bad oil, and help more people to get to know what is good olive oil,” Scanu said.

Having been in the olive oil making for 30 years, and having worked for a long time in the huge olive groves in Argentina and Uruguay, Scanu has no pre­con­cep­tion against inten­sive farm­ing or using olives from other regions, or even coun­tries, as long as qual­ity can be achieved. To do so, he points to inno­va­tion, research and a strong team­work.

“We are lucky enough to manage two har­vest­ing and milling processes in one year, between Italy and Uruguay,” he said. “This means local staff can travel and attend each loca­tion, and we have the chance to exper­i­ment and learn twice in one year.”

To Scanu, research and inno­va­tion are key points, and this is why he con­vinced Bulgheroni to invest in hiring young tal­ents such as Giusti, who were about to finish their job at a local devel­op­ment agency. They exper­i­mented on imme­di­ate fil­tra­tion and argon-con­di­tioned bot­tling, which is stead­ier than nitro­gen and does not affect the oil’s aroma. They adopted a “pre-crush­ing” for the Coratina olives to smooth their strong char­ac­ter and processed the olives at an aver­age tem­per­a­ture of 18°C.

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For the 2015 har­vest, the olive mill estab­lished in Pianella, not far from Dievole, will be joined by a new, exper­i­men­tal mill designed by Giorgio Mori at TEM, a Tuscan com­pany spe­cial­ized in inno­v­a­tive machines. And there are fur­ther plans of expand­ing, buying or rent­ing olive groves in Tuscany and in other areas, and set­ting up an exper­i­men­tal inten­sive olive grove in Rapolano, near Siena, to plant new vari­eties and use fer­tir­ri­ga­tion (unit­ing a water supply and min­eral nutri­tion to pro­vide a nutri­ent solu­tion to soil when water­ing) for meager lands and steep grades.

“We have to make up for lost time, but inno­va­tion should not have an end in itself,” Scanu said. “We need to retrieve and uphold Italian com­pe­ten­cies, improve qual­ity and let it be acces­si­ble to a wider public.”