Founded in 1735, Fabbrica di San Martino is located on the outskirts of Lucca, the Tuscan city famed for its medieval and Renaissance architecture. While technically within the city limits, the 20 h property is completely surrounded by woods, effectively creating a unique site rich in bio-diversity. Cattle, vegetables, fruits (particularly lemons), olives and vines co-exist together in harmony, all farmed biodynamically.
For over 20 years, Giuseppe Ferrua has been running the Fabbrica. While the role suits him well, Giuseppe does not come from an agricultural background: born in Colombia, he moved to Piedmonte when he was 7, and as a young man, found himself traveling the world in search of adventure and opportunity. This would eventually lead Giuseppe to own many respected restaurants, first in South America, then in Italy. Shortly after setting up shop in Lucca, he fell in love with a regular, a lovely woman named Giovanna, and the two married. Giovanna had grown up in and recently inherited the Fabbrica, and Giuseppe moved in soon thereafter.
Vines have always existed on the farm, and Giuseppe instantly fell in love with the field blend produced from the single parcel in front of the house. So much so that he started selling it as his restaurant's house wine!
By the early 90's, Giuseppe decided to sell his restaurant to focus on running the farm. With no formal training in agriculture, he learned hands-on from the contadinos that Giovanna's family had hired to work the land. In doing so, he discovered that the farm had always been worked without chemicals, prompting his decision to immediately request organic certification. After years of working this way, an interest in Rudolph's Steiner's philosophy made Giuseppe realize that the Fabbrica's isolated eco-system lent itself to its own unique equilibrium of bio-diversity. The shift to biodymanic farming followed soon after.
Today, 3 wines are produced from 2.2 h of vines. From the original parcel, a field-blend of 15 Tuscan varieties produces the Arcipressi bottling, a light, easy drinking stainless steel wine with short skin maceration meant to be drunk young. In 1999, Giuseppe planted Sangiovese, Colorino and Canaiolo in selection massale, and with this he produces the estate's Rosso, a wine aged in barrels. A small amount of white is also produced from a more recently planted parcel of Vermentino, Malvasia and Trebbiano. The wines are a particularly charming and true expression of Tuscan terroir.
This interview with Giuseppe Ferrua took place at L'Herbe Rouge in February, 2014.
Tell us about Fabbrica di San Martino.
Fabbrica di San Martino is a farm extremely close to the town of Lucca. The property itself is quite ancient, dating back to 1735. In total there are 20 hectares of land, which produce wine and oil, as well as cows for meat. Everything is worked biodynamically.
I've been living there for 20 years, and was lucky to find the land in a very pure state. Everything had always been worked organically by the farmers who took care of the property, though they probably had no idea there was any other way to work! This meant I could be certified from day one!
We work with very old grapes that are traditional of Lucca and its terroir. Many are lesser known, such as Aleatico, Malvasia Nera, Canaiolo or Ciliegiolo. For centuries, the wines from San Martino were sold to locals and nearby restaurants. These were everyday wines for the table. But the farm has long been known as a great place to make wine (mostly due to it being an isolated clos) since the medieval ages. My goal is to continue the tradition of the Fabbrica.
How did you end up at the Fabbrica?
Before committing myself to the Fabbrica, I was a restauranteur for 22 years. It was my first true passion, and my love for quality ingredients is what originally sparked my interest in good wine. Food brought me to wine.
What kind of restaurants were you running?
I've had many experiences over the years. I worked in Spain and all over Italy, but my last restaurant was a tratorria in Lucca. It was very popular, and the goal was always to prepare simple, local food for my patrons. I also gained a reputation for selling quality wine to my customers, and many would come because of the wine list, which was also very locally focused.
This is also where you met your wife, right?
Yes, it's where I "found" my wife! And this is how I ended up in the Fabbrica in the first place. She is the owner of San Martino, and the third generation of her family to live there.
When I first moved in, I was still running the restaurant. There was still a team of old-school contadini taking care of the land at the time, and I started selling the farm's oil and wine in my restaurant, which were of exceptional quality. Out of curiosity, I started helping the old farmers out, which I very much enjoyed.
As time went by, the team, who was already old, reached the age of retirement. It was at this point that I decided to sell the restaurant and commit myself to Fabbrica San Martino full time.
At this point, were you already familiar with organic and biodynamic agriculture?
I've always been a fan of organic ingredients. Food that has been un-manipulated simply has more character, more content. It has its own energy and power. It simply tastes better.
For biodynamics, this came from a realization that organic agriculture wasn't enough. Organic agriculture is great in that it forbids chemicals, but it doesn't necessarily try to restore a natural equilibrium to the land.
When we visited, you mentioned an epiphany that the Fabbrica was a perfect environment to work biodynamically. Can you elaborate?
Fabbrica di San Martino has a lot going for it. It's exposed full South. The olive trees and vines are completely surrounded by forest, and this is also great for my cows, who have a lot of room to live in. The land has never been exposed to any type of chemicals, and save the pollution in the air, it is a very pure place.
I discovered biodynamics when I met Alex Podolinsky at a conference; he gave me some basic instructions to get me started. From the first year, I started to see changes. The color of the soil became darker. The clay stopped sticking on our boots after rainfall. It was clear to me that they were even fuller of life than before.
What are the wines produced at the moment?
The wine that I now bottle as Arcipressi used to be the house wine for my restaurant. We would also sell some to locals, but the wine was not bottled or labelled. This comes from a vineyard that I love, from vines that are over 60 years old. Arcipressi is a fresh wine made with many varieties, all from the same parcel. The guys before me always made this wine to drink young, and I continue this practice. The best compliment I ever got for this wine was an old farmer jumping up in excitement and telling me: "This is good, just like 50 years ago!"
Then, from a younger vineyard (12 years old), I produce a Sangiovese. This is a more "Tuscan" style, and aged three years in the cellar. I also make a bit of Arcipressi Bianco from that same parcel, and a Fabbrica di San Martino Bianco made in wood.
What's your stance on "natural wine"?
The problem is that too many producers are narcissists. Everything is so self-referential. I think people should care more about doing what they feel is right, and letting the work speak for itself. If you need to make a big deal about how you work so much better than everyone else, I consider this a sign of insecurity.
What do you like to drink?
I like wines that are made simply, that are un-manipulated. To this day I get surprised just how pure the expression of grapes can be, and it's a lot of fun.
This visit to Fabbrica di San Martino took place in May, 2013.
Words by Jules Dressner, photos by Maya Pedersen.
If you follow the long, twisty road through the uphill backroads of Lucca's city limits, you'll eventually come across a discrete sign pointing you in the direction of Fabbrica di San Martino. The 20 hectare property dates back to 1735, and as you can see from this picture of me striking a philosophical pose, the house overlooks Lucca and the area's surrounding mountains.
We arrived in the late afternoon, but still had enough sunlight to spend some quality time outdoors. While waiting for Giuseppe, we casually strolled around the outsides of the house.
After a short wait, we were joined by non other than Giuseppe Ferrua!
That's his son next to him. Before visiting the vines, we got a quick tour some of the house.
As you can see, it is quite nice in there. As a stupid aside, I kept feeling like I was in an episode of MTV Cribs. As an aside to the aside, visiting the San Martino house was a much less materialistic experience.
We then set off the the vines, which are just outside of the house. Of the property's 20 h, they only represent 2.2 h for a total of 1200 plants. We started at the Fabbrica's original vineyard.
The wine produced from this parcel inspired Giuseppe to give up his restaurants to work at the farm full time.
"These vines are a treasure. They needed to be maintained."
15 Tuscan varietals are co-planted here, which produce the Arcipressi bottling. Everything is older massale, and the vines have always been grafted into place.
I know you should never judge a book by its cover (the wine is delicious, so there!), but there's something about this label that I really, really love.
The whole vineyard is exposed South-East to South-West, so the sun does an east to west half-circle over the vines. We got there towards the end of the day, and Maya's pictures show how the sun set's to the right side of the vineyard.
Giuseppe explained how in this hot region, this exposition is much more beneficial to the vines then if they were full South, keeping alcohol down and acidity/minerality up.
The soils here are composed of clay and stone, but the amount and density of stone rock "varies greatly".
See that olive tree in the middle of the picture below?
It's 500 years old! That's old!
Moving on. Below the original Arcipressi parcel, Giuseppe decided to plant Sangiovese, Colorino and Canaiolo in 1999.
The Fabbrica rosso comes from here.
As far as day to to day maintenance, Giuseppe never plows the vineyards, and only uses plant compost. Biodynamic tea preparations are also a big part of the vineyard work.
"We never enter with tractors, we prune by hand, we mulch and make compost outside."
After a good amount of time in the vines, we got to visit the cows!
Look at that little brown baby one!
"The cows have 10h of forest to live in. They are important, because they regulate the land. They bring more insects, birds and create incredible biodiversity."
Sorry vegetarians: these guys are destined to become meat. In fact, Giuseppe is about to to sell two of them to Elisabetta Foradori!
No visit to any estate would be complete without a trip to the cantina, which is where we headed next.
We started with the 2012 Fabbrica Bianco, a co-ferment of Vermentino, Malvasia and Trebianno. The wine is made in large oak casks with no temperature control. It will be bottled next summer, and sold next year. We also sipped on some Arcipressi 12, which was juicy and delicious. A sample of the 2012 Sangiovese that will ultimately end up in the Fabbrica Rosso was reduced and not showing well, but Giuseppe pointed out that this is an extremely transitional point in the year (we were there in late April), and that the unfinished wines aren't always showing best.
During our cellar tasting, we got to meet Ortalina.
Ortalina is 20 years old! That's old! Her name loosely translates to garden girl; Giuseppe found her on the property two decades ago in the Fabbrica's fields. She grew attached to the family and never left, but has never entered the house and in the 20 years she's been there, they've never fed her once!
Night time was upon on, so we went back to the house to have a very, very good home cooked meal with Giuseppe, Giovanna and two of their children.
I had thirds of lasagna.
DOC Colline Lucchesi "Arcipressi"
Soil: clay and stone
Grapes: Field blend of 15 Tuscan varieties
Age of Vines: 40 years old
Vinification: Grapes are co-fermented and aged in stainless steel. 4 days of skin maceration.
Soil: Clay and Stone
Grapes: 70% Sangiovese, 30% Colorino and Canaiolo
Age of Vines: 14 years old
Vinification: Grapes are fermented and aged separately in large oak casks, then blended together before bottling. Minimal doses of sulfur are added only at bottling.