How to spend a day in the Chianti Hills

“All these vines are ours”, she points to the right and then to the left. “Here at Fattoria Santo Stefano, we have 16 hectares of vineyards. We produce three wines that carry the Chianti Classico label…”

With sweat dripping down our faces, we catch the bus by a split second. We’re not too sure yet if it is, in fact, the correct bus, but we keep our fingers crossed. I’m trusting that my basic Italiano will not fail us today on this mission.

When you get to know Italians a bit, you realise that they can be somewhat snobbish, for lack of a better word. If not for their age-old ruins and conquering, invention of Nutella, talented fashion designers, leather, invention of espresso, you get my drift. And fair enough, they have plenty to be proud of. 

Another topic that any Tuscan will surely remind you of, is Chianti wines. Duh. Now, friends, don’t ever make the mistake of placing Chianti Classico wines under the same umbrella as any Chianti wine. Apparently it’s forbidden and, quite frankly, an embarrassment on your part. 

Wanting to know what the fuss was about and also to avoid such potential future embarrassment, we decided to make our way to Chianti to visit a Chianti Classico wine-producing farm. Hence us sitting on this bus.

We decided on a wine farm in the heart of the Chianti Classico region, Fattoria Santo Stefano, which has been producing wine for roughly 60 years. 

The bus drops us in Greve in Chianti (thankfully it was the right bus!). The town is still quiet, but as we approach the main piazza, order a true Italian breakfast consisting of a cappuccino and a croissant, it slowly starts to awaken. Vendors pack out their fruits, vegetables, and cheese, hats and apparel, and another vendor has some roast meat on offer and it’s already filling the air with a drool-inducing smell. 

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The fruit-and-vegetable stand quickly turns into something resembling an intense auction of sorts, or better yet, a stock market on Wall Street. People throw their hands in the air, an elderly lady waves around her cash note wildly to draw attention while shouting that she wants one kilo of cherries and some strawberries.

We approach with caution but before we know it, the sounds are drowned out and we are caught up in a paradise of plastic-free, organic produce. And this isn’t some trend, like in some parts of the world. This isn’t double the price than normal simply because it’s a market, it’s organic, and it’s plastic free. No. This is how it’s been done for ages.

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With a bag full of cherries, strawberries, oranges, and cheese, we make our way to the pre-arranged pickup point and begin snacking. Elena, co-owner of Fattoria Santo Stefano, is on her way to pick us up in town to take us to their wine farm. I know, right? Only in a small town in Italy!  

Fattoria Santo Stefano

The windy tar road turns into a windy dirt road. “All these vines are ours,” Elena points to the right and then to the left. “Here at Fattoria Santo Stefano, we have 16 hectares of vineyards. We produce three wines that carry the Chianti Classico label, and three that don’t.”

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Our tour begins in the tasting room and Elena stations herself in front of a large map hanging on the wall. “The Chianti Classico region falls in between Florence and Siena,” she explains. “For a wine to be able to have ‘Chianti Classico’ (which is also known by the black rooster emblem) on its label, it needs to fall within this specific boundary.” 

That is, within the territory of Greve in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti and Radda in Chianti, and part of the territory of Barberino Val d’Elsa, San Casciano in Val di Pesa and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa within the Province of Florence, and part of the territory of Castelnuovo Berardenga and Poggibonsi in the province of Siena.

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She then moves over to the opposite wall where she explains the various grape varietals. The next requirement for a wine to bear the black rooster logo is that it needs to be composed of at least 80% Sangiovese grapes – the other 20% may be made up of other red grapes.

We then take a walk in the vineyards as Elena explains that her family took ownership of the property in 1961. “These four hectares of vines over here are our oldest. My father planted them in 1970,” she says.

The Bendinelli family of Santo Stefano has 16 hectares of vines. One hectare delivers roughly 5,000 litres of wine. They sell 60,000 litres of wine for bulk production and conserve only 20,000 litres for their own label.

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After our tour of the property, we make our way to the inviting green lawn for a wine tasting and a light lunch comprising cold cut meats, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, artichokes and other flavourful snacks. We taste the Santo Stefano Bianco Toscano (white) and the Santo Stefano 6 Rose Rosato Toscano which doesn’t fall under the Chianti Classico label. They are light, summery wines that go perfectly with a light lunch like this.

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Next, we are introduced to the Santo Stefano Chianti Classico D.O.C.G. 2016 which is made with 100% Sangiovese grapes. It’s a well-balanced dry red wine with good acidity and a gorgeous ruby colour. Flavours that come through are plum and cherry and a hint of spices.

The Chianti Classico Riserva D.O.C.G. Drugo follows next. Containing 90% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine is aged in French oak barrels for 24 months – it’s a flavour explosion of black fruits, oaky, earthy and some tobacco notes.

We were unfortunately not able to taste the top-rated Chianti Classico D.O.C.G. Gran Selezione which is composed of 90% Sangiovese 10% Cabernet Sauvignon because they aren’t made in big quantities and it is a truly special wine.

Fattoria Santo Stefano is proper Tuscan paradise and one of the best places to spend a day in the Chianti Hills.

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KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:

  • Fattoria Santo Stefano also has various accommodation options available. For more, go to the Fattoria Santo Stefano website.
  • Apart from wine, they also produce incredible olive oil and also grappa.
  • Getting there: If you don’t have a car, take the bus A365 from Florence to Greve in Chianti. Get off at the Spedaluzzo stop.
  • The Greve in Chianti market is every Saturday from 8am to 1pm.

A special thanks to Elena and her team for hosting us on this media trip!

Ilse van den Berg

Ilse is a freelance writer and editor (@WordUp) with a passion for people and their stories and experiencing different cultures and places as she travels. View her online portfolio here and follow her on Twitter (@ilse_vdberg) and Instagram (@ilse_vdberg).