ach week, as our regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a wine professional. This week, we are featuring Elia Pellegrini, the owner of Aia Vecchia, a Tuscan winery with estates in Bolgheri and Maremma.
The Pellegrini family, after many generations in the Tuscan wine industry, founded Aia Vecchia in 1996. Its first vintage was 1998. And its growth – in quality and in prominence – was spurred by the famed Hungarian Tibor Gal.
Elia is the fourth-generation Pellegrini in the Tuscan wine business. He joined Aia Vecchia only recently in 2011, after his first career as a professional soccer player ended too early with a knee injury.
Check out the interview below the fold!
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Cecina and raised in Bibbona which is the area next to Bolgheri. All members of my family come from this region and I’m now the fourth generation of the Pellegrinis working in the wine industry in Bolgheri.
When and how did you get into wine?
Officially in 2011. But I have always been surrounded by wine because I grew up in the house next to our winery. Wine has always been a part of my life. Even when I was a kid, I remember, I was playing with my soccer ball or riding the bike around the tracks full of grapes coming into the cellar during the harvest. I thought I would have done something different from my family’s business and that is why I did not study winemaking but rather chose to attend linguistic school. Anyways inside me the “road” was very clear and in my veins there was wine instead of blood so here I am taking care of my family’s winery Aia Vecchia.
In your view, what makes your vineyards special?
The Bolgheri and Maremma areas are special regions with an unrepeatable terroir. The combination of the Mediterranean microclimate, the soils of our lands, and the experience of my family with the people working here make possible the production of great wines with high quality. But most important of all, in my opinion, is the proximity with the Mar Tirreno which makes the big difference because the proximity allows the sea breezes to mitigate the weather and to “clean” our vineyards from the humidity. In Bolgheri, I say that we have a “Double Sun” with the direct sunshine in the vineyards but also with the mirror effect of the sea in front of the hills that gives lot of lights into the vineyards.
What is your general winemaking philosophy?
My philosophy is to keep the style of the wines that have been produced here and trying to extract the best from our lands and from our winemaking knowledge. We want to produce wines with great structure but also very elegant, which is the hard part, but we are lucky enough that our lands and extraordinary conditions allow us to have these characteristics naturally.
What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?
The climate change, the replacement of the vines, the perfect timing of picking grapes during harvest are not the big challenges — we have been making wines for four generations! My great grandfather Ugo started selling grapes around Italy with his horse, my grandfather Alfredo continued the process of working the grapes and making wines, and also with my Uncle Filippo and Dad Alessandro planted more vineyards and evolved in the production of quality wines with our grapes and started to bottle with the brand Aia Vecchia. The biggest challenge is the continued research of something new and different from the “market.” The problem for me as a producer is that I cannot change the soils of my lands or having a different weather to produce different wines.
Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?
I have been waiting to mention my favorite winemaker in the prior answers because I saw this question. The best winemaker for me is Tibor Gal, the Hungarian winemaker who left us in 2005 from a car accident in South Africa. Tibor Gal is the reason, with my family, of my interview because he is the person who made possible the evolution of my family’s philosophy in the high quality wines and put us on the map. He was the one who taught us everything about the soils and gave us the secrets for great wines. Tibor won in 2001 the award as Winemaker of the Year and he was, before joining us in 1996, the winemaker of one of the most famous Super Tuscan wine made in Bolgheri, Ornellaia.
What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?
I’m excited to see what my generation (I’m 26 years old) will be able to do giving their own style but keeping the tradition of each region.
What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?
Other than my region, of course, Bordeaux. They are an example on how to make great wines with the same grapes that we have, but compared to us they are able to protect each other telling that every wine from that region is great.
What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?
This is a very hard question to answer, there are so many good and interesting wines in the world. Every producer is now using the best technique in the vineyards and in the cellar to make great wines. The wines that I prefer are those that have a story to tell. We should always try the entry level wine of a winery to understand how good they are on making wines. It is too easy to focus just on the top wine of the portfolio.
What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?
My cellar is in our winery and there are lots of Aia Vecchia wines. I’m kidding, I personally do not have a cellar in my house to hold wines because I like to drink them.
What’s open in your kitchen right now?
Right now I have opened a bottle of Barolo from Vietti. It was a gift from Luca Currado – the owner and a friend.
If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?
I would pick a rose from the coast (if Tuscan, even better), so I’m going in the middle, because even if we are in November it is still warm outside and a refreshing, minerally, and good-acidity wine would be perfect.
Is beer ever better than wine?
No, because I’m not a big fan of beers, but I had some very good ones in Portland, Oregon.
How do you spend your days off?
Trying to stay away from work! During the weekend I like to travel and visit new places with my girlfriend. In the summer time I play sports. Last year I built a tennis court at Aia Vecchia so I’m now using it with friends.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
They would be surprised to know that I was a professional soccer player in Italy. I have played for Livorno in Serie A (where I did all the young teams until the first league) and for Colligiana in Siena and Pergocrema in Serie C. After my knee injury in 2011, I decided to quit the soccer career and I have joined our winery, so I was sure that drinking some wines would have helped me to forget the soccer life and have some fun!
If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?
Following the answer above, I would have probably done another surgery to fix the knee and kept playing soccer professionally. That was the dream of my life and I feel very fortunate to have achieved that even if it was not for long time.
How do you define success?
Success is something that has to be taken in the right way because it is very easy to lose control of your life and give up the true and important things in life in order to obtain general success. The gratitude from family and friends, the recognition that you are doing something good, and the ability to smile in every occasion are the greatest things.