At a recent wine tasting, I had the privilege to meet Sarah Fiorini from Fattoria Poggio Alloro, who was visiting the United States. Accompanied by Paul Turina of Due Fratelli Imports, we met at one of my favorite wine shops, Lucia’s Bodega in Windham, NH. Paul brought along his family’s wines from the Lake Garda region of Lombardy: A wide range of the area’s indigenous varieties, including a marzemino, which was one of Mozart’s favorite wines.
Sarah is the author of the cookbook “A Family Farm in Tuscany,” which not only shares the wonderful traditional recipes that she enjoys cooking, but also provides the wonderful story of her family’s history. Sarah has a great story to tell about what her family went through: An important part of Italian history known as the mezzadria.Fattoria Poggio Alloro is located in the hills just outside of San Gimignano in Tuscany. The whole family, spanning four generations, works on the family’s farm, which has been part of the Fiorini family since 1955.
Sarah’s grandparents were sharecroppers who lived in the Marche region during the times of the mezzadria. They were provided housing by the landowners and they worked on the land and were compensated for their labor through the housing arrangement along with a portion of the food harvested off the land. With Sarah’s grandmother having nine kids, it was important they could provide housing and food to the children.
After World War II, Sarah’s family moved to Tuscany to work on another land after being tired of the way they were treated in the Marche region. The owner of the land in Tuscany, a 93-year-old woman, soon passed away, and since she didn’t have any heirs, Sarah’s family was offered to purchase the land in 1955. From then until 1973, they rebuilt the farm and expanded it, going from an initial four cows and pigs to 60 cows and 20 pigs. Nowadays, they even have about 50 of the Chianina cows that produce the amazing bistecca alla fiorentina… If you’ve never had it, you must! A Tuscan specialty indeed.
Finally, in 1989, the family for the first time labeled the wines they were producing and began marketing them to the public. Prior to that it was for their own personal consumption.
In addition to working on the family’s farm, Sarah started writing her cookbook “A Family Farm in Tuscany” due to her love of cooking. She thought she would sell between 100-200 copies among friends and family. Instead, she has so far sold over 7,000 copies.
In addition to her cookbook and wine, Sarah also brought her family’s extra virgin olive oil. It’s a cold pressed olive oil made of three varietals of olives. It had that beautiful green tinge with low acidity and a slight spice. It was a terrible year for the olive oil harvest in Italy, though. Sarah’s grandfather is 84 years old and doesn’t remember the types of conditions they experienced this year. Olive fruit flies had dug holes in the olives and infested them and producers didn’t notice the damage because they looked normal on the outside. The problem was detected at the actual harvest time around the beginning of November. Unfortunately, Fattoria Poggio Alloro lost all their harvest of olives along with many others.
The wines from Fattoria Poggio Alloro that Sarah shared from her family’s vineyards included a Fattoria Poggio Alloro Toscana Rosso, a Riserva and a Vernaccia di San Gimignano. I enjoyed the Toscano Rosso made of 50 percent sangiovese and a 50 percent blend of colorino, canaiolo and ciliegiolo. It was a smooth, lighter-to-medium bodied wine with nice blackberry, cassis and low in tannin… Just an enjoyable easy drinking wine with nice fruit. Their 2013 Vernaccia di San Gimignano had an aromatic, florally nose with nice fruit on the palate, combined with some mouthwatering acidity that created a nice balance.
It’s beautiful that the family lives and works together living off the land continuing the hard work of the grandparents’ labor when they first inhabited the land. This is what Italian living is all about!