When I visited Castello di Verrazzano, I didn’t know what to expect; or rather, I expected to talk about wine, good food and all those things that make Tuscany famous in the world. In reality, what I got was a full immersion in history and geography, in a place full of grace and beauty nestled in the territory of Greve in Chianti, between Florence and Siena. Initially an Etruscan and then Roman settlement, the estate has kept its borders almost unchanged for about 1,000 years.
Words & Images by Paolo Ciaberta
At the center of the estate, along with woods and vineyards, stands a late Romanesque tower where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Val di Greve. Born here in 1485, Giovanni da Verrazzano grew up to become a Florentine explorer who was the first European to find New York Harbor and the first to create a map of North America’s Atlantic coast.
I immediately realized that I wasn’t here to talk about classic accommodations and where to eat and drink good food and wine. I needed to walk slowly, to calmly admire all the suggestions that current owner Luigi Cappellini pulls out of his hat; to stroll through the gardens adorned with Renaissance fountains; to browse the texts written by Giovanni da Verrazzano, with detailed descriptions of his travels in the New World; to get lost in the ancient geographical maps; to visit the cellars of the castle dating back to the 16th century; and to get drunk on the scent of precious oak barrels from which come the wine and then the oil, cured meats and products of the earth. In short, this is a small corner of Chianti where men and nature have collaborated for centuries to give us the best that a territory can give: food for the body, food for the soul.
Wine is Luigi’s great passion, and he has inherited a very ancient tradition, evidenced by the vineyards and olive groves on the property that can be found in a manuscript of 1150.
In the heart of the cellars he keeps the best vintages, starting from 1924, and from season to season he personally verifies that his vines are “happy” because, as he says, “good wine is born only from happy plants.” His great passion for good wines is accompanied by another great love, his small collection of vintage bikes. They are mostly from Florence, hand-built by Cozzi, Simoncini, Pinzani, Giuseppe Bianchi…along with those by Cinelli and Masi, also from Florence. For each of his bikes he has a memory linked to the time of purchase, anecdotes with the frame builders; many of these bikes are still used by the team he set up to participate in the various vintage events, Amatori Verrazzano.
The beauty of these bikes is that they aren’t simply objects to look at; this is not a museum, but looking at them you realize they have the vitality of bicycles that are ridden happily through the streets, some still with the dust of this year’s Eroica on them, because if the good wine comes from happy plants then vintage bikes are happier if they are used.
I don’t need to ask what connects wine to bikes. Speaking with Luigi, it’s clear that they are both passions, which in their own way know how to aggregate, and they know how to create connections between people and create friendships spending time together—the perfect declination of good living. Luigi not only has the sensitivity to enhance the beauty of these places but also feels he must maintain and pass on this legacy of beautiful things received from his predecessors; and he does so with the passion and ardor of a Tuscan guided by a boundless love for the land.