He’s a former economist, turned winemaker with a very simple motto: “drink my wine or don’t. There is no in between”.
Riccardo Lepri has been at the helm of his family’s vineyard for more than a decade. Located in a part of Southern Tuscany that is terra incognita for most tourists, Vini Montauto has made the rather controversial decision to focus on white wines in a region that is far better known for her busty reds. But that’s very much Riccardo’s strong suit. He sees himself as an anti-conformist and his wines proudly follow suit.
How did you become a winemaker?
I was quick to move away from home after school, but returned to the Maremma with a strong desire to continue the family business. My grandfather, Enos, wasn’t convinced and put me to the test with an intensive yearlong apprenticeship. Waking up at 6am and working until sunset everyday was trying, but it didn’t blunt my enthusiasm for the job. When I finally took the helm of the vineyard, it was exhilarating. I’ve never looked back.
What is the inspiration behind the hare on the bottles?
The Italian word for hare is ‘lepre’. The hare on the bottle is a play on my surname Lepri as well as a nod to the uncontaminated landscape where our wines are born. You can sit out on the terrace and see hares exploring the landscape – a truly gratifying sight in such an urban world.
Describe your terroir, the Maremma Tuscany, in three words.
Wild, unique and innovative.
Tell us about your wines
While we do produce very good red wines, our pride and joy are our white wines. Our vineyard is positioned on a terrain that is unique in Tuscany. Our soil contains a wealth of minerals, which give our wine an unparalleled freshness and salinity. Unlike other labels, our wines don’t overwhelm your palette. They stimulate the saliva and enhance your tastebuds, so you greet the next mouthful with enthusiasm and gusto.
What are you most proud of so far in your winemaking experience?
In 2005, my first year as the head of Vini Montauto, we released a Sauvignon and a Bianco di Pitigliano. Many of my colleagues were scandalized. Tuscany is the famous homeland of strong statement red wines like the Chianti. But the lower Maremma was once famous for its white wines. The Bianco di Pitigliano DOC is one of the oldest white DOCs in Italy. Our terroir is particularly adept at producing whites thanks to a landscape rich in quartz with sea breezes and good temperature variations between day and night. Our white wines weren’t a travesty, but a miracle and something that we are continually proud of. We say they’re so good that even the French drink them. That’s not just empty boasting, but the truth. Some of our greatest admirers are from Norway, Belgium, English and the USA, customers who cut their teeth on the best Sauvignon.
Describe your winemaking philosophy
We make wines that are drinkable. So many modern winemakers are entirely focused on a wine’s bouquet. The average wine drinker ‘tastes’ a wine by smelling it and then downing the entire glass. Winemakers know this and pay so much attention to the nose that they neglect the taste. Part of our job is to make the average wine drinker understand the proper tasting technique. Don’t just smell the wine, savour it on your palette and appreciate the taste it leaves in your mouth. Our wines aren’t powerful, punch-in-the-face drinks that are pleasant for the first, second, third sip and then so cloying, you don’t want to finish the glass, let alone the bottle. Our wines have a great aroma, but also a great flavour. Our white wines in particular are refreshing. They are, like all truly good wines, made to be paired with food. They don’t overpower the dish, but cleanse the palette, making them the perfect accompaniment to any meal.
You describe your wines as artisanal, why?
We don’t produce organic wines, but we are driven by sustainable farming and sustainable winemaking without resorting to unnecessary chemicals or flavour enhancers. We are a small vineyard with very few labels. We prefer it that way. Left on their own, grapes don’t produce wine, they produce vinegar. Winemaking is a technique developed by man’s hand over the centuries, just like sulphites. When used properly, sulphites aren’t evil. We use the correct amount to produce palatable white wines. I recently received an email from a customer who had stopped drinking white wine because it gave her a headache. She tried one of ours and was amazed when she felt perfectly fine. That’s because we make our wines with a care and attention honed by my grandfather through the generations.
When it comes to winemaking, what’s one thing you know now that you wish you had known before you started?
The importance of nature and the weather, two random and impressive variables that no other industry faces.
What is your goal for Vini Montauto?
I have no desire to grow any bigger. I want to continue making good wines. Wines that standout. Wines that you taste and immediately take a photo of the label so you know what to buy next time you’re at the wine shop. I want to make wines that you would never associate with Tuscany. We just released the Metodo Classico “Champenoise” Sangiovese spumante. You don’t associate spumante with Tuscany, do you? But it’s outstanding.
It’s a perfect day in Tuscany, work is over and you are home. What wine and food would you love to see on your table?
A plate of durum wheat pasta with zucchini and cherry tomatoes from our vegetable garden and a glass of Enos I.
Finally, where can I buy Vini Montauto?
You can grab a bottle from good wine stores in Italy, the USA, Australia, Japan, Norway, the UK, Belgium, Spain, France and Russia.