As we were having dinner at LE COSE BUONE on our last evening in Gaiole, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that one of the guests at our neighbouring table was none other than British winemaker Sean O’Callaghan.
Sean made a name for himself internationally as Chief Winemaker at RIECINE, a leading Chianti Classico winery. After 26 years Sean decided it was time to part ways after ownership changed hands in 2011. In late 2015 he founded his own winery: IL GUERCIO.
IL GUERCIO translates to “one eyed rascal” and is the nick-name one of his best friends gave him years ago, as Sean was born blind in his right eye. So when it was time to name his new winery, it was the first thing which came to mind. He tells, with a broad grin, of how many people in the area said “you can’t call it that… IL GUERCIO isn’t very respectful… it’s not politically correct…” yadda, yadda, yadda.Lesson number one: never tell a person like Sean “he can’t” or “he shouldn’t”.
And one quickly realises that him having lived in Tuscany for decades hasn’t affected his dry British humour – a good thing!
Another good thing is the fact that he doesn’t take himself too seriously.
An even greater thing – he takes his winemaking VERY seriously.
Sean makes extremely serious juice and isn’t afraid to experiment. He was the first winemaker in the region possessed to make a Super Tuscan out of 100% Sangiovese grapes – indigenous to the region – rather than the imported French varieties found in the Bordeaux blends made by other renowned Tuscan houses.
He’s a purist at heart and you can tell winemaking is much more than just a job to him… without the pseudo-philosopher shtick, may I add. Sean is as authentic as they get: no BS and he shoots from the hip.
After another glass and some further pleasantries, I promise to drop by his new winery the next morning before driving home. What sounded like a “garage winery” project based on his description literally turns out to be a winery in a garage located in a small industrial park in Radda. Sean informed me that the grapes come from a leased vineyard called “Mello” located 700 meters altitude in Gaiole and Radda. Since I was here on the fly, I look forward to visiting the vineyards upon my next visit.
A couple of Sean’s employees are unloading carefully selected organic Sangiovese grapes which were harvested that morning. They go from a van onto a conveyor belt – where they go through another selection process – then land in a tiny de-stemmer and go through the first crush. Then the broken grapes land in a large plastic vat where they will ferment and macerate for weeks. The team adds a few stems to the berries in order to give the wine a bit of tannic edge and structure. A practice also implemented by the mythical Burgundian winery Domaine Romanée Conti.
I see a vat of fermenting grapes with TINTO written on it. When I ask him about it, Sean tells me it’s one of his latest experiments: inspired by the red Tinto Verde found in Northern Portugal – a slightly carbonated easy-drinker – which he’s still getting his head around on how to finish it. Though you can hear the steel wheels turning in his head, he doesn’t seem worried. It will happen, it somehow always does.
This is artisanal winemaking in its purest form: nothing more than a few barrels, four concrete vats, multiple vats of fermenting must, a work bench and some wine stocked in a corner.
The winemaking, marketing, admin, R&D and cellaring facilities, all, under one roof. I was honoured when Sean told me I was the first visitor to his winery since he set up just a couple of weeks before.
In one corner I saw a small pile of magnums with 2015 on the label, Sean’s first IL GUERCIO vintage.It was one of the last vats, which Sean had made while he was still at RIECINE and he negotiated a deal to purchase it once he left the winery. The wine is made in part of full-bunch, foot-crushed 100% Sangiovese grapes (from 10 year old vines, located 700 meters above sea level), macerated on the skins in an untreated cement vat for 3 months, no yeasts or sulphites added, and was aged for 12 months in cement eggs. The wine was first released in January 2017.
Production: 1.700 bottles and 234 magnums (the vintage is sold out).
I heard a while back from a couple of friends that the wine was definitely one to look out for and in addition, it had recently been voted one of Italy’s top 10 wines by an Italian trade magazine targeted towards sommeliers. And with a rep and winemaker cred like Sean’s, it’s needless to say I bought the magnums blind. No offence or pun intended, Sean.
MY TASTING NOTE:
Sean O’Callaghan – Il Guercio 2015
Light, glittering ruby in colour and a very delicate, clean, and fruity on the nose… think fresh cherries and red currant. Nothing like the many highly extracted, heavy wines one tends to find in the region. Sangiovese in purezza, beautiful. Mid-bodied, discrete, very fresh, and well integrated tannin. Very satisfying finish. Young and vibrant. Glad I still have a couple of magnums tucked away.
Since my visit in 2017, Shawn has partnered with “Tenuta di Carleone” and the 2016 Il Guercio vintage will be labelled under the winery name, rather than his own (as was the 2015 vintage).
Sean is still the winemaker.
Via G. Rossa, 10
I-53017 Radda in Chianti (SI)
Tel. +39 335 429 613
Website: not available at this time