Culinary happiness in Tuscany
Fattoria La Vialla
About fourteen kilometres from Arezzo, and a stone’s throw away from the authentic town of Castiglion Fibocchi, there’s a hidden gem in the form of a farm and wine estate. Between the rolling hills of Tuscany, scattered with cypresses, fertile fields, olive groves and vineyards, you’ll find Fattoria La Vialla, the pearl in the crown of Tuscany.
Umberto Paperini smiles happily, and with good reason. The sun beams through the trees and warms the Tuscan earth. Cypresses and pine trees sway slowly in the breeze. The air is filled with the scent of the resin of the ubiquitous cypresses, herbs and flowers. These flowers are happily visited for their lavish nectar by the buzzing bees of beekeeper Umberto. Nectar and pollen that is transformed in the colourful hives into delicious honey. Umberto lights some scraps of hemp in his bee blower. He explains: “Many apiaries use smoke to keep the bees calm. Bees can be very sensitive and do not like it when you open the hive. The smoke calms the bees and allows for Umberto to inspect the bee hives, because he is eager to find out whether or not the queen is laying enough eggs, if there is a new queen in the making and, not entirely unimportant, how much honey there is. Because that honey… Oh my God. That honey. It’s divine. But what can I say, you can say that of literally everything edible here at Fattoria La Vialla.
Best Organic Producer International
Because aside from pure and honest honey collected by the busy bees of Umberto, you will find lovingly made, silky extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, pasta from their own flour, aromatic pecorino, spicy salami, fine cookies like Cantucci and Viallini, pasta sauce filled with flavour, jam, the most amazing dried tomatoes and of course wine. Everything is from their own land, each product fair and made with an incredible amount of love and devotion. And everything is entirely organic-biodynamic. Certified. Award-winning. They have been named ‘Producer of the year, international’ five times in a row at Mundus vini Biofach, the largest fair in Europe for organic food and wine.
As far as the eye can see there are vineyards, olive groves, herds of sheep, cypresses, vegetables, fertile fields, sloping meadows, forests, and as a bonus the burrow and the church tower of Castiglion Fibocchi.
All here, on this beauty of an estate between the rolling hills of the in majestic Tuscany, 14 kilometres from Arezzo. 1400 hectares, almost six times the size of Utrecht city centre. As far as the eye can see there are vineyards, olive groves, herds of sheep, cypresses, vegetables, fertile fields, sloping meadows, forests, and as a bonus the burrow and the church tower of Castiglion Fibocchi.
La Vialla is owned by the Lo Franco family. It is a true family company, where everybody contributes. Today it is led by the second generation, the brothers Gianni, Antonio and Bandino Lo Franco. “Mamma e babbo (mum and dad) stay more in the background,” says Gianni, “But they’re still an essential part of the ‘team’. More than anything else they take care of the planning, the booklets, text and recipes, but they also participate in all the important decisions. My brothers and I entered the company in a very natural way. Each of us could have done something completely different after finishing university, but we all wanted to be part of the family-run company adventure. We are equal partners and take every decision together. Discussing, modifying and perfecting ideas is part of it all and gives rise to what La Vialla represents.”
House of Gold
“At the end of the seventies, this area was completely impoverished,” Gianni tells me when we are seated at the beautifully set tables, indulging in all the amazing foods this estate has to offer. “It was filled with dilapidated farmhouses, abandoned sheep without a shepherd and neglected olive groves and vineyards. My mother and father, Giuliana and Piero, bought an abandoned farmstead here in February 1978: Ca’ dell’Oro (House of Gold). It was pure romance. They didn’t have a clear plan but it was love at first sight with the house and the special name.
Our parents wanted to bring it back to life, to share it with us children and with their friends. To be in nature. In those days it was more of a hobby, a passion for nature, wine and oil. To farm for themselves and produce healthy and genuine food without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers. When our parents started organic agriculture in the late 1970s, it was natural for them to cultivate biologically – the word “organic farming” did not officially exist and at least in Italy wasn’t yet something you could certify.They started to tend to the olive trees and the small vineyard around the house. They started a vegetable garden.
One thing led to another and every time they added another dilapidated farmhouse with land, it was lovingly restored. They tended the orchards and fields, rebuilt broken walls, cypresses were planted along the roadsides connecting the land. Love and attention. They used truckloads of that. But look what it has become. Today, 41 years later, the “working family” has grown by about 150 employees and many acres of land, each one of which is biodynamic, living, fully fertile soil. A true life’s work. We are genuinely proud.”
We drive along the vineyards. Gianni points outside. “Do you see all the plants growing in-between the grapevines? That is the so-called green manure. After the grape harvest in autumn, we sow different, specially selected seeds (clover, white and yellow mustard, field beans and peas) between alternate rows of the vines. The green manure’s roots lend a hand in breaking up and aerating the soil, even in the deeper layers, and they protect it from erosion. In spring, when they start to bloom, the biodiversity of flora, encourages the proliferation of a wide variety of insects and microorganisms, which help keep the grapevines’ habitat healthy and of course they also draw bees. Yes, the same bees making our delicious honey. But they don’t just make the honey, they also pollinate the “grapeflowers”. But that’s not the only goal. We ‘bury’ the plants, which then turn into green fertiliser. The plants have been selected for their advantages. Yellow mustard creates a kind of capillaries deep in the ground, through which the earth can breathe better and the rain can penetrate deep into the ground. The fava bean, clover and alfalfa draw a certain bacterium that creates tiny nitrogen balls underground. Those are immensely important for the grapes and their roots.
Yellow mustard creates a kind of capillaries deep in the ground, through which the earth can breathe better and the rain can penetrate deep into the ground
The taste doesn’t lie. The La Vialla wines are organic, biodynamic and amazing. They frequently win renowned prices with their wines. They obviously have red, white and rosé wines, but also exceptional unfiltered wines, like the Torbolino or La Brumosa and special sparkling Metodo Classico, like for example the Cuvée Rosé and Vin Santo, a dessert wine. And, well, we really have to taste them all. A task we take on like true wine-warriors.
We sleep in one of about 17 renovated farmsteads on the estate. Some of the farmsteads are more like a mini-village, housing an entire huge family back in the days. We have a very stately home with an enormous fireplace and, … our very own pizza oven. The term pizza oven is not actually entirely accurate, even though it is indeed also used to bake pizza. In fact, this wood burning oven traditionally was used by the farmers throughout the day. First in the morning, when it was heated up to high temperatures to bake bread and pizza. When the oven cooled down a little, meat or dried beans were put in it to simmer slowly. A beautiful and efficient system. We have one last sip of wine and then turn in for the night.
The next morning, the entire house smells of wine. A sweetish scent. Did we really drink that much that everything smells like wine? We are a little in doubt until we are told we sleep above the Vin Santo Cellar. Quite the wealthy feeling to sleep above hundreds of thousands of litres of the finest wine. A wine that goes extremely well with a little pecorino cheese by the way.
“Our pecorino is entirely made of the milk of our own sheep”, Gianni explains. “They are free to graze in the fields between 250 and 660 metres altitude. Aside from the grass they eat cereals we grow ourselves and their manure is reused in a closed cycle to fertilise our fields. The cheese is seasonally produced, after the weaning of the lambs between November and June.” La Vialla’s pecorino is available in different stages of ageing, starting with the Abbucciato (aged 4 months) to the Gran Riserva (aged 24 months). The Gran Riserva goes exquisitely with the dense creaminess of Vin Santo as dessert.
© Ruben Drenth
Joie de Vivre
Aside from the guests staying in the farmsteads, the Fattoria is also open to day-visitors. You will find people enjoying the country lifestyle in beautiful surroundings and delicious products. Nothing is overlooked, there is so much attention to detail. There are tables with chequered table cloths to have a merenda, a lady is stamping eggs by hand, there are chickens running around and a handful of gorgeous peacocks, and all the ‘Viallini’ working do so with a broad smile. A place to make you blissfully happy.
“Do you see the one with the red dot on her back? She is the queen. But I’m the king. Hahaha.”
But we doubt we will ever become as blissful as Umberto Paperini. The beekeeper of La Vialla is probably one of the happiest people we have ever encountered. When the smoke has done its job, he lifts the lid of one of the hives. He points at the crawling mass of bees. “Do you see the one with the red dot on her back? She is the queen. But I’m the king. Hahaha.” You will find his joie de vivre in the taste of the different kinds of honey of La Vialla. Actually, that joie de vivre is in all the loving products of La Vialla.
The delicatesse of La Vialla
You will not find the wine, olive oil and other beautiful and fair products of Fattoria La Vialla in regular stores. Everything from La Vialla is exclusively delivered directly, no middle-man. When you order for €100, delivery is free.
Visit La Vialla?
La Vialla is closed for visitors during the weekends, but throughout the week, the Fattoria and the Bottega (=farmshop) are open between 9:00 and 18:00. There is a tour of the Fattoria three times a day, no need to reserve a spot. You can have lunch there (March to October), reserve a spot for this plenty beforehand.