Eugenio Campolmi grew up surrounded by his parents’ work life at the restaurant they owned—named Le Macchiole—located on coastal western Tuscany near the village of Bolgheri. Yet he realized that he lacked interest in running a restaurant, and wanted instead to make wine.
At this time, in the early 1980’s, most wines from this region were not renowned, and working in agriculture was viewed as rarely stable and hardly lucrative.
When Eugenio told his parents that he wanted to leave their restaurant and instead grow grapes to make wine, they were horrified.
‘It was a disaster,’ explained his wife Cinzia Merli (Eugenio passed away in 2002).
‘His parents did not agree, because viticulture was not so big at the time. When he said he wanted to make wine, his parents asked me to convince him otherwise, but my own parents were farmers.’
In 1983, Campolmi bought 10 acres (four hectares) of vines. The Bolgheri region was not well known for wines at that time, aside from a few producers such as Sassicaia, which was then gaining international attention.
Eugenio tried growing Sangiovese and Barbera, both respected grape varieties throughout northern Italy—even staples for the Tuscan and Piedmont regions. Local climate and soil types, however, did not favor either. The terroir was basked in sunlight while regional soils form a unique combination of alluvial and marine sediments. The conditions were more conducive to growing grapes more common to France than Italy.
‘He found that Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc were great here. Also Merlot,’ explained Mattia—one of two sons of Eugenio and Cinzia.
‘He made the Paleo Rosso blend first with Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese. But in 1993 he began adding Cabernet Franc, and by 2001 made Paleo with 100% Cabernet Franc. He was the first wine producer in Bolgheri to make a single variety Cabernet Franc.’ (Paleo is the name of a local coastal wild herb.)
From the beginning, clients of Le Macchiole were largely international. Cinzia explained why.
‘When we started making wine, Italians did not care about this area. There were only a few wine shops that sold Bolgheri wines—in Tuscany as well as in Rome and Milan.
‘First, we sold mostly to Great Britain, then to Belgium, Japan and the U.S.’
Today, the biggest market for Le Macchiole wines is Italy—followed by Switzerland, the U.S. and Japan.
Le Macchiole’s Messorio wine is also a single variety—100% Merlot. Le Macchiole was also the first regional producer to make a 100% Syrah—named Scrio. Their Bolgheri Rosso is a Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet France and Cabernet Sauvignon and also includes the French Rhone variety of Syrah. These grapes fared so well under local conditions that by 2009, Le Macchiole had removed all Sangiovese from their vineyards.
Cinzia (who is also vice president of the consortium that manages Bolgheri’s wine appellations) appreciates the challenges of Syrah.
‘To produce Syrah is very hard. We began in 1994 and my husband was very passionate. It’s hard because the soils here are too rich for Syrah. But we found perfect soils on a hill in Casavecchia at 200 meters [600 feet] above sea level. Those wines have more finesse. Other plots around here produce Syrah with more density and concentration.
‘Syrah was my husband’s favorite grape variety. He had a dream to produce a Syrah with the elegance and finesse of that from France and the power of a Syrah from Australia.’
One reason why Cinzia and her sons adopted organic practices is because her husband passed away from cancer in 2002—possibly related to the use of agricultural chemicals. During that time tractor cabs were open, and drivers worked unprotected—constantly inhaling chemicals they sprayed on vines.
‘We now use different techniques to manage vines,’ explained Cinzia’s son Elia. ‘To work in vines you need to stay safe and healthy. Working organically also keeps the vines healthier.’
Today Le Macchiole grows vines on 69 acres (28 hectares) of terrain. Their various plots are splattered in different prime locations to the north, south, east and west of the village of Bolgheri and include compellingly sonorous names such as Casanuova, Vignone, Lamentano, Sommi, Ulivino and Livrone. They are also experimenting with bordering some plots (in addition to fences which keep out wild boars) with different local species of trees and vegetation.
‘We use different kinds of plants as a natural shield against parasites. Some plants attract pests away from vines, and some plants draw beneficial insects into vines.’
Each year Cinzia and her two sons work together with the boys’ uncle and their winemaker Luca Rettondini to select blends for both Paleo Rosso and Paleo Bianco wines.
‘It’s a round table,’ Mattia explained. ‘Everyone gives ideas and we decide together on which path to follow. It’s really cool. I think it’s one of the best moments of the year.’
Winemaker Rettondini has worked in Italy’s Chianti region as well as in Australia and in Bordeaux, France. He explained why their wines have distinctively clean and bright aromas and tastes.
‘We spent a lot of time and energy studying the three grapes used to make single variety wines. We found it was best to use less oak to better explain the terroir. Also, we have studied the soils so when we replant vines, we know what to expect. The pleasure is to drink wine after a lot of years and understand that attention paid in the past has worked. The future is open—the sons of Cinzia are young, but with a lot of energy and big brains. They will respect the past of their father and mother, but will also have new ideas. No rapid changes here at Le Macchiole.’
The family gives back to the community that—since it transformed into a flourishing wine region—has allowed their business to grow and prosper. In celebration of a 100-point score for their 2004 Messorio wine which they received from Wine Spectator, Cinzia commissioned a large canvas painting, then cut it into 48 rectangles and placed each as a label on a six-liter bottle of wine. Proceeds from selling these bottles went into purchasing five metal rectangles that have been placed around the region, so that visitors can frame themselves before scenic vistas for photographs.
‘The idea is to promote Bolgheri,’ Mattia explained.
Viticulturally, Bolgheri is somewhat of a slice of France within Italy. Yet Italian heritage dominates, and local grapes are not forgotten. In recent years Le Macchiole began planting a small amount of Sangiovese again.
‘We tried Sangiovese for a long time,’ Cinzia explained. ‘But the soils are too rich, there is too much sunlight and the influence of the sea is not good for this variety. But recently we again planted a small parcel, which we will use in Bolgheri Rosso.’
The key to Bolgheri’s future, then, may also involve integrating the past. Experimentation is something Eugenio well understood.
Le Macchiole. Bolgheri Rosso. DOC. 2019. 94 points.
This is the only blend produced by Le Macchiole—a 50/20/20/10 of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The aim is to represent the classical flavor of Bolgheri but to make the wine easily approachable. Luscious aromas of red fruit, cocoa, cranberries and a hint of smoke. Soft mouth feel with flavors of black pepper and balsamic and reminiscent—in terms of elevated structure and fruit profile—more of a Napa than a Bordeaux blend. Pair with cinghiale wild boar meat, seared tuna or—according to Cinzia—even with an ombria white fish together with pasta and salsa verde. Annual production 145,000 bottles.
Le Macchiole. Paleo Rosso. IGT. 2017. 97 points.
This 100% Cabernet Franc ages for 18 months in new oak and includes aromas that will remind you of a Bordeaux Saint-Émilion, while the taste may bring back memories of a Rhone Valley Syrah from France—due to the hot climate influence of the Mediterranean. Gorgeous aromas of blueberries, eucalyptus, Oreo chocolate cookies and sultanas. Lively and fresh in the mouth with a ribbon of beautiful acidity on the finish. Because the wine’s acidity will slice against fat in foods, Cinzia recommends a lamb pairing, while her son Mattia prefers duck. In restaurants in Naples, this wine is often paired with scallops.
Le Macchiole. Scrio. IGT. 2017. 96 points.
This 100% Syrah is made from grapes taken from two vineyards—planted 22 and 27 years ago. Pronounced, clean and bright aromas include those of cocoa and even ginger and peppermint. A layer cake on the nose. Suavely integrated flavors that are precise and fine and include licorice and chocolate. Rich acidity on the finish—as with all wines from Le Macchiole.
Le Macchiole. Messorio. IGT. 2017. 94 points.
This 100% Merlot includes luscious Bolgheri aromas of rich fruit, with a hint of balsamic. Similar to a 2018 Bordeaux blend with profoundly deep dark aromas of black fruit. Firm tannins, vibrant acidity and rich fruit flavors. Versatile for pairing—consider lamb and chutney. 10,000 bottles produced annually.
Le Macchiole. Paleo Rosso. 2018. 97+ points.
Chewy, almost edible Cabernet Franc, with aromas that include sage, chocolate, black cherries, black pepper and chestnuts. Juicy and rounded mouth feel with a slightly wild herbaceous edge. Excellent acidity—which appears to be characteristic for 2018 Bolgheri wines in general.
Le Macchiole. Scrio. Syrah. IGT. 2018. 97 to 98 points.
Robust aromas of blackberries, black cherries, sage and blueberries. Suave and elegant in the mouth with signature balsamic and a hint of anise. A heftier Syrah than from the 2017 vintage, and with more spice. Beautiful. The realization of Eugenio’s dream of harmonizing French finesse with Australian power.
Le Macchiole. Messorio. IGT. 2018. 96 to 97 points.
This 100% Merlot includes vibrant and rich aromas that include black pepper, anise and orange rind (Cinzia also detects rosemary). Rounded and emphatic in the mouth, with well-integrated tannins and acidity. Includes character and depth, with a quality level on a par with the 2018 Scrio and 2018 Paleo Rosso. Consider pairing with beef teriyaki.
Le Macchiole. Paleo Bianco. 2020. IGT. 95 points.
This 80/20 blend of Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc includes fresh and energetic waves of aromas of lime, sage, lavender, mint and salty sea spray. A clean, bright delight. Pair with seafood snacks such as anchovies.