The Family Behind Italy’s Illy Coffee Produces Wine on a Biodynamic Vineyard

One of Italy’s most renowned coffee producers has moved into the wine business to create robust wines on a biodynamic vineyard.

I am constantly traveling the globe, hunting for world-class food, wine, and spirits with stories that are exciting and completely unique. Each quarter, I get to bring these stories to the pages of CSQ.

Among my latest discoveries is an incredible wine estate from the Montalcino region located in the hills of Tuscany. Run by Francesco Illy, an interesting gentleman who is consumed by purity, quality, and nature, Podere le Ripi is unlike anything I have ever seen. Illy is a nature photographer by trade and comes from a renowned coffee background, with his grandfather, also named Francesco, founding Illy coffee, which continues to create some of the finest espresso available. With a family immersed in the beverage business, it’s easy to see how the younger Francesco Illy might want to create his own specialty—this time grown under the Tuscan sun. 

The 133-acre estate of Podere le Ripi also features hundreds of olive trees surrounded by forest and wild vegetation.

When Illy was looking for a place to call home, he looked far and wide for a magical site where he could produce wine in his own special way. When he found Podere le Ripi in 1998, it was an ancient property untouched by human intervention, a 133-acre estate with hundreds of olive trees, surrounded by forest and wild vegetation. He saw it as the perfect place to create his dream. 

Illy wanted to keep his wines as natural as possible, preserving the ecosystem and having the smallest carbon footprint necessary, so he worked to make the estate completely biodynamic. Now, Podere le Ripi is making a variety of wines, producing a delicious grouping of Rosso di Montalcinos with a fabulous array of Brunello di Montalcinos and a tasty Tuscan white as well. 

But he wasn’t satisfied with only making world-class wine. An innovator like his grandfather, who created the first automatic espresso machine in 1935, he wanted to take things to another level and find new methods of growing grapes.

Montalcino wines by Podere le Ripi.

He dedicated a section of the vineyard to a method he calls Bonsai, planting its 3.5 acres as the densest vineyard in the industry, with vines planted just 15 inches apart, a planting technique unheard of in traditional wine producing. No one had dared plant such a vineyard, as most vines are usually no closer than six feet apart. Planting grapes just more than a foot apart should make it too hard for the grapes to grow, forcing them to fight for nutrients and water. However, Illy had faith in the process, and the results have turned out to be amazing. He found that the vines compete against each other, forcing them to grow deeper into the soil to reach for the nutrients they need. This creates a wine with depth, minerality, and a floral quality that captures the true essence of Tuscany.

The Bonsai vineyard is planted with 100 percent Sangiovese, which produces a variety of flavors, including cherry, orange zest, and dried herbs, all tied together with a delicate bitter taste of sunbaked earth. This is a special estate that has something for everyone. Podere le Ripi should be on every table in the world.

Tours and Tastings

Allow the experienced staff to guide you through the entire winemaking journey: from biodynamic farming in the vineyard (including the Bonsai) to grape processing in the Golden Cellar. You will end up in the panoramic tasting room for a sampling of the vineyard’s best bottles.

The panoramic tasting room.

The Tuscan Garden Experience

Learn about the most important Brunello vineyards, the concept of microclimatic differences, and the respectful practices of biodynamic farming. The tour path is designed as a learning game, developed with younger and older guests in mind, with easy walking. The staff explains how understanding and respecting the land is part of Montalcino culture and allows them to become great winemakers. Walk through gardens of beautifully grown tomatoes, carrots, pumpkins, lettuce, zucchini, and strawberries, and meet well-behaved farm animals. Guests have the opportunity to dress in farmer clothing from head to toe to feel like they’re a part of the vineyard family. This experience also includes the cellar tour and wine tasting. 

The Bonsai vineyard.

Fly Brunello Tour

The staff at Podere Le Ripi will organize your entire day, showing you the best of the Tuscan wine regions from a helicopter, plus exclusive wine tours in two prestigious wineries: Podere le Ripi and Castiglion del Bosco. Conclude your day with lunch at Silene, a Michelin-star restaurant on the Amiata Mountain. Helicopter pick-up/drop-off can be arranged depending on your location.