An interview with Virginie Saverys
Born in Ghent, Belgium, and educated at the University of Paris, Virginie practiced law before moving to Tuscany in 2006, where she pursued her passion for wines by becoming a minority shareholder in Avignonesi in 2007. In 2009 she became full owner with the clear goal of taking the winery to new levels of excellence. Today, her focus revolves around Avignonesi’s nuanced terroir, creating wines that highlight the characteristics of the key varietal, Sangiovese, in the historic area of Montepulciano and wines that explore the potential of international varietals such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in the neighbouring area of Cortona.
The biggest change you have introduced in Avignonesi has been the conversion of the winery to biodynamics. Why this choice?
Well, it’s not a production choice per se, but more of a lifestyle I have brought with me to Avignonesi. I only eat organic products myself and I believe that a farmer’s first duty is to his land. Have you ever seen the difference between a soil treated in a natural way (no chemical products), and a soil treated with conventional means? There is a world of difference. I believe that with biodynamics we are not only be able to create healthier and more interesting wines, but we are also promoting a healthier environment for the future.
How much time do you spend at the winery?
I’m there every day. It’s my job now. There is nothing like a hands-on approach to really understand a business, and this is especially true when you work with an agricultural prime material such as grapes. Right now, for example, I divide my time between the vineyards and the cellars, as harvest has started and there’s a lot to do. Some vineyards have already been harvested, and the wine is fermenting in the cellar, some grapes are almost ripe and others are still struggling to get there. I try to spend as much time as I can with the production team and partake not only in the strategic decisions, but also in the day-to-day operations.
What is a typical day for you during harvest?
I go into the vineyards with the agronomists and winemakers to decide which grapes are ready to harvest, and I like to be present when the grapes arrive to help sorting them. A lot of time is also spent tasting the wines in fermentation to see how they are going. Harvest days are long, and often there are no free weekends or evenings.
It was somewhat of a coincidence that I became involved with Avignonesi, but I must say that I have fallen in love with Sangiovese because of its many, particular characteristics. It’s masculine, it’s high-maintenance and it’s challenging, but it is also capable of giving you incredible tasting experiences. I especially like the fact that it is very malleable, which means that the slightest change in the soil, the climate, the treatment of the vines, the yield, the vinification and the ageing, can be detected right away in the quality of the wine, much more than with many other varieties. You have to work hard to make it perform at its best, but when it does, it’s second to no other wine in the world!
Also, for me Sangiovese is Tuscany. Avignonesi is located in the oldest red wine DOCG appellation in Italy, and for me there is no doubt that the best way to carry on the winemaking traditions of the area is to produce a Vino Nobile that is 100% Sangiovese, despite the fact that the production rules allow you to blend in 30% of other red varieties, such as Merlot or Cabernet. A historical, Tuscan wine made exclusively with the King of Tuscan varieties, Sangiovese; that’s what I want the Avignonesi Vino Nobile to be.
What was the biggest challenge in taking over Avignonesi?
Struggling with Italian bureaucracy. It’s a very heavy dance partner.
Last question. When you’re not working, what do you like to do?
I like to use both my hands and my brain. I knit and I grow my own vegetables, in fact I have about 20 different kinds of tomatoes in my veggie-garden. I also read a lot. When I go on vacation I always look for good places to go diving. I love taking underwater photographs of the plant and animal life. Last, but certainly not least, I have 2 children, both of them adults now, one living in Belgium and the other one in Switzerland. As often as I can I try to gather the family under one roof. That is my greatest joy.