50&50 - The Tale of Two Wineries
The year was 1988. Spring had come late and heavy rains in June had significantly reduced the quantity of fruit on the vine. Luckily, the sun came out late in the summer and instead of the initial heavy rains hurting the vintage, it helped the remaining fruit grow into the richest quality possible. The grapes had everything a winemaker could ask for - high sugar content, strong flavor extracts, and well-balanced acidity. The entire region of Tuscany celebrated with one of the best vintages of the last 50 years. Chianti’s Sangiovese had great fruit and aromas, with elegance and complexity while Montepulciano's Merlots were rich and powerful, with the depth and body of a classic vintage made for long ageing. It was a truly, excellent vintage, celebrated across Tuscany.
There was one group of winemakers that celebrated a little more than the rest of them - Rafaele Rossetti of the Chianti Classico winery Capannelle and brothers Alberto and Ettore Falvo of Avignonesi. These gentlemen were some of the most famous winemakers in the region at the time and each had created one of their finest vintages to date.
Rossetti at Capannelle, had quit his job in Rome, moved to Tuscany, bought Capanelle in 1972 and became one of the most innovational winemakers in the region. He pioneered using stainless steel tanks in the winery, pushed for 1-kilo-per-vine crops, used new French oak barriques and French oak fermentation vats - all of which was very futuristic. His marketing was no less unique; among his first bottles were special editions with 18-carat gold and .925 silver labels made by local Florentine artisans. Celebrities around the world, such as Frank Sinatra, Donald Trump and Alain Delon quickly grabbed these gems off the market.
As for Avignonesi, Alberto and Ettore Falvo had bought this winery in 1974. Their goal was always clear - to be focused on both viticulture and viniculture. As most know, a good wine is created in the vineyard first and then in the cellar. The Falvo brothers wanted to get the best out of the Sangiovese from the region - the best flavour and the best expression of terroir. Because of their dedication, they were able to introduce their first Vino Nobile in 1978. After that, they started planting Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay and other international grape varieties. While these grapes weren’t meant for Vino Nobile wines, they helped to show what the area was capable of. The region of Montepulciano and Cortona began to gain momentum thanks mostly to these two dynamic and forward-thinking winemakers and Avignonesi gained worldwide fame and notoriety with wines such as Grandi Annate, Vin Santo and Occhio di Pernice, which all set new standards in their category.
In 1988, as you can see, each of these wineries were at the top of their game. Celebrating their 1988 vintage while gathered for a dinner amongst friends, Rafaele Rossetti and the Falvo brothers were each boasting about their wines and the unique character of their terroir - Capanelle’s Sangiovese versus Avignonesi’s Merlot, Chianti Classico versus Montepulciano and Cortona. The evening proceeded, wines were poured and spirits flew high. No one really knows why, but suddenly the winemakers were brought together by a common desire to craft the perfect wine and at a certain point they started mixing their two wines together, testing out different proportions of Sangiovese and Merlot. The end result was an even blend of the two wines and became a monument to all that is grand and good in Tuscany.
Much has happened since that initial release of just 3,000 bottles, which were originally sold only on primeur. The owner of Capannelle is now Mr. James Sherwood, who is also the proprietor of the exotic Orient Express, and Avignonesi is now thriving under the leadership of owner Virginie Saverys, who has added new prestige to the winery, expanding its vineyard holdings and converting it to all-natural viticulture. One thing that hasn’t changed though, is the ever increasing demand for the monumental 50&50, which has pushed production up to 19,000 bottles today.
The grapes for the wine still come from the best parcels of land of each winery. The Merlot from Avignonesi and Sangiovese from Capannelle are aged separately for 12 months in new French oak barriques and then blended and left for another 12 months in new barriques to mix harmoniously.
50&50 is consistently rated highly by critics, featured in numerous sommelier, food and wine magazines (even in the Japanese manga Les Gouttes de Dieu), and continues to be one of the most sought after Super Tuscans. It was even poured at Sir Elton John’s wedding last Christmas!