First vintage: 1968
Grape blend: 85 % Cabernet Sauvignon 15 % Cabernet Franc
Soil composition: The vineyards are planted on plots of land with different and composite morphological characteristics, as well as with a strong presence of limestone. These areas are also rich in rocks and rather rich in clay and are located at an altitude between 100 and 300 meters above sea level, facing West – South/West.
Vine training: Cordon spur system
Planting density: Between 3.600 to 5.500 vine stocks/ha for vineyards < 20 years old and 6.200 vine stocks/ha for vineyards > 20 years old.
Climate: Definitely a good vintage. The mild and early winter was followed at the end of January by some cold rainy days. In essence spring began late. Some frosts in April helped to control the budding and created the natural conditions for lower production. In May the temperatures rose gradually alternating with mild but rainy days. By early June the summer had effectively began with high temperatures, though below the seasonal average, accompanied by well timed sporadic precipitations. This offered cooling and water supply to the vineyards. Optimal weather and summer climate conditions continued until the harvest. A favourable temperature range between day and night helped the aromatic extraction of Cabernet.
Harvest: As always the grapes were hand-picked and the harvest began in the first days of September with the Cabernet Franc that first reached phenolic maturity. Likewise the Cabernet Sauvignon was picked from early September until about a month later. The last grapes to be harvested came from the vineyards of Castiglioncello di Bolgheri situated at about 350 meters above sea level. The grapes ripened perfectly with no millerandage, which resulted in a great harvest.
Wine making: A very gentle crushing and de-stemming of the grapes was followed by fermentation in temperature controlled stainless steel vats (at 30° – 31° C and only using the vineyard’s native yeast). The maceration on the skins lasted 9 to 12 days for both Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with frequent pumpovers of the musts and délestages. The secondary fermentation (Malolactic fermentation) also took place in steel vats.
Aging: After the malolactic fermentation, the wine was aged in French oak barriques for 24 months, followed by a few more months in the bottle before being released on the market.
In the 1920s the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta dreamt of creating a ‘thoroughbred’ wine and for him, as for all the aristocracy of the time, the ideal was Bordeaux. This is how he described it in a letter to the esteemed wine critic, Luigi Veronelli dated 11 June 1974:
“…the origins of my experiment date back to the years between 1921 and 1925 when, as a student in Pisa and often a guest of the Salviati Dukes in Migliarino, I drank a wine produced from one of their vineyards…which had the same unmistakable “bouquet” as an aged Bordeaux….”
In the 1940s, having settled with his wife Clarice on the Tenuta San Guido on the Tyrrhenian coast, he experimented with several French grape varieties (whose cuttings he had recovered from the estate of the Dukes Salviati in Migliarino) and concluded that the Cabernet had “the bouquet I was looking for.”
A wine made mainly from Cabernet Sauvignon was a fundamental change to the Tuscan and Piedmont tradition of Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, respectively. The innovative decision to plant this variety at Tenuta San Guido was partly due to the similarity Mario Incisa had noted between Tuscan terrain and that of Graves in Bordeaux.
‘Graves’, or ‘gravel’ in French refers to the rocky terrain which distinguishes the Bordeaux area; similarly, the gravely vineyard sites in Tuscany impart the same characteristics on Sassicaia, “stony ground”, as its cherished French brother.
The Marchese’s first vintages were not warmly received. Critics accustomed to light, local wines were not encouraging; it was not taken into consideration that wines made from the more complex Cabernet Sauvignon grape would need more time to mature and develop.
And thus from 1948 to 1967, Sassicaia remained a strictly private affair, only to be consumed at Tenuta San Guido.
Each year, a few cases were stored to age in the Castiglioncello di Bolgheri cellar. The Marchese soon realized that by ageing the wine it improved considerably.
Friends and relatives now urged Mario Incisa to experiment further with his project and perfect his revolutionary winemaking style. It was not until 1968 that Sassicaia was first commercially released – the welcome was worthy of a Bordeaux Premier Cru.
Over the next few years, the cellar was moved to a temperature controlled location, steel fermentation vats replaced wooden vats, and French barriques were introduced to the aging process.