Meet the Abstract Artist Making Some of Tuscany’s Most Coveted Wines
If anyone is qualified to make the argument that winemaking is an art form, it’s Bibi Graetz, an abstract artist by training, son of a sculptor, and for 20 years now, maker of some of Tuscany’s most-coveted wines. Artist or no, Graetz’s inner winemaker was honestly born, with a childhood spent in the family’s medieval castle on a hillside in Fiesole, near Florence, surrounded by a few acres of vines. And by 2000, the winemaker prevailed, with the first vintage of Bibi Graetz wines.
The 2019 vintage, releasing this month, was Graetz’s 20th, and as he describes it, the wines reflect the ultimate success of his original passions, winemaking convictions and evolution over the last 10 years. Very old vineyards came first. Graetz is devoted to the depth of character that vines planted in 1970, 1980, 1990 can deliver. He’s managed now to amass a substantial acreage of old vineyards throughout Tuscany, and he captures the nuances of each with natural, minimal winemaking. It’s “transparency” Graetz is after, with native fermentations, hand punch-downs and almost no new oak. He admits that his winemaking priorities have shifted in the last decade, from pursuing concentration and structure through methods like crop thinning and bleeding off juice, to looking for finesse and elegance—wines that are a little lighter on their feet.
His 20th anniversary Colore. Photo: Courtesy of Bibi Graetz
In his view, with Bibi Graetz 2019 Colore (the “Dream”; $450), his flagship Sangiovese, he’s done it. “This is the best wine we’ve ever made,” he says. The proof is in the glass. On the nose, it’s deep and layered (not to be confused with concentrated), opening with earth, leather, violet, and mocha aromas—dynamic over time, with dark berries and spice emerging. Juicy black raspberry flavors are edged with hints of fresh, savory herbs on a focused palate that still manages a slightly mysterious, elusive quality. The wine is beautifully textured and seriously elegant.
The Bibi Graetz 2019 Testamatta (the “Crazy-head,” undoubtedly a self-reference, and also 100 percent Sangiovese; $99), made from seven vineyards on seven hilltops, offers up minerality and freshness from poor, rocky soils and elevation. Raspberry, wild fennel and anise, with underlying crushed rock, give way to generous red berry and cherry flavors balanced by a touch of savory tomato leaf, tension and mouth-filling texture. This one finds perfect balance between sweetness and savoriness, fruit and minerality.
It’s no surprise that these 20th anniversary bottles are themselves works of art, decked out in pointillist interpretations of Graetz’s impressionist artwork. Or, as he puts it, “like an evening dress for a fireworks party.” One-offs for this 20th anniversary vintage, the flamboyant, color-dotted etchings render the bottles as distinctive as the product inside. And doubtless ensure collector status.
Vines on Graetz’s 198 acres of vineyards. Photo: Courtesy of Bibi Graetz
Twenty years ago, Graetz was inspired by two of the world’s great producers—fellow Tuscan-great Sassicaia and Bordeaux-legend Pétrus—and he dearly wanted his wines to be priced in the neighborhood of Sassicaia’s. Ironically, in a fog of ignorance over how the system worked, his first pricing decision produced the desired outcome: He figured 10 packs of cigarettes cost 25 euros then. His reasoning was to top that by one euro, but on impulse he added 10. And as it turned out, the 35 Euros he charged were two more than Sassicaia at the time.
Today, with a new winery on a hill in sight of the famous dome soaring over the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Graetz has fruit from 80 hectares of vineyards (about 198 acres) to work with. Ask him about clones, and you get nowhere. “With old vines,” he says, “you don’t know what they are.” And frankly, he doesn’t care. “Not exactly my thing,” he admits. In fact, “to hell with the clone story,” he adds. Graetz mixes whatever it is he has out there together. “This is 100 percent terroir speaking.” And in his view, he’s firmly planted to take Colore into the future. “After 20 years,” he says, “we aren’t Sassacaia. We aren’t Pétrus. We’re Bibi Graetz.”