From the Middle Ages until the 20th century
Though Montalcino almost certainly had Etruscan roots, the first historical mention of the place dates back to 814, in a decree emanated by Holy Roman Emperor Louis the Pious that awarded the lands sub Monte Licini (‘under Mount Licini’) to the abbot of Sant’Antimo. The current settlement was founded in the tenth century. By the 14th, under the dominion of Siena, it had become a thriving walled town famous for its leather curing workshops. In 1555, it welcomed six hundred Sienese families who had fled from their city after its capture by Florence and the Medicis, and managed to hold out as “The Sienese Republic of Montalcino” for another four years. Subsequently, until well after the Second World War, the town was a small dot on the map of Tuscany, part of a feudal agricultural district whose inhabitants were often desperately poor. Viticulture had arrived on the scene midway through the 19th century, but it was for many years a marginal part of the local economy, the realm of a small group of local landowners and wine enthusiasts.
Casanova di Neri is founded by Giovanni Neri, a 48-year-old grain merchant from the town of Montevarchi in the Arno valley south of Florence. Passionate about wine, Neri had long dreamed of making a great Italian red, and although the long-established wine zone of Chianti Classico was just on his doorstep, it was remote Montalcino and its austere Sangiovese wines that fascinated him. Brunello di Montalcino had achieved DOC (controlled origin) status just four years previously, and there were still only around thirty producers in the whole area, compared to more than 250 today. One rural property on the market had caught Neri’s attention during his frequent forays to Montalcino: Podere Casanova, a working farm of around 200 hectares on the eastern side of town. Wine represented only a small part of the farm’s production at the time, and what was made was sold in bulk, but Neri recognized that thanks to its altitude, aspect and soil composition, the place had the potential to make great Brunellos. In May 1971, he bought Podere Casanova, changed its name to Casanova di Neri, and in consultation with some of Tuscany’s leading winemakers, immediately began work to restore the estate’s existing Sangiovese vines and plant new ones.
Casanova di Neri’s very first bottling is a 1977 ‘Vino Rosso dai Vigneti di Brunello’, as Rosso di Montalcino was once known.
Casanova di Neri’s first Brunello di Montalcino bottling is produced. Deriving from grapes carefully selected from the family’s three vineyards in the north-eastern quadrant of Montalcino, including those closest to the cellar and winery HQ, it carries what will with time become the instantly recognizable White Label or Etichetta Bianca.
This is the year of the first Sangiovese harvest at Cerretalto, a vineyard acquired by Giovanni Neri that same year, situated in a secluded natural amphitheatre along the course of the Asso torrent, where white truffles grow – a sure sign of an uncontaminated natural environment. Neri realized that the particular microclimate, the iron- and magnesium-rich soil and the historic Sangiovese grapes that were already growing in this vineyard – characterized by small, widely-distributed bunches – had the potential to create a unique single-cru Brunello di Montalcino, and so it proved. The wine is produced only in favourable years – the second vintage will arrive only in 1986.
Casanova di Neri’s first wine is released: a ‘Vino Rosso dai Vigneti di Brunello’, as today’s Rosso di Montalcino was then known.
Giacomo Neri begins to work full-time in the winery founded by his father.
Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino 1982 Etichetta Bianca wins a Gold Medal at the 1987 edition of one of the wine world’s longest running international competitions, the Challenge International du Vin. In the same year, the estate’s first ‘single cru’ wine, Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto 1981, is released after six years’ ageing.
Giovanni Neri dies. His son Giacomo takes over the running of the winery.
Autumn sees the first harvest of Tenuta Nuova, a Brunello that derives from Sangiovese grapes grown in the recently acquired vineyard of Le Cetine. This is Casanova di Neri’s first foothold in the southern part of the Brunello di Montalcino DOC zone; up to now all its wines have been made from grapes grown on the eastern and north-eastern slopes of the town, where the winery itself is situated. The botanical species that flourish in Le Cetine’s unique microclimate are those of Tuscany’s warmer maritime regions, among them myrtle, lentisk, thyme, Jerusalem thorn, Coccolone juniper, and mock privet.
Casanova di Neri acquires a second vineyard in the southern reaches of the Montalcino wine zone, Pietradonice, not far from the celebrated Abbey of Sant’Antimo. The name (‘Onyx Stone’) derives from the site’s former life as an onyx quarry. In a departure for the winery, the vineyard is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, deemed to be the perfect match for a soil rich in galestro and onyx fragments.
The 1988 bottling of Casanova di Neri’s first single-vineyard wine, Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto, is awarded top ‘Tre Bicchieri’ or ‘three glasses’ status by leading Italian wine guide ‘Vini d’Italia’, published by Gambero Rosso.
Casanova di Neri’s second single cru Sangiovese, Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova 1993, is released to rave reviews.
The start of a new millennium is marked by the first vintage of Casanova di Neri’s first wine not based on the Sangiovese grape, the Cabernet Sauvignon varietal Pietradonice, which will be released in 2003.
Podernuovo, a chestnut-fringed plot of rich galestro soil in the north-eastern sector of Montalcino, is acquired by Casanova di Neri, becoming the highest of the winery’s vineyards at 450 metres above sea level.
In February, the 1997 vintage of Brunello is released to universal acclaim. Leading Italian wine guide Gambero Rosso writes of Casanova di Neri’s Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova 1997: “The elite group of Montalcino’s best producers can no longer fail to include Giacomo Neri and his winery”. 2012. Confronted with the most disappointing vintage in recent memory, Casanova di Neri decides to make only a Rosso di Montalcino.
Work begins on Casanova di Neri’s new cellar and winery headquarters, a visionary project designed to blend in with the hillside it’s built on.
The new cellar is inaugurated in time for the autumn harvest.
Leading wine publication Wine Spectator announces that Casanova di Neri’s Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova 2001 is its Wine of the Year. Until then it was only the third time in the history of this prestigious annual 100-wine ranking, inaugurated in 1988, that an Italian wine had been awarded the top spot.
Casanova di Neri’s Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto 2001 receives 100 points from Wine Spectator, the first of a series of rarely-awarded ‘perfect hundred’ scores for the family company’s wines that would go on to include two from James Suckling (for Tenuta Nuova 2006 and Cerretalto 2010), two from Robert Parker (for Tenuta Nuova 2010 and Cerretalto 2010) and one from Wine Enthusiast (for Cerretalto 2007).
Giacomo Neri’s eldest son Giovanni joins the team at Casanova di Neri, where he will soon become the estate’s winemaker.
An unusually cool, wet summer makes for a difficult harvest, but conditions improve at the end of September. The decision is taken not to make Cerretalto and Tenuta Nuova, but to add the grapes from those vineyards to the Brunello di Montalcino Etichetta Bianca.
With the addition of Collalli, a plot with a high proportion of red sedimentary clay just above Cerretalto, the estate acquires its sixth vineyard.
Casanova di Neri expands into hospitality with the inauguration of the Relais, a charming ten-room restored farmhouse amidst the vineyards, just steps from the winery. In the same year, Gianlorenzo Neri enters the family business alongside his father Giacomo and brother Giovanni.
The first harvest of Giovanni Neri, Casanova di Neri’s fourth ‘single cru’ Brunello, which derives from old vines in the family’s most recently acquired vineyard, the seven-hectare Tocci in the southern part of Montalcino, not far from the Abbey of Sant’Antimo. The Rosso was released in 2020, while the Brunello will make its debut in 2023.
Casanova di Neri celebrates its 50th anniversary.