Farewell Andrea Franchetti (1949–2021)

Andrea Franchetti at Passopisciaro, Etna

The charismatic, unpredictable man behind Tenuta di Trinoro in the Val d'Orcia and Passopisciaro on Etna, where this picture was taken last summer, has left us.

I really loved Andrea Franchetti, who died at the age of 72 at his home in Rome on Sunday night after a long illness. I see that I began an article entitled The Trinoro merry-go-round with ‘I love Andrea Franchetti’. At least I’m consistent.

He was so delightfully eccentric. The wine world is full of colourful characters but most of them are a little more predictably and knowingly colourful than Franchetti. He was far from bombastic – in fact he had no small talk and could sit in silence for an unnervingly long time – but was unfailingly polite and gave the impression of always thinking deeply about something else.

The fact that he was ruggedly handsome did nothing to diminish his charisma but I also liked the way he spoke, as though chewing rocks, with a strong Italo-American accent betraying his ancestry. I wrote this profile of him soon after meeting him in 2002. It began:

There is something endearingly frank about a wine producer who describes his life pre wine production thus: 'I had a restaurant in Rome, distributed Italian wines in New York from '82 to '86 and before that I was in a beautiful tunnel of dope. I can't remember exactly when.' He had previously, at the age of 18, left home to bike to Afghanistan (in search of dope perhaps?) before moving to New York to immerse himself in the East Village scene.

He was certainly unpredictable. Five years ago he invited me to lunch in London to taste the notably precise and expressive single-contrada wines of his Passopisciaro estate on Etna and never showed up. See My lunch with ??

In terms of wine he was a real innovator and could be credited with putting no fewer than two fine-wine regions on the map. He was not (quite) the first incomer to see the potential of the ancient lava-strewn vineyards on the flanks of Etna but he was responsible for the first Contrade dell'Etna in 2008, a rustic showing of Etna wines showcasing the local districts (contrade) in a genuinely co-operative spirit. It’s now an annual institution that is a highlight of Walter’s calendar. (See, for example, Walter’s account of the event in 2018, which he described as ‘a riveting scrum’.)

But before that Franchetti created an estate in the Val d’Orcia on the border of Lazio and Umbria in a vast, open valley overlooked by Monte Amiata (once, like Etna, a volcano) where the vine was previously unknown. He ran the estate from an extraordinary ancient fortified house that he had restored and refurbished in magnificent boho style in the late 1980s. He wanted an excuse to stay there and so decided to plant vines.

There was one thing missing from his vision of establishing a wine estate however: expertise. So he spent time in Bordeaux with the likes of Alain Vauthier of Ch Ausone, Jean-Luc Thunevin of Ch Valandraud and Peter Vinding-Diers of Chx de Landiras and Rahoul, whose nephew Peter Sisseck established Dominio de Pingus in Ribera del Duero in northern Spain. (Fiona Morrison MW, now Mrs Jacques Thienpont of Le Pin, did her first vintage with Franchetti at Landiras.) In 1991 Franchetti planted his first vines, cuttings from Bordeaux, taking a punt on Cabernet Franc, perhaps influenced by his time on the right bank of the Gironde. The first vintage of Tenuta di Trinoro, 1997, was an instant success.

Very much a man of his time, he fell for other grape varieties too. On Etna, he was quick to see the qualities of the local Nerello Mascalese, and also developed an unusual tendresse for the Lazio red wine grape Cesanese di Affile, which he tried at Trinoro and then planted on Etna. He was rather sniffy about Sangiovese and Tuscany in general.

Everything about this man was unusual, not least his far-too-early departure from the scene.