Coste del Vivo is the personal project of winemaker Toby Owen. 20 years ago Toby was manager of a wine shop in Scotland, dreaming of one day being able to make wine like the best of those he sold. In 2009 a chance meeting led to experience working with Brunello producer San Polino in Montalcino. Later, in 2012 he returned to Montalcino as winemaking assistant at Casa Raia. By the following vintage he was winemaker for micro-producer Hortulanus in the beautiful vineyards of Seggiano on Monte Amiata. Over the next few years Toby found that a number of local vineyards were in danger of being abandoned and convinced the owners to allow him to take them over in exchange for a few bottles of wine, and finally, in 2018 he assumed control of the Hortulanus vineyards, his dream became real and the hard work got harder...
Toby's first wine, logically named "Rosso No.1", was launched in 2018 with further wines to follow during 2020.
Apart from occasionally buying grapes from neighbours and friends, production is drawn from a total of just 2,5 hectares of vineyard spread over 5 seperate plots, some dating back to the 1970’s. All of the vineyards are set in the narrow Vivo valley and lie mainly in the municipality of Seggiano, a village well known for the quality of its olive oil. Additionally and according to one or two of the very oldest of local old-timers, the wine was once regarded as something special even in neighbouring Montalcino...
The name Coste del Vivo refers to the rugged slopes that form the picturesque valley of the Vivo - a narrow tributary of the river Orcia. The cold waters drain from the north-western flanks of Monte Amiata, a long dormant volcano, whose 1734m rocky mass is softened in summer by a thick blanket of verdant beech and chestnut forest.
At the foot of the valley the Vivo joins the Ente in a dramatic rocky gorge with thunderous cascades and tranquil pools popular with bathers. High above the confluence the valleys are divided by a Chestnut-capped ridge of volcanic debris including huge boulders ejected during Amiata's tumultuous past. A few of these boulders have been shaped into curious linked basins thought to be Etruscan in origin. It is fascinating to wonder if this ancient and mysterious culture of agrarians made these basins for winemaking...
The complex geology and convoluted folds of ground shaped by great seismic events of millenia gone by provide a patchwork of tiny vineyard sites with widely varying soils and aspects. There are South-facing slopes of friable schist, with varying amounts of clay and loam as well as West facing sand and boulders of decomposed volcanic debris. Vinified separately each plot gives it's own unique account of the conditions of each vintage resulting in a broad palette from which to create wines that best express this unique territory.
Amiata itself and sister peak Monte Labbro form a barrier protecting the valleys Ente and Vivo from intense summer storms that can blow up from the sun-baked coastal Maremma and Mediterranean Sea beyond. The vineyards can often be bathed in sunshine even as rain can be seen falling on the mountains just a few kilometres away.
Common to all the vineyard sites is the cooling influence and late-season diurnal temperature change, an effect that extends the ripening of Cabernet-Franc and Sangiovese well into the cool of October. Merlot is typically harvested in late September. This localised climatic effect is evident to any witness who would stand among the vines as the sun sets in late summer: Within minutes chill air from the upper reaches of the mountain descends into the vineyards, causing a temperature drop of 15 degrees or more, cooling the grapes and slowing the ripening process.
Combined with the extended hours of intense high-altitude sunlight, these conditions provide us with grapes that are rich, not only in sugars and flavour, but also in polyphenols (tannin, colour) and acidity giving naturally concentrated, firm, elegantly structured wines that can age with grace while also drinking well when relatively young.
Coste del Vivo is a project born of passion and inquisitiveness, a quest to make fine wine that speaks clearly of it’s origins in geology and climate. Believing as he does in the quality of the Coste del Vivo "terroir", Toby’s winemaking is based on a vineyard-led philosophy of low intervention, seeing his role more as wine "caretaker" than wine "maker". By viewing the vineyard holistically and as a complex eco-system sustaining diverse plant, insect and animal life, wine quality is built in the vineyard where it is influenced by the natural conditions and by applying plant-sensitive pruning and vine-dressing techniques.
Carefully harvested by hand by Toby's faithful team of workers, the grapes are carefully processed to remove stems and fermented in individual lots before being transferred to barrels for ageing. The very best lots are often barrel fermented. During the course of ageing in barrel each wine is tasted and assessed to determine the best possible blends and identify those which stand out best alone. Wines are bottled when they are ready, often without fining and with little or no filtration.