If it weren't for the stubbornness of Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta and the quickness of his nephew Marchese Piero Antinori, Bolgheri would still be known primarily for the spectacular cypress-lined road connecting it to the Aurelia, the old Roman road to Marseilles, and for having been the home of Noble Laureate poet Giosué Carducci. Certainly not for wine Carducci loved, a thin, harsh Sangiovese that suffered from the proximity of the sea.
It wasn't anything that Marchese Mario, A Piemontese who knew and loved the world's great wines (he acquired the land by marrying Contessa Clarice della Gherardesca, whose sister Carlotta married Niccolò Antinori, Piero's father), wanted anything to do with. So he decided to experiment, and shortly after the withdrawal of the German occupation forces in 1944, planted some Cabernet high up on a hillside, in the section of his lands that most resembled the great terroirs of Bordeaux. The vineyard was called Sassicaia, after a farmhouse built from the stones removed when the land was first cleared in the early 1800s, and so was the wine.
The initial results were bad -- Marchese Mario was learning as he went along, and a friend, one of the Rothchilds, found the wine horrible. Nor was he alone in his evaluation; the Marchese's field hands and assistants all insisted it was fire-laced and refused to drink it. This might have discouraged some, but the Marchese was made of sterner stuff and persevered, taking the lessons learned to heart and extending his vineyards, selecting a lower area that is slightly warmer and faces the sea, thus enjoying better ventilation. When he felt more confident of his progress, he sent a couple of bottles to Veronelli, Italy's most influential wine critic, with a note saying, "None of my people like this, but I'd like your opinion too."
Veronelli's reply was succinct: "It's magnificent."
This brings us through the early 1960s, when a select few realized Bolgheri hid a tremendous gem in the ruff. It's one thing to make a great wine, however, and quite another to make a great success of it. The 60s were the one of the darkest periods in Italian enology, which Tuscany's flagship wine, Chianti Classico, doing terribly because of the 30% white grapes the Disciplinare forced the producers to put into it. Few were interested in buying it, and fewer still were willing to bet on a Cabernet-based table wine from an obscure coastal town with no enological traditions whatsoever.
Except for one thing: Marchese Mario's nephew is Piero Antinori, and in 1967 he was both breaking with the Chianti Classico consortium and launching a revolutionary Cabernet-Sangiovese blend, Tignanello. Mario and his son Niccolò asked Marchesi Antinori if they'd be willing to help them handle the sale of Sassicaia, and the answer was an enthusiastic yes. Antinori did more, sending Giacomo Tachis, the enologist who was overseeing the production of Tignanello, to help oversee Sassicaia too. Thus Sassicaia gained a window onto the world, and the grand adventure of Bolgheri's wines began. To think it all started here...