The Zingarelli Family Story: Film, Instinct, and Exceptional Chianti Classico Wines

Thanks to the incredible instinct shared by founder Italo and son Sergio, the Zingarelli family has become a leading producer in, and proud advocate for, Chianti Classico. We recently caught up with Sergio who says the best is yet to come ...
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Kate M. Colby

For over 50 years, the Zingarelli family has crafted exceptional, terroir-driven wines in Chianti Classico. They are proud champions of this renowned region and an active part of the Chianti Classico Consortium.

Though many people and chances of circumstance have played a role in the family’s success, ultimately, it comes down to the incredible instincts shared by founder Italo and his son Sergio. They spent decades building the quality and reputation of their family’s wines and, as Sergio proudly says, “Now comes the good part.”

Once Upon a Time in Italy

The Zingarelli family’s story starts with Italo, who was born in Lugo di Romagna on January 15, 1930. From the beginning, he had a creative, adventurous spirit, and his mother, Italia, encouraged his desire to pursue a career in cinema — a move many saw as frivolous. Fateful, perhaps, would be a better word.

Italo Zingarelli boxing - Famiglia Zingarelli
Italo, left, squares up against a sparring partner.

During university, Italo also developed a passion for boxing. While training, he was discovered by a casting scout and cast as an extra for a film. Italo’s impressive stature and larger-than-life personality helped him stand out on set, and he worked as an extra and stuntman for several films before becoming a production technician — eventually working his way to production director and then later, owner of both a film production company and a distribution firm.

Italo was behind many hit Italian films, but his most iconic movies are what demonstrate his uncanny intuition.

His colleague Enzo Barboni had written a screenplay for a western named “They Call Me Trinity,” but it was turned down for being both too comical for a western and too gritty for a comedy. But Italo saw the film’s potential —  and made the crucial decision to give it two lead characters, played by famous actors Bud Spencer and Terrence Hill.

“They Call Me Trinity” (1970) was an instant success. It became the first of the “Fagioli Westerns,” named in response to the Italian-made “Spaghetti Westerns.” Fagioli, or beans, played a role in “Trinity” and symbolized the sense of conviviality and simplicity Italo hoped to convey. The film’s sequels, “Trinity Is Still My Name” (1971) and “All the Way Boys!” (1972), shared its astronomical success, driven by Italo’s bold marketing campaigns and simultaneous release in theaters across Italy.

Italo Zingarelli and Terrence Hill - Famiglia Zingarelli
Italo and Terrence Hill discuss an upcoming scene.

Despite enjoying such prosperity in his career, Italo prized his family over everything else. (He had married his longtime sweetheart, Laura Spano, in 1955, and with her had three children: Fabio, Sandra, and Sergio.) He wanted to build something that would give them a shared occupation and future. Using his earnings from the Fagioli Westerns and, after several thoughtful conversations with friends (many of which were over a glass of wine), Italo decided to invest in Italy’s wine industry.

From Bustling Film Sets to Bucolic Vineyards

Together, Italo and Laura looked for the perfect property. They chose Tuscany for its winemaking prestige and proximity to their home in Rome. Like so many others, they were charmed by the Chianti region’s beautiful countryside and rich history. Italo dove headfirst into wine, seeking out local experts to guide him, reading every book he could find, and learning all about winemaking. He approached wine as he did everything in life, striving to do it as well as possible.

Eventually, Italo and Laura discovered Le Macìe, a farming hamlet near Castellina in southern Chianti Classico. They were driving to see another property, when the dilapidated estate caught their eye. Despite the pouring rain, Italo went to speak with the owners. Twenty minutes and a handshake later, he returned and declared, “We’ve finally found the estate we were looking for.”

Though Italo remained active in the film industry, his career in wine began in 1973 with the founding of Rocca delle Macìe. Originally consisting of 70 hectares / 173 acres (only a small portion of which was planted to vine) and a cluster of 14th-century buildings, the property sorely needed restoration.

Italo and Laura built a brand-new cellar, planted sangiovese and other grape varieties, and renovated the existing buildings. Some buildings became modern homes for winery workers, whom Italo paid a regular salary. Both practices were unheard of at the time, but show the commitment Italo had to his employees, whom he considered part of the family.

Already thrilled by the progress at Rocca delle Macìe — and in need of more vineyard acreage — Italo acquired Tenuta Sant’Alfonso, a 130-hectare / 321-acre property, that same year. According to family legend, Italo’s collaborator warned him against the purchase, insisting that the compact clay soils wouldn’t produce high-quality sangiovese. But, as with the scoffed-at “Trinity” script, Italo had spotted serious untapped potential and forged ahead anyway. (Spoiler alert: Italo’s instincts proved, yet again, to be spot-on. Those clay-rich vineyards continue to produce exceptional sangiovese, regardless of weather conditions, due to the soil’s water-storing capabilities.)

Italo Zingarelli pouring for guests at Rocca delle Macìe - Famiglia Zingarelli
Italo wisely turned Rocca delle Macìe into a welcoming place, where industry leaders and customers alike could experience the wines.

Over the next few years, Italo developed connections with many Chianti Classico producers — from the smallest estates to the grandest. As his passion for the region grew, he joined Chianti Classico’s board of directors and, shortly after, became the consortium’s vice president.

As with his films, Italo wanted his wines to be accessible and enjoyable for all — the kind of wines he would drink over a meal. This uniquely fruit-forward, velvety character — a far cry from the austere, tannic style of the day — distinguished the Zingarelli family’s wines, as did Italo’s competitive pricing and savvy placements in restaurants and wine shops. They quickly became sought-after and respected across Italy.

The success enabled Italo to purchase his third estate, the 11th-century Fizzano hamlet, in 1984. Along with cultivating the property’s 35 hectares / 86 acres of vineyards, Italo also renovated the historic buildings. He entrusted the project to Fabio, his son and an accomplished architect, who created modern apartments for workers as well as the Relais Riserva di Fizzano, a stunning hospitality complex for vacation-goers and special events.

Building a Family Legacy

Italo’s youngest son, Sergio, joined the family business in 1985, and together they launched a trio of single-vineyard wines, signaling a new era of focus on ultra-premium quality. The wines are still made today and are considered among the family’s finest.

Italo and Sergio Zingarelli in the cellar - Famiglia Zingarelli
Combining their considerable talents, Sergio and Italo launched their first single-vineyard wines with the 1985 vintage.

Named in honor of Sergio joining the business, Ser Gioveto began as a Super Tuscan, blending sangiovese with other grapes grown in the Sergioveto vineyard at Rocca delle Macìe. Ser Gioveto was also Italo’s clever play on sangioveto, the archaic name for sangiovese. Since 2015, Ser Gioveto has been crafted from 100% sangiovese (still from that special vineyard), thus it is now classified as a Chianti Classico Riserva.

Riserva di Fizzano began as a Chianti Classico and today is classified as the top-tier Gran Selezione. Tenuta Sant’Alfonso Chianti Classico hails from the clay soils of the Poggio ai Lupi vineyard — lasting proof of Italo’s instincts for superb terroir, its intensity, sinewy structure, and balanced tannins offers a unique expression of sangiovese.

Sergio officially became Chief Principal of Rocca delle Macìe in 1991. Working alongside his wife, Daniela, Sergio has since overseen several important milestones for the family business. For starters, they have fully developed the company’s international distribution network, firmly bringing the wines into the public eye worldwide.

Likewise, in his search for exciting new winegrowing areas, Sergio has acquired three new estates: Le Tavolelle just a few minutes from Rocca delle Macìe in Chianti Classico and Campo Maccione and Casamaria in Tuscany’s coastal Maremma region.

Chianti Classico rooster statue outside Rocca delle Macìe - Famiglia Zingarelli
The Zingarelli family is so dedicated to Chianti Classico that the region’s symbol, the black rooster, stands guard outside Rocca delle Macìe.

Most of Sergio’s other changes have centered on his relentless quest for ever-greater quality. In 1995, he chose to replant the vineyards, plot by plot. He selected sangiovese clones that were well suited to the terroir and increased planting density to encourage lower yields of higher quality fruit. It meant losing four to five years of production, but the vineyards and wine emerged better than ever.

“Maximizing the potential of the sangiovese grape was the real winning card,” Sergio says. “The wines became elegant and developed great character, something which was recognized both in Italy and internationally.”

To oversee this new style of winemaking, Sergio brought on talented enologist Luca Fancioni and esteemed consultant Giorgio Marone. In 2010, Sergio started collaborating with respected agronomist and enologist Lorenzo Landi, who still assists today. Lorenzo chose to vinify the grapes from each vineyard separately and supervised the winery’s first vintage of Sergio Zingarelli Gran Selezione. Under his leadership, the team moved from crafting wines that “drink well” to wines that also “think well.” Wines that ignite conversation and represent the distinct characteristics of each individual plot within a vineyard.

A Champion of Chianti Classico

The Zingarelli family’s wines act as ambassadors for Chianti Classico, showing the world the impeccable, modern-style wines this historic region can produce. Indeed, Sergio has long been active in the Chianti Classico Consortium, which is how he advocates for his homeland and its winemaking community.

Sergio took Italo’s place on the board in 1995. Eventually, he served as vice president, followed by two consecutive terms (the maximum allowed) as president from 2012-2018. During his tenure, Sergio oversaw the restyling of the region’s “Black Rooster” symbol and the creation of the prestigious Gran Selezione classification.

He explains, “The idea was to redesign Chianti Classico’s qualitative pyramid by adding Gran Selezione at the top. It was a true revolution: in substance, but also in the communication of specific values and virtues.”

Sergio Zingarelli Gran Selezione bottle in vineyard - Famiglia Zingarelli
Sergio Zingarelli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione is an incredibly fine wine that showcases the greatness this region can achieve.

A proud advocate of the classification, the Zingarelli family is one of the few producers in Tuscany to put a Gran Selezione, instead of a Super Tuscan, at the top of their quality hierarchy. As such, Sergio’s eponymous Sergio Zingarelli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione is the family’s finest, pinnacle expression.

Today, Sergio again serves as vice president of the Chianti Classico Consortium and remains one of the region’s strongest advocates.

“Now Comes the Good Part ...”

Perhaps the most vital contribution Sergio has made to his family business and Chianti Classico is his eco-stewardship. Starting in 2000, he implemented sustainable viticulture practices, which range from organic fertilizers to introducing bees to promote biodiversity.

Not only have these efforts led to Rocca delle Macìe being awarded the VIVA Certification for Sustainability in Viticulture from the Italian government, but the family’s mindful approach also ensures the health of the growers who hand-tend the vines. To Sergio, these people are an important part of the family.

Andrea, Daniela, Sergio, and Giulia Zingarelli - Famiglia Zingarelli
Winemaking remains a family affair, with Andrea, Daniela, Sergio, and Giulia all playing roles in the business.

With this incredible foundation laid, Sergio tells us, “Today we can truly say: Now comes the good part. Our recognizability and our reputation have reached where we had imagined many years earlier. Now we must learn to look forward.”

Looking forward starts with the third generation of Zingarellis, who have now joined the business. Sergio’s daughter, Giulia, started working at Rocca delle Macìe and attending business trips with Sergio after high school. Today, she focuses mainly on hospitality at the Fizzano estate’s Relais and “Osteria Passo Dopo Passo” restaurant. His son, Andrea, supports Sergio in the daily management of the business — from viticulture to winemaking to distribution. And the fourth generation — Andrea’s children Achille and Leonida — are currently growing up on the estate.

“I view the here and now of the winery as an unfinished chapter, where we can create anew every day. We need to have the courage to grasp the extraordinary in the ordinary, which we do, thanks to Dad,” Sergio says. “The new generations will need to continue to pour their energy into a wine that will increasingly be the essence and beauty of our great territory in Italy. They will make even more unique, significant, and enduring the story of our family.”

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