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The Tuscan Dream of a Belgian Lawyer Realized by His Grandson

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In Lucignano, located in the Valdichiana area in southeastern Tuscany, lies Tenuta Licinia. It is a small farm that the Belgian lawyer Jacques de Liedekerke acquired in the 1970s. His grandson James Marshall who has run the winery since 2020, says that his grandfather was “a wine lover but [in the beginning] he had no intention of creating a wine project.” However, the farm came with a small vineyard plot with mainly Sangiovese that the local neighbors said was great and with beautiful subsoil.

It would take about 30 years for Jacques de Liedekerke to start realizing that it might be a good idea to do something about his vineyard plots at Tenuta Licinia. He had followed the development of the wine industry in Tuscany going from quantity to a more quality-focused production in the late 1990s. De Liedekerke did some research and discovered that half his vineyard plot had a very interesting subsoil with mainly galestro while the other half had a less fascinating subsoil. The soils in the valley are not as interesting as the ones on the more rocky hills, according to James Marshall.

In 2006 and 2007, he decided to replant the vineyard with mainly Cabernet Sauvignon but also other French-inspired varieties such as Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. De Liedekerke loved Cabernet Sauvignon wines in Bordeaux style and that is why he decided to plant mainly this grape variety. He was also convinced that single vineyard wines were the way to go to better enhance the unique characteristics of the subsoil and the terroir.

The Valdichiana Wine Area

The Valdichiana DOC is an area that stretches not only over the provinces of Arezzo and Siena but also over the regions of Tuscany and Umbria. The appellation reaches down to the Orvieto area. Trebbiano Toscano, Malvasia bianca lunga, Grechetto, and Sangiovese are the more traditional grapes here but also international grapes are grown, just as in the case of Tenuta Licinia.

The fertile Valdichiana area has very strong links to the Etruscan era just like most of Tuscany and the Arezzo side was considered the “bread basket” of Etruria in that period. Today, Valdichiana is still seen as a bit more hidden and “wild” area than other parts of Tuscany. Valdichiana is the home of the Aglione (the very large garlic variety that has a more delicate taste) and the breeding of Chianina cattle.

Photo: Courtesy of Tenuta Licinia

Tenuta Licinia is located close to Lucignano which is in the southern part of the province of Arezzo, not far from well-known locations such as Montepulciano, Sinalunga, Rapolano Terme, Cortona, etc. The medieval hamlet of Lucignano is known for its local farmers’ food such as panzanella or bread soup.

James Marshall Realizes His Grandfather’s Dream

James Marshall decided to leave his academic career in philosophy behind in 2020 to dedicate himself to making wine at the family estate in Valdichiana in Tuscany. His idea is to help the vineyard to give an expression to the “most beautiful characters” in the wine. Today, they have 6,5 ha farmed organically and they also follow certain biodynamic principles to strive to have as healthy as possible vines and soil. He is in favor of wines with a clean, elegant varietal expression where the wood is not too intrusive and the tannins are smooth and velvety.

James made a beautiful analogy when talking about the tannins saying that he likes to think of tannins as the sand on a beach. On the one hand, you have beaches with rocks and small stones or coarse sand while, on the other hand, you have beaches like in the Bahamas where the sand is fine-grained and smooth. He says he prefers wines with velvety tannins as at a beach in the Bahamas.

Photo: Courtesy of Tenuta Licinia

James Marshall furthermore underlines how he has experimented with the maturation period in oak to arrive at a result where the oak is less intrusive. When he started in 2020, they were aging the wines for about 24 months in barrique and he exclaims that it was a bit catastrophic for the wine. He started by aging the Montepolli 2019 and Sasso di Fata 2019 for 16 months in tonneaux and the vintage 2021, he reduced it to 10,5 months in tonneaux. He thinks that 10-14 months is probably is right amount of time in tonneaux of 500 L to preserve the varietal expression.

The Wines of Tenuta Licinia in Valdichiana

They make three wines so far:

  • Montepolli – 47% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc, 12% Petit Verdot
  • Sasso di Fata – 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot
  • Sasso di Licinia – 100% Petit Verdot

I have tasted Montepolli 2019 and Sasso di Fata 2019 and 2021.

James Marshall talks about the prevailing floral notes, especially of rosa canina (dog-rose), followed by fruit such as cassis and currant, especially in the Sasso di Fata wine, as I understood. He explains that he finds the 2021 vintage more in line with the harmony he is looking for. I tend to agree as I found Sasso di Fata 2021 balanced and promising for the future. The freshness and vivacity of the fruit, floral, and maquis side is more prominent in 2021 which of course makes sense as it’s younger. The oak is less intense in the 2021. Sasso di Fata 2019 is rounder and smoother and the fruit is a bit fuller or more mature. I feel notes of rhubarb but I am not sure if that is in my imagination. The floral side is also present. The oak is more perceivable on the palate.

Photo: Courtesy of Tenuta Licinia

I found Montepolli 2019 very interesting even if James himself says that it is made with grapes from the less interesting vineyard plot with clay and calcareous soil. It is fresh, fruity, spicy, and with notes of local maquis. There are also hints of spices and leather. The 16 months of maturation in tonneaux is not too invasive but quite balanced.

The wines of Tenuta Licinia are indeed nice (even if I am not a super fan of Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon LOL) and promising for the future. I think they need to produce a couple of vintages for the vision of James Marshall to become more stable.

Katarina Andersson

Seen often at wine events streaming live, Katarina is a wine writer, wine educator, social media strategist, and translator. She is the founder of WinesOfItaly LiveStream. She has been a guest at The Cellar, hosted by Richard Glover, at Wine Two Five, a podcast hosted by Stephanie Davis and Valerie Caruso, and at the Twitter chat #WiningHourChat founded by Li Valentine.

2 thoughts on “The Tuscan Dream of a Belgian Lawyer Realized by His Grandson”

    • Hi Velva, thank you for reading the article about the Valdichiana area. The Licinia winery is very interesting and making good wines, they are definitely worth to look into more, etc.
      Sorry for replying so late to your comment.


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