Interview: DECANTER (2021)

July 01, 2021

The following article appeared in the July 2021 issue of Decanter magazine...


Sting: The wines of my life...

Exclusive: Rock star Sting and his wife Trudie Styler reveal the wines that have played a major part in their life and influenced the winemaking at their Tuscan estate, Il Palagio

You sometimes hear the phrase ‘rock-star winemaker’ – usually referring to a producer with slightly-longer-than-usual hair and a slightly-bigger-than-usual personality. But in this case it’s true. Sting, the ex-frontman of world-famous band The Police, who has enjoyed an extraordinarily successful solo musical career since 1985, is also a winemaker.

In 1997, Sting and his wife, the film producer, actor and director Trudie Styler, purchased a run-down 16th-century Tuscan villa, 45 minutes south of Florence. The estate, Il Palagio, came with about 350 hectares largely of forest, with vineyards, olive trees and lakes.

Trudie, whose father was a farmer, was desperate to restore not only the villa but the land too, to bring the ‘depleted and neglected’ vineyards and olive groves back to life.

Now, the couple produce about 150,000 bottles of wine a year – a sparkling, a white, a rosé and three reds – made using native and international grape varieties according to organic principles. In 2020, renowned oenologist and consultant Riccardo Cotarella came on board to help produce their wine.

Sting and Trudie discovered a mutual love for Italy – and for Italian wine, namely Barolo and Brunello – during Sting’s European tours. The musician hasn’t always been a wine lover, however: ‘Growing up in Newcastle in the 1960s, starting from the age of 12, I was a beer drinker – wine was absolutely not on my horizon.’ It was while travelling the world in the late 1970s and 1980s that Sting began to develop an interest. Bottles would be left for him in his dressing room by tour promoters. ‘I didn’t drink them; I didn’t go for wine, but my road manager would take them.

‘Some years later, I visited him at his home and he showed me his collection of fantastic wines – great Bordeaux, Châteauneuf-du-Pape… Wow, I said, what a collection! And he explained to me that they were all mine. All those gifted bottles from the tours! It was at that point that I began to take an interest.’

Here are the wines and wine producers that mean something special to Sting and Trudie – and, in their own words, why…

Mateus Rosé, Portugal

A blast from the past, Mateus Rosé is an iconic Portuguese wine made predominantly from the native Baga grape. Light in body, raspberry-pink in colour, medium-sweet and slightly effervescent, it has been a force on the global market for decades since its launch in 1942.

‘It earns a place on the list because it was our date wine,’ recalls Sting. ‘It had a gentle quality about it, a romantic quality – the colour of the wine, the shape of the bottle… If you ordered Mateus Rosé you were going to have a good night.’ ‘It was a pretty bottle – it looked like your boyfriend really liked you, that he really cared,’ adds Trudie. ‘Wine was a discovery for us; we were working-class, we didn’t have wine on the table of an evening. My mum might have had an Advocaat at Christmas, but wine was a luxury we didn’t know. When Sting began to travel and tour, we would have this treat of Mateus Rosé and it seemed to us at the time to be the height of sophistication!’

Antinori, Cervaro della Sala, Umbria, Italy

The Antinori family’s goal for Cervaro della Sala was to make a white wine with ageing potential. It’s made from Chardonnay with a small amount of Grechetto, and was one of the first white wines in Italy to undergo malolactic fermentation and to be aged in barrique.

‘Our first child was born in 1990, near Pisa. We deliberately chose to be in Italy for the birth, and during that summer we fell deeply in love with the country, and we became friends with the Antinori family,’ recalls Trudie.

‘Two years later, back home in Wiltshire, we served this wine at our wedding party. We enjoy the whites of Burgundy – the wines of Domaine Leflaive, in particular – and this Italian Chardonnay makes for a beautiful comparison. Fortuitously, our friendship with the Antinori family not only introduced us to a great wine, but also our current winemaker, Riccardo Cotarella. He is the brother of the Antinoris’ head winemaker and CEO, Renzo Cotarella.’

Stings favourite wines

Château Margaux, Margaux 1CC, Bordeaux, France

Bordeaux first growth Château Margaux is renowned throughout the world for producing wines of elegance and perfume, complexity and persistence – and it’s made its mark on Sting too.

‘For almost a decade we searched for a home in Tuscany,’ recalls Sting. ‘We were shown so many that were so pristine, so full of marble, they felt more like mausoleums than homes. And then finally we arrived at Il Palagio. It was dilapidated, and desperately in need of work, but it had a real charm.

‘When I went to negotiate the price, the owner – a duke – invited me for lunch. He served me a red wine in decanter that was exquisite. I asked where it was from and he said it was the estate’s production. I was sold. I bought the property.’ Trudie continues the tale: ‘Two years later, when the house had been fully restored, we threw a party and we brought out bottles of the estate wine from the cellar. But the wine was so bad – I spotted guests tipping full glasses into the flower beds.’

‘It turned out that the duke had in fact poured for me one of Bordeaux’s first growths at that lunch!’ says Sting. ‘I get my revenge now, however. I send him bottles of our wines, and they are much-improved since those days. I believe we are having the last laugh!’

Benziger Estates, Sonoma, California, USA

Benziger Family Winery was one of the first estates in California to convert to biodynamic practices, and its philosophy has inspired Sting and Trudie in their winemaking approach.

‘The first few months in our new home were wonderful, but I felt something was missing,’ says Trudie. ‘I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then one morning it came to us: bird song. There were no birds. Or bees, or any humming of life; it was eerily silent. Our land had been farmed intensively and conventionally; it was parched.

‘On a trip to California soon afterwards, I visited an osteopath, and in his studio I noticed a photograph of a beautiful vineyard. It was full of life, with fruit hanging from the vines that looked mouthwatering. Whose is that vineyard, I asked? And he remarked that it was his. The next day I went to visit him at his farm and tasted his wine. It was glorious. When he told me he was following a biodynamic regime, the scales dropped from my eyes. The wine was so full of energy, so rewarding to drink.

‘I mentioned that we were setting out on a journey to make wine in Tuscany, and he told me to get in touch with a gentleman called Alan York, who’s an international expert on biodynamic farming.

‘I invited Alan over to see our estate, and we tasted the wines he was making at the Benziger Family Winery in Sonoma and listened to him talk through his holistic approach to farming. He encouraged us to establish bee colonies to increase biodiversity, and to nurture our vines with ecologically sound practices. We began to work together, and slowly life returned – birds, bees, butterflies. And it is no longer silent in the mornings!’

‘It’s such a magical place,’ says Sting. ‘There’s nowhere like it. I want our wines to express this unique site – the soil, the climate, the environment – and organic farming allows
for the most authentic expression.’

Henri Giraud, Äy Grand Cru Fût de Chene, Champagne

Based in Aÿ, Henri Giraud is a small, family-owned Champagne house. This multi-vintage wine is fermented in oak barrels and matured on lees for at least six years before release. ‘After two decades of living here in Tuscany, we feel our palates have become somewhat accustomed to, or conditioned by Sangiovese,’ says Sting.

‘That brisk acidity becomes attractive, addictive even, and it seems to have deepened our enjoyment of Champagne,’ continues Trudie. ‘This one is our favourite, and one of the inspirations for our sparkling Sangiovese, made using the traditional method, with an ageing of five years before release.’

Château Léoube, Rosé de Léoube, Provence, France

Home to the Bamford family, Château Léoube is an organic wine and olive oil estate – the largest private estate in coastal Provence. The Rosé de Léoube is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Mourvèdre, created by winemaker Romain Ott.

‘Our friend Lady Carole Bamford, founder of Daylesford Organic Farmshops, bought Château Léoube in 1997, the same year that we bought Il Palagio,’ says Trudie. ‘We share a lot of the same philosophies regarding our approach to the land, to wine and olive oil production.

‘We both resolved to work organically, and to respect what’s unique about our site. Her rosé is a staple in our house – there’s always a bottle or two in the fridge!’

Sting and Trudie’s pick of their own wines

Tenuta Il Palagio, Sister Moon, Tuscany

Sister Moon is Il Palagio’s flagship wine, a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, matured for 12 months in French barriques. Sting has written five albums at Il Palagio. His recording studio is just above the winery. ‘It feels that creativity is in that space,’ he says. ‘If I need a pick-me-up, I can just pop downstairs to take a sip of wine.

‘I find it a great tool, wine, for loosening the tightness in the brain. For millennia human beings have found this to be the case, no? Wine encourages stories to be told. We are more adept at telling, at listening, after a glass of wine.’

Sister Moon, he says, ‘encourages contemplation: it’s rich and mysterious. ‘Great wines, I realise, like great songs, have a narrative – a beginning, a middle and an end – and afterwards you will still be thinking about them, they will persist.

‘The name for the wine is the title of a song I wrote in the 1980s. I feel so close to nature here. Having grown up in an industrial area, nature continues to be a marvel to me: that things grow! I think I must have been well out of my teens before I had even eaten anything that wasn’t from a tin.’

Tenuta Il Palagio, Baci sulla Bocca, Tuscany

On Valentine’s Day this year, Sting and Trudie released a new wine from Il Palagio: Baci sulla Bocca (‘Kisses on the Lips’). It’s their first collaboration with Riccardo Cotarella, and their first white wine. Made from 100% Vermentino, the wine is unoaked, crisp and fruit-driven.

‘Trudie is a great fan of white wine,’ says Sting. ‘When temperatures really soar in the summer in Tuscany, we would reach for a white from Friuli in the northeast of Italy – wines such as Venica & Venica’s Ronco delle Mele Sauvignon Blanc.’

‘We wanted to produce our own white,’ adds Trudie. ‘An invigorating wine, with lip-smacking freshness. Vermentino is gaining status as an excellent variety in Tuscany – bright, flavoursome and fruity, but also with the potential for ageing.

‘It was the perfect match. The name was inspired by the pandemic. After more than a year of Covid restrictions, of covering our faces with masks, we wanted this wine to be a call for romance to return: for intimacy and connection.’

(c) Decanter by Emily O'Hare


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