If you're looking for a spectacular holiday at a breathtaking estate in Tuscany with outstanding food and wine just a short drive to both Siena and Florence then look no further than Spannocchia.
Randall Stratton and I chatted about this spectacular estate he and his wife Francesca own and operate. Spannocchia has been owned and run by Francesca's family for three generations.
Spannocchia in a nutshell
One of the pleasures of a stay at Spannocchia is not just great food and wine but it's an opportunity to experience life on an historic Tuscan working farm that also happens to be fully organic. Spannocchia dates back 800 years and owners Randall and Francesca offer guests all the modern conveniences and pleasures one looks forward to in a Tuscan holiday but at the same time you experience what goes into life on a working farm.
There are all kinds of activities and tours you can participate in: slow living & tasting, pasta making, Italian wine production tour, vegetable garden tour, Cinta Senese heritage breed tour & tasting, olives & olive oil, traditional Tuscan cooking class, castello tour and cooking class for kids.
Because of Spannocchia’s strategic location you can also take advantage of a multitude of day trips to Siena, Florence and numerous Chianti wineries.
In addition to the Spannocchia website you can also find Spannocchia on Instagram and Facebook. You can also take a look at their online shop.
The history of Spannocchia in Tuscany
This agricultural estate, or tenuta, dates back 800 years and the earliest written record of the estate dates to 1255.
In the early 20th century the estate passed from the Spannocchia family to Delfino Cinelli, a Florentine aristocrat and noted Italian writer. Later the the estate passed to his son Ferdinando and then to his granddaughter Francesca Cinelli and her husband Randall who now own and run Spannocchia.
Food and wine at Spannocchia in Tuscany
Heritage breeds raised at Spannocchia in Tuscany
Two heritage breeds are raised at Spannocchia, world renowned Cinta Senese pigs from the Sienese hills and Calvano cows, originally from the Calvano mountains north of Florence.
Spannocchia is a fully organic farm so the pigs roam freely on the property. The Spannocchia Cinta Senese pigs are butchered right on site and made into a variety of delicious cuts of pork plus salumi products like prosciutto and soppressata which you’ll have the pleasure of enjoying if you stay on the property. Spannocchia sells some of their salumi products locally to restaurants and shops, and you can contact Spannocchia directly by email to place an order.
Vineyards, olive groves and organic farming at Spannocchia
Spannocchia is just ever so slightly out of the official Chianti wine region but the delicious wine they make is traditional Chianti style red wine using Sangiovese grapes. They also make white wine and rosé.
Spannocchia has 500 olive trees and each year produces enough olive oil for the estate’s use as well as for export to select clients in the United States.
In addition to the heritage pig and cow breeds Spannocchia also has chickens for daily fresh eggs. Spannocchia grows a multitude of fresh organic vegetables which are served daily at the estate. Produce includes heirloom fruits and vegetables, plus multi-floral honey from the beehives.
The Spannocchia Library
The Spannocchia library has well over 200 volumes on a multitude of topics including art history, Etruscan history, architecture and other Tuscan focused topics.
Educational programs at Spannocchia in Tuscany
Academic & Other Education Courses
Back in the 1960s Randall’s father-in-law's fascination with Etruscan history lead him to form the Etruscan Foundation. He began hosting guests involved in an Etruscan excavation program at Spannocchia. This was the birth of what is now Spannocchia’s current and ongoing educational and internship programs.
Educational programs include everything from adult education and for-pleasure-only courses like yoga and watercolor, plus there are for credit university courses as well.
One of these is the Harvard University Extension School and its course in Sustainability Management. Part of the course is online and part is on site at Spannocchia doing sustainability case studies.
Another example is a three week program with the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts. It's a PhD program and part of the program is a three week stay at Spannocchia doing research and writing research papers on topics like art philosophy.
Farm Internship program at Spannocchia in Tuscany
Spannocchia runs three sessions of its internship program, each for a three month period: spring, summer, fall. Each session has eight interns. Interns spend their time in farm activities along with planned educational activities in topics like regenerative agriculture, environmental issues, and various culinary topics like wine tasting, olive harvesting and salumi production. Each day some time is dedicated to Italian language classes and there are also regular outings to visit historic places like Siena and Florence.
Specialized apprenticeships at Spannocchia
Butcher apprentices are exposed to all phases of production, from slaughter to the meat curing process to assisting at markets.
This apprenticeship is for chefs who are serious about improving their culinary skills and seeking an understanding of Italian cuisine at a deeper level.
Accommodation at Spannocchia in Tuscany
There are 8 farm house apartments, as well as ensuite private room accommodation in the main villa. Some of Spannocchia’s guests have been returning yearly for over two decades. Take a look at the accommodation options here.
Challenges facing Spannocchia, past and present
The disappearance of the mezzadria system
Up until the middle of the last century Spannocchia, like many working farm estates in Tuscany and throughout Italy, operated using the mezzadria, or tenant farmer, system. Under this system tenant farmers lived and worked on parcels of farmland that belonged to a landowner and the farming proceeds went 50% to the landowner and 50% to the tenant farmers. The mezzadria system disappeared by the mid-1950s and without its tenant farmers landowners found that running a working farm was a challenge both economically and otherwise. Over the years Spannocchia has developed a core group of invaluable employees, most of them local, and some of them former tenant farmers themselves.
The wonderful cooking classes offered at Spannocchia are run by a talented and delightful woman who grew up at Spannocchia in a tenant farmer family.
The Covid challenge
Most recently Spannocchia has felt the impact of Covid. Tourism and accommodation came to a halt, along with the internship program. Thanks to some limited government support and core dedicated employees Spannocchia found its way through the peak of the Covid challenge. Now accommodation is nearly back to normal and tourism is picking up quickly. Spannocchia is taking applications for the upcoming internship program, due to resume again for the spring session in March 2022.
Spannocchia board support
There are two important organizations that support the smooth operation of Spannocchia. The Friends of Spannocchia supports the Italian nonprofit cultural association through charitable donations. Friends of Spannocchia looks for trustees with experience or interest in Spannocchia’s activities, plus former interns. One trustee is a graduate of the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy; others have an interest or expertise in organic farming and sustainability.
In turn, the Italian nonprofit cultural association runs all of Spannocchia’s educational components including the internship program and apprenticeships.
Books you’ll want to take a look at
The Castle That Only God Knows was written by Dario Cinelli, Francesca's grandfather and former owner of Spannocchia. It’s the story of Spannocchia as it was in the 1920s, recounting, in slightly fictionalized form, the experience of Delfino as the new owner of the estate, struggling to rebuild it after many years of neglect.
Dario Gaggio’s book, The Shaping of Tuscany: Landscape and Society between Tradition and Modernity offers insight into the end of the mezzadria system in Tuscany, and the evolution of the working farm in Tuscany.
Spannocchia, by Pascale Quiviger, is a verbal and visual illustration of Spannocchia written following Quiviger's several years as an artist-in-residence at Spannocchia.
Spannocchia, Our Favorite Recipes was written by longtime cooks Loredana Betti and Graziella Capanni; it’s a compilation of 59 favorite recipes.
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