Donatella: Elevating Italian Women in Wine and Crafting Exceptional Wine

Donatella: just one name, a well-known name in the Italian fashion world. Her brother, Gianni, founded the famous fashion empire Versace. But Donatella Versace is not the only famous Donatella in Italy.

Donatella Cinelli Colombini created a sensation in the wine industry when she launched her all-female winery, Casato Prime Donne in Montalcino.  The savvy female wine experts of this unique wine estate craft five different Brunello di Montalcino wines.

Creating Possibilities for Women in Wine

Donatella Cinelli Colombini is an extraordinary woman and an extraordinary Italian. Bucking Italian tradition and history, she built a wine empire utterly new. 

A strong advocate for women, she walks the walk for women in the wine business. 

Her vision extends beyond the winery to an entire project called Progetto Prime Donne which includes:

  • The Casato Prime Donne award for women in journalism and photography for work related to Montalcino and its wine
  • A permanent gallery hosting the winning photographs dedicated to the RAI journalist Ilda Bartolini 
  • The Prime Donne trail snaking through the vineyards featuring quotations from award winners and works from local artists

Each of the four parts of the Progetto Prime Donne unites women with the wines of Brunello. 

For the second time, Donatella also heads the Associazione Nazionale Le Donne del Vino as president. Started in 1998, Le Donne del Vino promotes wine culture and women’s role in the culture of wine and the wine trade.

Donatella focuses not only on supporting women in wine, but also on advancing the knowledge and education of the Brunello wine region.

Donatella’s Creative Mind

The genesis of the Prime Donne project arose from the patriarchal nature of Italian culture and the wine business in Italy. When Donatella searched for a cellar master, she was told none were available nor would be for several years. 

What they meant was that no MALE cellar masters would be available.

The day Donatella decided to hire a woman as a cellar master changed her trajectory. From then on, she hired only women, and Progetto Prime Donne blossomed. 

From the beginning of the project over 20 years ago, the steadfast presence of Barbara Magnani has been key to the success of Donatella’s wineries. She remains a consultant and the trainer of two new winemakers while recently starting her own wine shop. 

Donatella hired four wine professionals to taste and blend the wines. Two of them are Masters of Wine, Rosemary George and Madeleine Stenwreth. German wine expert Astrid Schwarz and Italian sommelier and educator Daniela Scrobogna complete the team.

As if she hasn’t done enough, Donatella researched Montalcino’s native yeasts at the request of the EU. Her research resulted in the extensive use of local yeasts in the making of Brunello wines.

Preserving History and Creating the Future

Donatella’s well-known Montalcino family, Cinelli Colombini, has owned the historic property, on which Casato Prime Donne lies, since the late 16th century. Mostly used for hunting by the men of the family, Donatella’s mother inherited the land from her mother. 

Her lineage of women set an example, leading her to the name Casato Prime Donne. The name loosely translates to “house of first ladies.” 

Both Donatella and her brother are active in the wine business. Her brother, Stefano, manages the acclaimed Fattoria dei Barbi winery also in Montalcino, which was previously managed by another female relative. 

Because of the history dating from the Middle Ages, Donatella, also an artist and historian, dedicates time and resources to restoring and maintaining all aspects of her heritage.

Along with Casato Prime Donne, Donatella owns Fattoria del Colle. This winery lies in the southern part of Chianti, about a 30-minute drive from Prime Donne.

Ever ambitious, Donatella replanted all vineyards, built new wineries, and then implemented organic viticulture. Grapes are hand-harvested. 

An expanded Fattoria del Colle caters to visitors. The property includes apartments, rooms, villas, a restaurant, and a wellness center.

She also wrote a tourism manual, has been active in marketing the region for tourism, and teaches wine tourism at the university level.

Donatella’s vision created an amazingly rich experience for those who work with her and for those who visit.

About the Wine

Donatella hired winemaker Valerie Lavigne, a Bordeaux-trained enologist, to manage Casato Prime Donne. From 96 acres of Sangiovese vineyards, the estate produces 150,000 bottles annually. 

Crafted from the Sangiovese Brunello grape, the wines of Casato Prime Donne are powerful. A reputation for elegance and precision is widely held.

Well-balanced, the wines exhibit distinctive aromatics. They showcase deep and complex flavors and a lightness on the palate.

By adding the innovative use of concrete fermentation tanks and native yeasts, Donatella brought creativity and new thinking into Montalcino winemaking. 

Due to intricate crafting, the wines maintain their traditional character even with these innovations.

Wines age in 500-liter oak casks for a minimum of two years versus the traditional aging in 225-liter barriques. Additional aging takes place in bottle for at least a year.

More extended aging allows for further development and elegance in the wines. Such careful attention has resulted in high praise for these wines around the globe.

Vintage Report from James Suckling: "The 2015 vintage is an historical year for Brunello, and nobody should miss it.” 

You can order the 2015 Marchesi Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello di Montalcino here. Don’t miss it. Order yours today!

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