Like all stories set in the world of fine wine, the tale of Cignale actually began long before production began. Nearly a decade earlier: it was 1980 when Neil & Maria Empson decided they would craft their own Super Tuscan. Vineyard location was their first concern: the Empsons have always believed great soil and microclimate are the prerequisites of great wines. Another keen preoccupation was finding a partner they could trust and work closely with. Their choice fell on a wonderful wine producer and friend, Alessandro “Sandro” François and his wife, Antonietta. The François’ owned a historic estate in the northeastern portion of Chianti Classico, near Greve in Chianti – one of the region’s finest sites. The property was superb: elevated hillsides rising 1,320 to 1,740 feet (400-530 meters) above sea level, with a unique geological composition; Cretaceous-Eocenic polychrome schists, rich in manganese and alcaline-earth metals. The four friends entered into a joint venture agreement and in February 1981, they planted 5 acres with new, low-yielding clones of Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux, and 1.25 acres of Merlot. Another 1.25 acres were planted with Cabernet Sauvignon grafted onto 20-year-old Sangiovese vines to give some extra depth to the new wine.
One of the first, experimental harvests (1983) incurred in a not-so-little contretemps when the entire crop was wiped out by wild boars. The silver lining was, the Empsons now had a name for their wine: Cignale, old Tuscan dialect for cinghiale or “wild boar”. Cignale was finally released in 1990, with the 1986 vintage. The wine had spent 2 years in 75% new barriques and 25% used ones; in February 1989, Neil made the final component blend with a small percentage of Sangiovese Grosso, then left the wine in stainless steel until bottling in July 1989, unfiltered. His artist wife, Maria Gemma Empson, designed the labels, which feature a series of six pen and ink drawings depicting Cignale’s first, bristly fans.