Message in a Bottle” is one of his most celebrated tunes, but now the English singer-songwriter Sting is putting a bottle in his message. The musician, activist, now-turned-farmer, launched two new wines this past fall in Tuscany as part of the Pairings: Food + Wine + Music series for American Express card members. He bought the beautiful 15th-century Tenuta il Palagio estate south of Florence a decade ago and now uses his farmland for organic and biodynamic grapes as well as honey, olive oil, vegetables and meat products that are sold on-site (palagioretreats.com). Sting (Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner) sat down recently with Wine Enthusiast as well as wife Trudie Styler and viticulturist Alan York to discuss Sister Moon (a 40-30-30 blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) and Casino delle Vie (almost 100% Sangiovese), both available in the United States.
Wine Enthusiast: Describe your transition from musician to winemaker.
Sting: Well, I haven’t given up music to take up winemaking unless there’s millions of dollars involved. Probably not. We bought this property because we love it. There’s an atmosphere about the house and although the farmland was a little bit degraded, we knew we had a lovely place. We thought ‘let’s see if we can turn this around, we wanted the wine to reflect the magic of the place, because you know, I make records here and it’s an inspiring place. The only missing piece of the jigsaw was wine.
WE: Describe your personal wine drinking evolution.
Sting: I’m a beer drinker culturally. I’m from the north of England so I drank beer from age 16 on and younger. I didn’t have a glass of wine until I was in my late 20s. I was doing shows and the promoters would often give me a bottle of wine as a gift. Since I knew nothing about it and because I didn’t drink wine, I’d give the bottles to my roadies. My roadie became a real wine aficionado and ended up with an amazing cellar: Brunello, Petrus and more. I visited him one day and said ‘where did you get those wines?’ and he said ‘you gave them to me.’ Then I started to take it seriously.
WE: Besides wine, what else do you farm at Tenuta il Palagio?
Trudie Styler: As we have so much land here, our wish is to make the land sustainable so it will take care of itself eventually. I think one way of making it sustainable is through various ways of exploring how and what to grow. I came up with the idea of honey because it is one of my favorite things to eat. Our farm shop delivers fresh vegetables and olive oil. We are fully organic and the land is natural and robust.
WE: How did you find your house here?
Sting: I think it found us. We’d almost given up and this was the last house we were going to see. We fell in love, we took a gamble and it has paid dividends. I’ve made some really good records here. The wine and food are part of that. You can’t separate the ambiance of the place and the creativity.
WE: Have you experienced difficulty in implementing biodynamic farming practices within the traditionalists’ context of Tuscany?
Alan York: On the contrary, biodynamics is steeped in the oldest tradition of agriculture. It’s not a stretch to say that biodynamics is the end of evolution of the origins of agriculture. You know, in a way, it’s so old that it’s new and I think people really respond to that. As Sting was saying, the objective is the authenticity of this place and that’s a noble pursuit.
WE: What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned in viticulture?
Sting: I like picking olives, it’s very therapeutic. But grapes? That’s hard labor, man. I’ll avoid that.
WE: What role do you play in the winery?
Sting: I have a job in the winery, I go down and play to the wine. I practice down there. And you know, if I play it true, the wine is better.