The Sorceress of Southern Tuscany

Sometimes you meet a person in life who inspires you to look more closely at yourself and your own dreams. That happened for me while on a recent press tour of Italian wineries, focused on Abruzzo and the Veneto (which was fabulous, read here). I was enticed to tack on a few days at the end of the tour to visit an additional wine region, the Maremma in Southern Tuscany. My friend and fellow wine writer Gwendolyn Alley had written about Fattoria La Maliosa and owner-winemaker Antonella Minuli last year, in an article for which she won the Jancis Robinson writing contest in 2022 (read here), but had never met her in person. I, and another wine writer Lynne, were game, and I’m thrilled that I did, as the two days spent at La Maliosa were my best wine days ever! 

La Maliosa, which translates to ‘the sorceress’ (per Google Translate) is a name that Antonella chose for her winery, but she based it on what she describes as the magical beauty of Southern Tuscany. Antonella moved to this area in the 1990s where she managed the Terme di Saturnia Roman spa and golf course. During her 10 years there she explored the rolling hills surrounding these ancient Roman thermal springs, which are a major tourist attraction just a couple hours north of Rome, and began to envision starting a sustainable agriculture project in the area, not necessarily vineyards. Over the course of the next few years, she purchased a series of properties totaling 70 hectares (173 acres), which not surprisingly were just right for grape vines and olive trees. However, she realized that more traditional Tuscans did not ‘get’ her and thought she was a bit crazy with her ideas about sustainable agriculture. In 2012 a friend introduced her to Piedmont-based Lorenzo Corino, an expert in sustainable viticulture, and it was a match made in wine heaven!

Metodo Corino

Manuli first became interested in the organic movement during her university years in California (she was there on a golf scholarship) when she began thinking about developing an agricultural project in a gentle, earth-friendly, and sustainable fashion. Beginning in 2013, she and Corino began documenting his ‘Metodo Corino,’ the principles of which are captured in the book “The Essence of Wine and Natural Viticulture” (available from Amazon). Corino, a noted landscape architect, had been publishing scientific papers for years on the topic of sustainability in European vineyards, and met a kindred spirit in Manuli. He subsequently became her collaborator and mentor, assisting her with decision-making at Fattoria La Maliosa. In the opening chapter of his book, Corino notes, “we must ‘restore’ fertility to the soil.”

The Essence of Wine book and back label of La Maliosa wine
‘The Essence of Wine” by Lorenzo Corino; each bottle of La Malioa wine features the principles of Metodo Corino

In my two days with Antonella, I got a vivid picture of just how and why this should, and has to be done.

The main principles of Metodo Corino (more details here) are:

  1. The environment must be suitable for vitis vinifera (wine grapevines)
  2. The soil must hold biodiversity for both botanicals (flowers and grasses) and microorganisms (insects)
  3. Grape varieties must be ‘historical’ and ‘traditional’*
  4. Minimal intervention in vine management
  5. Grape quality is the top priority
  6. In the cellar, no invasive intervention or additives can be used
  7. The farm must be ‘artisan-sized’
  8. Carbon footprint must be measured as proof of environmental sustainability

*In the case of La Maliosa, indigenous red grapes grown include Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo, and Gray Cannonau(aka Grenache) and indigenous white grapes include Procanico and Ansonica (aka Inzolia). Says Antonella, these grapes “are more adapted to everything and are more expressive of the place.” She adds that they have the “taste of history.” Trebbiano Toscano is also grown, but is gradually being replaced with Procanico, which Antonella says was pulled out by Venetian-based vintners in the 1960s through 1980s.

Fattoria La Maliosa: Beyond Wine Tourism

Fattoria La Maliosa, on first glance, is not your typical tourist winery. It is, however, possibly the future of tourism, and therein lies its magic. It combines food, wine, olive oil, and ‘experiential’ accommodations, all in the place where everything is grown and made. Fattoria La Maliosa is reachable via a pothole-filled and bumpy dirt road, which on my visit challenged the undercarriage of my rental car! The torrential spring-summer rains in Tuscany had wreaked havoc on these roads. The main winery building is a restored yet still rustic 19th century farmhouse. Quite plain, but functional, this building serves as the current wine cellar on the ground floor (former animal stalls), and a tasting room and office (former living quarters with the original large open fireplace) on the top floor. Using her savvy business acumen, Antonelli secured European Union funds to help finance the construction of a brand-new cellar, which had just broken ground in early spring 2023, but was delayed due to the rains. Antonella also used EU funding to build a solar farm on one of her hillsides, providing clean energy for the winery.

Big Bench on la Maliosa propery
Enjoying the view from the Big Bench.

As we began our tour of the facilities and the vineyards, it became clear to me that La Maliosa is more than a collection of buildings and vineyards. It’s a movement, pushed by a woman with a purpose and a true vision of the future of wine tourism. On our first stop on a hilltop right outside the winery we encountered a giant orange park bench, which is part of the Big Bench Community Project (BBCP) BBCP is a non-profit started in Piedmont that builds giant benches that require individuals to climb up them to admire the beautiful view with childlike wonder. There are over 300 benches throughout the world, with more planned, and the organization has raised thousands to support local community needs. It’s a great place to take photos and to have your picture taken.

La Maliosa offers picnic baskets for visitors, for a fee, and has designated areas throughout the vineyards to enjoy the goodies, including wine, charcuterie, cheese, bread, and, of course, a bottle of wine. These beautiful and private areas are ideal for romantic getaways, and the proximity to Rome allows weekenders to take advantage. Antonella says that 90% of her customers for such experiences are millennials and GenZers, not surprisingly. The Rome proximity is key to much of the economy of Southern Tuscany, which is one of the least densely populated regions in all of Italy. Tourism is their lifeblood, and Antonella knows it and provides much needed and wanted services. 

One of Antonella’s goals with her winery is to employee local young women to train them in the hospitality field. She and her employees taste her wines as she’s making them, and help her make decisions during the winemaking process. Employees also conduct tastings with winery guests and help with marketing and food preparation.

Happy Wild Vineyards and Olive Groves

Near the Big Bench we entered some of the wildest looking vineyards I’ve ever seen in my life. There was so much growth of things other than grape vines that it was actually hard to spot the vines amidst them, much less the vineyard worker in the field below us, and it was a bit treacherous to step through this gorgeous underbrush. Wildflowers and grasses of many varieties were happily (yes, they looked happy!) growing alongside the vines. This was my first look at the biodiversity of La Maliosa vineyards, and I was captivated. Antonella explained her belief that vines are just one part of the biodiversity of a healthy vineyard, and that each and every form of plant life has a role to play in keeping the earth healthy.

Six view of La Maliosa vineyards
Don’t expect pristine, manicured vines at Fattoria La Maliosa, but do expect happy healthy vines.

In addition to a solar panel field, La Maliosa has a 15-hectare (about 37 acres) olive grove from which Antonella makes award-winning olive oils. In 2022, La Maliosa Aurinia Organic extra virgin olive oil was awarded an Extra Gold Medal for blended Tuscan cultivars by BiolNovello, an organization that hosts a competition dedicated to the best extra virgin organic olive oils from around the world. In June 2023 she was awarded top honors in the category of ‘Agricultural companies, frantoiers [crushers] and cooperativesfrom the National Oil Tourism Competition for her ‘picnic experience in StarsBox among the historic olive trees of Maremma.’

Unique Vineyard Accommodations 

StarsBox is another unique aspect of the La Maliosa experience. These are tiny cabins, or ‘nests,’ which are situated on hilltops on the vineyard providing stunning vistas during the day, and amazing star-gazing at night. They feature bedding for two people to sleep comfortably, and the tops of the tent-shaped structures have two panels that open up to the sky. La Maliosa has six StarsBox structures throughout the property, and they have proven to be quite popular, with most booked well in advance. The experience at a winery “has to be real” says Antonella, and tasting wine and other products of the land in nature, under the sun or the stars, provides that. While I have yet to experience a StarsBox, it’s definitely on my bucket list.

Two views of StarsBox on La Maliosa vineyard hilltop
StarsBox accommodations provide visitors with a unique vineyard experience.

In addition to running a winery, Antonella has opened a restaurant in a charming old building that she purchased in the village of Saturnia on the Piazza Vittorio Veneto. Called Saturnalia Wine Bar, the lovely place has delicious local cuisine and, of course, serves La Maliosa wines. We drank the 2021 UNI White Tuscany orange wine, which was recently awarded a Bronze medal at the 2023 Gaia Wine Challenge. The chef is a local woman, and one of the employees is a refugee from Ukraine. In fact, the building is currently housing eight refugees from Ukraine, who are residing in the apartments above the restaurant. Another of the refugees, Zorina Getman, is an accomplished watercolor artist who has been commissioned by Antonella to create artwork of various views around her winery and vineyards (see her artwork here.) Antonella’s husband Fabrizio, who did the branding for La Maliosa, has done two missions to Ukraine. The couple has thus far hosted 16 refugees. 

Three watercolor paintings of La Maliosa by Zorina German
Watercolor paintings of La Maliosa from Ukrainian artist Zorina Getman

The Challenges of 2023

Hand holding hail-damaged grape vine
Hail damage on vines

In March 2023, Southern Tuscany was hit with a hail storm that destroyed a significant portion of the crop. Two hail storms on May 11 and May 25 of this year nearly destroyed all La Maliosa vines for this vintage. “Hail never happens!” in this part of Southern Tuscany, says Antonella, who says she spent a couple of days on the couch being depressed over the damage the sudden storm caused. As a result of the storms, ‘There will be no La Malioso Rosso from this vintage,’ she said, and this is one of her most popular wines. Pictures cannot describe the damage that hail inflicted on the vines, however there was good news – the vines were recovering and there’s always next year. Such is the life of the vineyard owner. 

The wet conditions helped to point out the benefits of the healthy cover crops that La Maliosa has in place. Standing on the hay between the vines, which La Maliosa grows and harvests at significant expense, the vineyards were passable, whereas the areas where there was no hay and/or grassy cover crop were deep mud. The cover crops soak up the moisture in wet weather and hold in the moisture when the sun is blazing down, which it usually does in summers in Southern Tuscany.

The rains in Southern Tuscany in the first half of 2023 were torrential (as they were in Abruzzo and the Veneto), and well above normal. On the day I visited La Maliosa, Antonella said it was the first day in a month and a half when it did not rain. The rain not only created difficult conditions in the vineyards, but it also held up construction for 90 days on the new cellar. Antonella updated me in mid-July to say that the construction was back on track, and the last few weeks had been rain-free.

La Maliosa vines on the opposite side of the Fiora River, which is also a dividing line between clay soil on the side of the winery and volcanic soils on the other, were not affected by the hail, and those vines were growing according to plan. “Isn’t it beautiful,” Antonella said of one of her 2 hectare (about 5 acre) vineyards on the volcanic side of her property. “It’s full of complexity.” This complexity is achieved through a set process that requires patience. The initial step is planting the vines, and year one is all about revitalizing the soils. Nothing is done to the vineyard for the next two years, however this is when the biodiversity begins to happen, which is evident in the flowers, grasses and microorganisms visible amongst the vines. 

Tasting La Maliosa Wines

My visit to La Maliosa culminated with a wine tasting. The wines are all ‘natural,’ and they are award winning. The grapes are grown in sustainable, organic, and biodynamic conditions, however the biodynamic portion is slightly different than Demeter in that it’s ‘vegetal closed cycle agriculture,’ with zero animal products, such as cow horns. Hence, La Maliosa wines are truly vegan-friendly. Everything is bottled on site at the winery, and labels, which are applied by hand, are uniquely informational. They lay out the eight basic principles of the ‘Metodo Corino’ (see image above), thereby creating a dinner table conversation piece. The bottles weigh just 360 grams, the lowest possible weight for a usable wine bottle, which is a reduction by about half the carbon footprint of a standard 750ml bottle.

Four La Maliosa wines tasting during the summer of 2023 included the following:

2022 Saturnalia Biano IGT

This orange wine is a blend of Trebbiano Toscana and Procanico sees three weeks of skin contact, and ferments in stainless steel tanks. After fermentation the wine goes to big barrels for 6 months, then back to stainless steel for 90 days, and is then bottled. The wine pairs with pastas, cheeses, white meat, fish, and sautéed mushrooms. You can smell the vineyard in this wine, with mint, flowers, and green herbs flowing from the glass. This was delicious on the day I tasted it, I consider this the best orange wine I’ve ever tasted.

Note: During my visit to La Maliosa, Antonella learned that Vinepair had named La Maliosa ‘Saturnia’ Bianco 2020 one of the best orange wines for 2023

2019 Toscana Rosso IGT

This is a blend of Ciliegiolo, Sangiovese, and Grenache, grown in clay soil. It has notes of peppery spices and baked cherry, with integrated tannins (note that it takes a couple of years for this to happen).

2021 Toscano Rosso IGT

Made from 100% Ciliegiolo, which has to be picked at the right time to keep its acidity. The name means ‘little cherry’ in Italian, and the taste is close to Barbera, with notes of cherry tobacco. 

2019 Stellata IGT

This wine is 100% Cannonau (Grenache), and is spicy, with strong tannins. It has a lot of substance on the palate and pairs with lamb or beef.

I thoroughly enjoyed each and every taste of La Maliosa wines, and I feel inspired to delve further into sustainable and thoughtful wines. Select La Maliosa wines and olive oils are available in the US. Visit

Final Thoughts

In addition to all of the above, Antonella Minuli of Fattoria La Maliosa has set her sights on the future, in a way that benefits not just herself, but her employees, and Southern Tuscany in general. In addition to the new cellar under construction, projects in the work include the refurbishing of various old farm buildings on her property that have lain vacant for years (see photos below), which will allow more visitors to La Maliosa. 

I’d like to experience more of this beautiful property, as well as Southern Tuscany in general. It’s a gorgeous land, with dozens of picturesque hilltop villages, offering great restaurants, friendly people, ancient sites to explore, and loads of interesting history. Below are some more gorgeous vineyard shots from Fattoria La Maliosa.

Five images of La Maliosa buildings

Until next time,

Ciao & Grazie mille!