Legendary Locals: Part 2

“Bill Joel, Billy Joel was one of our most surprising visitors. He really enjoyed our wines,” exclaims Marchese Francesco Mazzei, of the renowned Mazzei winemaking family. From dining with A-list guests to enjoying long bike rides in the Tuscan countryside, Francesco is a man most at home at his family’s estate, Castello di Fonterutoli, set in the beautiful Chianti region of Tuscany.

To celebrate the launch of our new Chairman’s Collection journeys, where guests get to meet legendary locals around the world, including Francesco, we sent Luxury Gold’s content producer, Rachel Gee, to Tuscany to find out more about the Marchese himself, his beautiful home and the Mazzei wine dynasty.

As I step through the elegant iron gates to Marchese Francesco’s fairy tale Tuscan villa, I am greeted by three loyal companions. Francesco soon joins us, sweeping the smallest, Brio, up into his arms.

Francesco Mazzei at home with two of his dogs.

“We have quite a few dogs on the property, six in total. Five big ones and this little one, Brio – he’s the boss,” he tells me.

Dressed in a blazer and tailored trousers, Francesco is the image of Italian chic and his eloquence and modesty only add to his charms. Despite the fact he descends from the famous Mazzei family and owns the second oldest winery in Italy, he remains humble and keen to show me his estate, something he also shares with Chairman’s Collection guests.

“My family has owned Castello di Fonterutoli since 1435, so for 25 generations. We’ve been living here forever, it’s our paradise,” he explains, and I can understand why.

Fonterutoli village.

We begin in the picturesque village, situated next to the Castello.  Walking down its cobbled paths, we are not only presented with beautiful rustic buildings, decorated by rose pink flowers, but kind conversations with the local villagers. And everywhere we go Francesco is met with a wave, embrace and jovial banter.

“As a young boy, I used to play hide and seek with the local children. We’d hide over here,” he says pointing at a woodland area near his house.

He directs me to his car to drive down the country road to the winery itself. Noticing the impressive road bike attached to the back, our videographer – also a keen cyclist – gets into an in-depth conversation about biking. It’s this kind of approachable nature that makes the Marchese such a hit with our guests. They love talking to him about a range of topics.

“I’ve been playing football all my life, but for the last 10 years I’ve really got into bicycles – road bikes and mountain biking. The hills around here are perfect for it.”

We drive a short distance surrounded by these glorious landscapes, passing through Francesco’s lush vineyards to the winery. I am led down to the impressive cellars, a vast space taken up by thousands of barrels, all decorated with the Mazzei family’s official stamp.

Francesco Mazzei inside his family’s winery.

Having already told me who his most surprising guest was – Billy Joel – I am keen to know who else he’d love to bring here.

“If I could bring anyone here, past or present, it would have to be Thomas Jefferson. He was a real wine connoisseur”.

Jefferson also happened to be a close friend of Francesco’s ancestor, Filippo Mazzei, and was a Founding Father of the United States, contributing to the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Filippo is credited for being the inspiration behind one of its famous quotes: “All men are by nature equally free and independent. Such equality is necessary in order to create a free government,” something later acknowledged by President John F Kennedy in his book, “A Nation of Immigrants”.

After a fascinating afternoon talking about sports, philosophy, history and of course wine, I leave the estate in a jovial mood, having refueled with pasta and a glass of red wine from the family’s osteria. This quaint restaurant, surrounded by the rolling Tuscan countryside, is where Chairman’s Collection guests enjoy a delicious, rustic, meal during their own trip to Castello di Fonterutoli.

Meet Marchese Francesco Mazzei for yourself on select departures on our Ultimate Italy and La Serenissima trips.