Swedish Mindset Meets Italian History at This Winery in Tuscany

MonteRosola revives ancient Italian winemaking with modern sustainability.

Ewa and Bengt
Ewa and Bengt Thomaeus, owners of MonteRosola, show off one of their wines.

Elyse Glickman

Bengt Thomaeus, an engineer and investment company (Exoro Capital) founder from Stockholm, originally intended to buy a second vacation home in Volterra, Tuscany, back in 2013. However, in his discourse on a tour of Monterosola Winery—now one of Tuscany’s most talked about contemporary wineries—you can envision what went through his analytical mind when his thoughts shifted to what he and his family could do to help revive the area’s ancient winemaking roots through organic farming methods and the latest sustainable technology. 

And why open a winery at this stage of life when your company already has an impressive portfolio? “We don’t play golf,” Thomaeus says with a wry smile. Five minutes into his tour, it’s obvious he’s far more interested in the history and geology of Volterra, a scenic area nestled between more well-known wine production areas such as Siena, Chianti, and coastal Bolgheri.

“When we bought this place in 2013, it was a small farm with 3.5 hectares of olive trees and 1.8 hectares of [grape] vines,” Thomaeus explains. “It began as a watchtower for a castle dating back to the 1480s, and it was discovered that wine cultivation in the area dates back 3,000 years to the Etruscans, who first brought vines and olive trees to the region. However, the end of the 'masseria' (farm labor) system in 1955 stopped wine production. Old farmhouses were abandoned and olive trees and grapevines were cut down to make way for durum wheat production for pasta."

Although a German couple, Gottfried E. Schmitt and Maria del Carmen Vieytes, purchased the estate in 1999 and restored the historic buildings, Thomaeus and wife Ewa were clearly looking beyond the small plot on which the old watchtower and farmhouse sat. Thanks to the support of local officials who helped them accelerate the process of acreage acquisition and conversion of the land back to viticulture farming, Monterosola (which translates to “hill of poppies”) was extended to 25 hectares. Their three adult children, who are also trained sommeliers, are committed to the long-term project, as well.

“Everything came together in three years, when normally it takes eight years to get permission,” Thomaeus continues. “The mayor at the time liked our proposal of bringing viticulture back to Volterra, especially as ground alabaster and salt bring so much to the soils while layers of clay keep in moisture year-round. The limestone, fossils, stones and seashells also found in the soils (technically known as ‘Franco Argilloso ricco di scheletro’ or ‘sassolini’) are important, as they give our wines depth and minerality, resulting in crisp, smooth modern wines.”

MonteRosola complex
MonteRosola's building pairs Tuscan features with Scandinavian simplicity.

Elyse Glickman

While Thomaeus has cultivated a solid working knowledge of what makes Volterra ripe for a comeback in the wine world, he brought in respected oenologist Alberto Antonini in 2009, who makes many of the big decisions regarding aging time in oak and blending in the cellar, and viticulturalist Stefano Dini, who makes the major decisions in the vineyard.

Architect Paolo Prati was brought in to create a state-of-the-art winery, event space, and visitors' center reflecting both Italian and Swedish sensibilities. The heart of his design is a subterranean structure within the complex which is effectively a building—the cantina or cellar—encased inside another. The interior of the five-story structure is visually impressive, with double floors and ceilings, a surrounding hallway, and some cute touches such as repurposed cork used in imaginative ways. Its overall design is functional, as it serves as a system of self-circulating air, regulating the temperature around the cantina walls.

“Keeping the optimum temperature involves science, and we use geothermal energy with heat pumps that control both the cooling and heating of the property,” says Thomaeus, noting that geothermal energy powers a lot of things in Sweden. “It’s fully integrated and sustainable, as it maximizes our use of natural energy sources throughout the year. For example, any residual heat from the cooling systems is automatically deposited into a pool which eliminates the need for noisy fans. We’ve also got a rainwater harvesting system, where rain is collected in cisterns and passed through a purification plant to make it usable within the cantina. We take pride that Monterosola uses 70% less energy than other traditional cantinas in the region.”

Other aspects of winemaking parallel the complex’s design—where sleek Swedish minimalism meets a Tuscan Renaissance sensibility. While the best grapes are hand-selected during harvest and no chemicals are involved in the farming (Thomaeus notes that, “birds nest in our vineyards, which controls the insect population”), the harvest then undergoes some cutting-edge cellar processes such as dry ice cold maceration, primary fermentation in oak barrels, and aging in graceful cement and steel “tulip” tanks, which bring out complex notes in the whites, including the top-scoring Cassero (with the Vermentino varietal) and Primo Passo (with the Grechetto, Manzoni, and Viognier varietals).

MonteRosola's tasting room
MonteRosola's tasting room unites modern and historic sensibilities.

Elyse Glickman

The "Tasting Hall," where one can enjoy lush reds such as the Mastio, Crescendo, and Corpo Notte (all refined Sangiovese blends) with fresh salads, charcuterie, and cheese, shows you just how modern repurposed and ethically sourced materials can look, feel, and taste. While the rolling seats, locally sourced oak wood tables, and other elements are sourced from the Tuscan country side, the chic design and functionality are unmistakably Swedish at heart. The same can be said for the enoteca, which looks like a cozy old world Swedish cabin, but sells several wines, olive oil, other handcrafted items such as olive oil soap in luscious aromas. (And until you can visit, Monterosola's wines and olive oil can be purchased at their site and shipped to the U.S., according to Ewa Thomaeus).

“Even with the pandemic slowing down the opening of our event and visitor facilities, we had a very good harvest in 2021 with 100 tons of grapes, which yields 70,000 bottles,” affirms Thomaeus. “We grow our reds on 20 of the hectares, while we dedicate five to white, grown on the north slope. Four or five years from now, I see all of our land in full production, producing 130,000 to 140,000 bottles. While we will still be a medium-sized winery, we’re one of only five wineries operating around Volterra, and the only one on this side of the hill. We take pride in the fact that we’re reintroducing the world to ‘Vol-terroir,’ and in ways we think the Etruscans would approve.”