Last Updated on September 16, 2021 by Maggie McKneely
Solaria is one Tuscan winery that isn’t afraid to buck tradition, and it’s one you don’t want to miss.
Solaria: The Best All-Female Tuscan Winery
Wine and women – a pairing as obviously meant to be as Lucy and Ethel, buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy, Sherlock Holmes and his Watson. A recent study from Rutgers University even suggests that women are capable of tasting the subtle complexities of varying vintages far better than their male counterparts.
Yet, the winemaking industry has long been and continues to be dominated by men. Though recent years have seen a steady increase in female winemakers, some of whom are at the helm of several the world’s most renowned wineries, they remain the minority.
“In Italy, men make wine. But here, there are no men.” It’s a fact about one little-known Tuscan winery that Arianna Matteuci is proud of, and rightly so. For although it’s more common in 2018 to see women in the wine industry, the women at Solaria Winery in Montalcino have been making wine for decades, long before the tide began to shift in their favor.
Since 1989, Arianna’s family has been widening the path for women in the wine industry in a region steeped in tradition. And although it may not be on most tourists’ radars, a visit here offers a window into a truly unique Tuscan winery.
The Search for a Tuscan Winery
Wine tasting in Tuscany is a must-do excursion. And finding a Tuscan winery to visit isn’t anything like searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack – it’s more like looking for the hay itself. Wineries are everywhere in Tuscany. There are the several-hundred-year-old estates that literally litter the landscape; there’s a smaller amount of large, more industrial complexes that ship thousands of bottles all over the world. And on the land not already taken up by those two, the seemingly every owner of each little bed and breakfast, or “agritourismo,” has planted a few grapevines because, well, why not? This is Italy, after all.
What is a far more difficult task is finding a winery that’s unique. Tradition runs deep in Italy, and most Tuscan wineries share the same traditions. You’ll find 90% of the same varietals at all of them (Chianti, Brunello, Rosso, etc.), depending on what wine region of Tuscany you’re in. Many of them offer homemade meats and breads and freshly pressed olive oil in addition to the wine. And they’re all beautiful. And while there’s nothing wrong with the generic Tuscan winery (absolutely NOTHING wrong, to be clear!), it’s notable when you stumble across a winery doing something different and non-traditional.
And in the male-dominated Italian wine industry, the ladies at Solaria Winery in Montalcino are turning tradition on its head.
My mom and I had added Solaria to our itinerary on the recommendation of an Italian chef friend of ours. All we knew about it was that it was a Tuscan winery run by a mother-daughter team. As a trailblazing, independent mother-daughter duo ourselves, that one fact alone made it a non-negotiable part of our Tuscany itinerary.
Unfortunately, early March in Tuscany can be a soggy affair. For the entire week that my mom and I spent wandering around the green hills of Italy’s famed wine region, water continuously poured from the sky. The wintering stubs of grapevines that blanket the slopes were soaked black from the rainwater. Even the always-proud Cypress trees lining driveways and circling villas seemed weary of the downpour. But we remained determined to enjoy our trip, despite the unlucky weather. Our reward was the unquenchable ray of sunshine we found at Solaria.
The unassuming cluster of sandy stone buildings is located just off of the main road that goes up to the fortress at Montalcino. When we arrived, waterlogged from wandering around the medieval village, a girl about my age cheerfully greeted us with two umbrellas already open. This was Arianna, who would be our cheerful tour guide and resident wine expert.
From the outside, the property looks just like any other Tuscan farm built a couple of centuries ago – sandy stone exteriors, terracotta shingles, signs of age and use. But inside the first stop on our tour, the barrel room, was a testament to what a little (i.e. a lot) of renovation can do. Beneath vaulted arches, rows of French oak barrels fill the room. Arianna explained that because “women prefer French tastes, we only use French oak.”
I like to consider myself decently knowledgable about wine, at least for my age. I do work at a winery, after all. But it didn’t take long for Arianna to put my wine expertise to shame. At only 20 years old, Arianna’s knowledge of winemaking far surpasses that of many of her male peers. She’s currently studying to be a sommelier, which was obvious as she intricately explained the chemistry behind winemaking in terms that I struggle with even as a native English-speaker. But Arianna is only the latest in a line of winemakers. After all, Solaria was founded by her mom, Patrizia Cencioni.
A Female Wine-Trailblazer
Patrizia Cencioni is a true trailblazer in the wine world. Solaria is located in Montalcino, one of Tuscany’s most well-known wine regions. It’s the birthplace of the renowned Brunello di Montalcino, a variation of the Sangiovese grape that has, since it’s official recognition in 1980, become one of Tuscany’s most famous and expensive wines. And it just so happens that Patrizia’s Grandpa Giuseppe Cencioni was one of the winemakers responsible for creating the Brunello.
But instead of inheriting the family estate, Patrizia made the choice to strike out on her own and start from scratch. In 1989, in tradition-bound Italy, this was an incredibly brazen move. She bought the 123-acre Solaria estate, along with it’s crumbling buildings, and planted fresh vines that year. In the past 29 years, she has transformed it into a Montalcino gem.
“My mom makes the wine, and my sisters and I help to run the rest of the business.” Inside of one of the humble backyard warehouses, Patrizia was testing the latest vintage fermenting in one of the large stainless steel tanks housed there. Arianna explained that on any given day, you could find Patrizia riding the tractor or testing the grapes or doing the paperwork, always ensuring that every aspect of the winery is operating how she wants it to. She’s the head winemaker, vineyard manager, office administrator, and business owner. Nothing happens at Solaria without Patrizia’s input. And each of her three daughters play their own roles too.
According to Arianna, “my dad is the only one who doesn’t work with the winery. The key to a good relationship is to keep work and pleasure separate, so every morning he leaves and goes to work, and my mom stays here. It seems to have worked well for them so far!”
Solaria has grown considerably in its relatively short history, and ships thousands of cases of wine all over the world every year. But a visit to the winery is an intimate affair oozing with hospitality from the Matteuci family. There’s no fancy tasting room here; Arianna gave us our wine tasting right in the family’s dining room.
What I really appreciated about Solaria, and Patrizia Cencioni, is that she doesn’t market the winery as being female-run. That’s not the “hook,” so to speak, to get new customers in a highly saturated field. Patrizia wants people to buy her wine because it’s a quality product, not because of her gender. I think it has become a little too common to wave the gender flag, and but you won’t find that being done at Solaria.
Their wine alone is truly worth the visit. The usually heavy and not-so-approachable Brunello was silky smooth and immediately drinkable under Patrizia Cencioni’s expertise. That’s a feat many winemakers, regardless of gender, have not mastered.
Her Grandpa Giuseppe, I’m sure, would be proud.
To visit Solaria, reservations must be made ahead of time through their website as all tastings and tours are private. This is one Tuscan winery you don’t want to miss.
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You write very beautifully, Maggie! I’m not crazy about wine – red gets me inebriated so I prefer white or rose – but this would be something to visit for the break in tradition…and the scenery, landscape and food, of course. Lol.
Thank you, Kemi! 🙂 But yes, with the food and beautiful landscape, Tuscany has something for everyone!
I have been to Tuscany once, but I feel it wasn’t a truly authentic Tuscan trip, because we only hit the towns and didn’t experience the “agrotourism” side of it. But we did tried wine everywhere, and though I’m not much of a connoisseur yet, this was the trip for me that triggered my appreciation for wine:) I’m still in search for a trip that will trigger my appreciation for beer though:)) If you have tips, let me know:))
I hope to organize a trip soon to Tuscany again, and also do it properly: stay in a villa, on a countryside. This one will be on my radar, I’m quite a feminist myself, in the sense that I support strong independent woman, and this wine business, so well ran by a woman, is something to be proud of.
Haha I’m with you on the beer!! Maybe a trip to Germany?! But Tuscany is definitely a place worth visiting multiple times, there’s so much to see!
What a comprehensive write up! I love Italy and I love wineries. Its not easy to find helpful info in some posts on this topic, but you write in a way that teaches you what you need to know. Definitely makes me want to return here and visit this winery based on your experience and what you learned. Thanks!
Despite not being a big wine drinker myself, I did thoroughly enjoy this post! Unique and interesting, and I like your writing style!
Thank you, Rachel! 🙂
Thank you! Great post. We are going to Italy this summer and looking to visit a few wineries. Definitely looking to see if Solaria has availability while we are there.
(Great writing style, by the way. I’m really impressed and look forward to reading more from you.)
Enjoy your trip to Italy!! Definitely stop by Solaria if you can. And thank you so much! 🙂
This sounds like such a charming winery. We didn’t get a chance to visit any wineries when we were in Italy but would love to visit this one the next time I’m there.
What a fascinating woman! It definitely takes guts to make your own path. The photos make me want to go back to Tuscany even if it’s for the food more so than the wine 🙂
I am a big fan of wine and enjoy visiting wineries.Our recent trip to New Zealand was spent hunting down unique and boutique vineyards as well. Good on you for finding one in the region that is making waves in the industry. If we ever make it to Tuscany again we will be sure to check Solaria out.
Loved your post, it reminded me of our road trip thru Tuscany last year! We had so much good, local wine with every amazing meal that I could get used to living like this, lol!
Amazing. This is super interesting. I’m Italian and I’ve be to Tuscany many times but I’ve never heard of this place. I love to find out about hidden gems like this one. I’ll definitely go check it out.
What a great find! I agree with you that it’s fun to seek out unique places that stand out different from other places! Thank you for introducing me to this winery! I’ll look for wines available from them until I can visit Tuscany! Cheers ????
I love that they’ve got an all female team! Sounds like they have the best jobs in the world! I’ve never been to Tuscany but I absolutely love Italy and Italian wine so it’s high up on my list of places to go. Will have to check this place out when I do.
Superinteresting, seriously!!! Being a total Tuscany freak with a bottle of Brunello in the kitchen, I could not skip this post 🙂 And by the way, fair point – March can really be pretty chilly and wet 😀
I live half the year in Italy, and have never heard of an all female winery! Tuscany is the perfect place for it however, good wine too!
That winery looks amazing, super jealous! Great post 🙂
I enjoyed reading this article a lot. I think it is a very strong point that they want people to buy their wine for its quality and not becasue of the gender of the winemakers. I do think that women have a long way to go in this industry but it will just be a matter of time. You’ve made me curious now to taste these wines. Will definitely put it on my list for our next visit to Italy, thanks!
Wow! This looks like a very intimate experience, and the setting is certainly amazing. I loved that you got so up close and personal.
I’m Italian, I’m a woman… and I don’t drink wine! But I have a sister who loves wine tasting experiences and you have just given me a great idea for a girls getaway! I love that this place is so women-oriented and Patrizia Cencioni sounds like Wonder Woman!
Are buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy really a thing? I’m pretty open minded but I can’t imagine it! We bloody love wine and it’s really nice when there is a story behind the vineyard! Sounds like a great trip 🙂
In the American South, biscuits and gravy are a staple breakfast food!! Haha though I know it’s pretty weird to the rest of the world, even other Americans
Going to Italy this summer. We have not planned any trips to vineyards, maybe we should?
You absolutely should!! Italian wineries are so much fun to visit. Plus..it’s Italy!
Tuscany has been on my list since the movie Under the Tuscan Sun! I’ve never heard of Solaria. After reading this post, I’m intrigued. All female winemakers? That’s very inspiring. Thanks for sharing.
A girls trip to a Tuscan winery sounds perfect! I need to book my trip soon – thanks for the info!
I’ve been to Tuscany before but I was pregnant at that time so a visit to a winery is not a good idea. THis sounds lovely though. I really hope we can visit again.
I’ve always been a little overwhelmed when it comes to planning a trip to Tuscany with, as you mentioned, SO many wineries to choose from. I really appreciate you highlighting one that’s offering something unique. I love supporting women businesses and am definitely noting this for when we get back to Italy!
this is the first time i heard about the place Tuscany and it already caught my attention although im not into wine or liquor but it sounds like a good place to visit and know more about winery.
All-female winery?? Say no more!! Looks amaaazing.
Love discovering boutique wineries through the eyes and palates of others. Solaria sounds incredible and a delicious Montalcino. Also totally respect the heritage of the brand and the fact that being an all female company is NOT the selling point, the quality of wine is. What a treat to have been able to tour there, even on a soggy day.
I love it when I hear “all female…” for anything haha always brings to mind an imagery of strong women like the Amazons in Wonder Woman. I’m not a big wine person but Solaria sounds fabulous!
I’ve never been to Italy, and have only experienced wineries close by in Long Island or slightly further in Vermont – but I absolutely love how this one is supporting women in business. Wine is great, so that atop of supporting women could definitely convince me to visit – not that it’d be hard to forgive me.
Great article! Went to Tuscany many times but never heard of Solaria! Maybe a palce to check out next time, thanks for sharing!
Tuscany is so breathtaking, so I can only imagine what a rich glass of red would add to the situation. I’d never heard of Solaria before now so thank you for adding it to my hit list!
Patrizia sounds like an amazing woman. Love that you took the opportunityto tell us about this female-run winery, as I’ve often found female producers to make really elegant nuanced wines. Will definitely check Solaria out.
It’s truly inspirational to hear the though Solaria is rocking the wine industry, they’re focusing on the quality of their product and not their status as women. I’m also a fan of vineyards and the sheer homeliness of this place makes me want to visit. I really enjoyed reading this and I think you have a natural and fluid writing style. Thanks for posting.
I’ve never noticed it before but the wine industry is totally dominated by men, wow! Very impressive that Arianna’s family has been widening the path for women for over 20 years. Looks like the sky clears for you while touring the winery, how nice! Your photos are stunning.
I too was surprised that I had not stopped to think about how male-dominated the industry is. How great to stumble across this place. I really hope mum is passing on her techniques to the daughters . Must save this for our next trip to Italy.
Wow! I’ve been looking for a winery and you just sold me this one, probably will visit it next year. I love it’s run by women but focus on their quality product, way to go! Also, love your writing and the knowledge you have about what you write!
Beautiful post on such a unique type of winery! I love that it not only combines tradition but with the expertise of woman winemakers. I would love to visit this winery one day! 🙂
This is a great write up! It’s too bad it was rainy when you visited but it sounds like a great experience. Saving this for any future trips to Tuscany as I would love to do a road trip there.
What a wonderful find in Tuscany! I would looove to visit the area and will definitely put this on my list! It’s so nice to learn about women-run wineries because it’s true that wine-making is dominated by men still!
Hi. We are planning a trip to Tuscany in 2022 and your report from the trip to Tuscany will allow us to better plan your trip and explore this paradise and the land that is Tuscany 🙂 Thank you 👍
What an awesome, fun and tasty place to visit! I love that you and your mum go on so many cool adventures, and this does sound like the perfect winery for you to explore together!
It’s also very cool that they market themselves as a winery, rather than as a girly winery…although I have to admit, that only makes me want to visit them more!
Most importantly did you have a favourite wine when you visited?