From Land to Sea: The Finer Things in Life - Winemaker and Surfer: Piergiorgio Castellani

Piergiorgio Castellani, Winemaker, Surfer, Italian culture, Italian heritage, Italian american, Italian news, Italian traditions

Piergiorgio Castellani


Piergiorgio is not your average Gio. Nor is his life. Expert winemaker, surfer, and actor. Not the usual list of job titles seen on one’s resume  But that is what makes Piergiorgio Castellani’s life so gloriously unique.


Born in Montecalvoli, a town in the province of Pisa, Piergiorgio has lived his life on his own terms, and has orchestrated it based on the principles of  hard work,  passion, and a continual strive for excellence. Whether it to be with his business and label, or the sport he so loves, this elegant man with the looks of a cinematic star, refuses the ordinary; he refuses settling for mediocre.   


Indeed, Piergiorgio is not just any winemaker. Instead,  he, along with his uncle and father, is one of Italy’s foremost producers of wine, one that has exported its own Estate wines from Tuscany since 1903.  His pursuit of excellence is not just found with his wine but also with his surfing.  Although surfing as a sport is relatively new in Italy, it has grown in popularity over the years especially with the success of world class superstars such as Leonardo Fioravanti.  Surfing since he was  seventeen, Piergiorgio plays an important role in Italy’s surfing community.  


Recently,  both his love for work and surfing was featured in the film, Bella Vita. Directed by Jason Baffa, the film chronicles surfer Chris Del Moro’s journey back to his Italian roots while featuring a cast of world-renowned surfers, artists and craftsmen.


The film highlights how wine and surf have played an integral part in Castellani’s life.

While surf may be more a passion than mere hobby and his winemaking indeed his livelihood, both in turn, have allowed him to connect on a deep level with land and water. It is there on his Tuscan vineyard where he can dig deep into the soil and sample the grapes right from the vine; while his other passion, instead, enables him to glide upon the water’s crests.


Yet, no matter how successful he becomes in his business or how great a surfer he may be, he remains humble and patient; realizing that ultimately he is at the mercy of nature and her fickle moods and at times, harsh will.  Just as the art of vinification is often a waiting game for that moment when the grapes are at the correct acidity and sweetness, so is surfing where the surfer is in the lull awaiting for that beautiful wave. It is perhaps that perfect moment in what Piergiorgio seeks, when then and only then, can the surfboard and the rider become akin to the water, in the same manner a winemaker connects with his fruits and land.    


When Piergiorgio is not on his vast Tuscan paradise,  overseeing the harvest, fermentation and aging process, he often seen sporting his wetsuit along the Mediterranean coast . Rain or shine, day or night, he is out there in search of his personal best, that spiritual high, one that only nature can grant him. There, sometime by himself or in the company of friends, if the weather conditions permit, and the swells of the waves have peaked, he heads to the shore.  He swims out into the water, as if on a mission, despite curious onlookers who perhaps do not comprehend why this Tuscan man does not bask in the sun like everyone else.  But Piergiorgio does not do what everyone else does- and it is that-that road and that wave less travelled-which truly has made all the difference.  

 Piergiorgio with Bella Vita's director, Jason Baffa. Photo Credit:  Marcello Rugai 

 Piergiorgio with Bella Vita's director, Jason Baffa. Photo Credit:  Marcello Rugai 


Gaya Lynn: Welcome to L’Italo-americano. It is such a pleasure having you here. Tell me a little about yourself.


PC:  I was born in Montecalvoli...a place along the banks of the Arno where my family has its roots and has lived for many generations, working in the sectors of agriculture and the production of wine. I had the great fortune to be raised in a family where the appreciation of culture was important. After studying humanities and cultural anthropology in college, I then collaborated with the amazing American graphic artist, Keith Haring, with whom in 1990, we created the murals of Pisa referred to as "tuttomondo."


Afterwards,  I worked for five years in theater as an actor, working along side the great master, Jerzy Grotowsky, and traveled around the world. At twenty seven, I decided to put this “bag” of experiences aside and then went back towards the production of wine, which in turn took me back to my origins and to the land where I was born and raised. Today, I work closely with my father and my uncle and live in the middle of a vineyard along with Chiara, my wife, and my two children, Giacomo and Elena who are considering studying abroad, perhaps in the states. <I want> to give them the opportunity to choose..if they want  to carry on the family tradition or choose a different path. The daily work amongst family can be sometimes challenging, and tiring, but it always exhilarating.


GL:  What is your favorite wine? If a person is not an expert in wine, but wants to buy a good wine, what advice would you give?


PC: I love the Sassicaia, the famous Super Tuscan born on the Tuscan coast, very close to where I live and produce my wines ... A wine that I admire not only for its intrinsic qualities but also for its history and the humility of the wonderful men who create it. When approaching wine,  you should go with some of  the great classics of the old world. (Chianti, Barolo, Brunello, Amar one, Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Champagne, Rioja, etc) wines that have been in production for hundreds of years and where many mistakes have already been made and surpassed.  They may be the simplest wines to drink...but are the ones that help develop a more mature sense of taste and palate for fine cooking... giving a true moment of pleasure....


GL  Wonderful. If a wine originates in the Tuscan region, would it have a different taste than ones that come from let’s say Sicilia.


PC: Italy has an incredible and unique landscape. It is a volcanic peninsula in the center of the Mediterranean.... In Italy, we grow thousands of different types of grapes, the largest variety on a world scale...historically, they are chosen for their adaptation to a specific territory. Il Sangiovese for instance,  is grown all over the peninsula, but only in Tuscany is it capable of producing great wines at the levels of Chianti Classico, il Burnello, il Nobile...wines that are able to age while improving with time; and this only is thanks to an unique combination of climate, soil and tradition by which each region expresses in its own unique way.

GL: What kind of grapes do you use for your wine and  what is the ideal climate for growing grapes?  In Italy, there are heat waves and intense rains and cold at times,  wine is sensitive to the elements.

PC: In our “vigneti” we grow mostly Sangiovese, considered one of the most difficult grapes to grow;  by creating favorable conditions for these types of grapes, it then helps render great wines. Unfortunately, we cannot determine the climatic weather conditions, but we can however make the vineyard more resistant  and adaptable as possible by creating a healthy and balanced environment. Our methods and ways of growing our wines is done without the use of harsh chemicals or intrusive methods such as artificial irrigation and chemical fertilization ... for years, we opted for this biological method in our family vineyards.


GL: Having been around for so many generations, has the work of your family (viticultori) and methods used to cultivate the grapes changed dramatically?


PC: The evolution of modern communication and means of transportation has enabled us to carry our wines all over the world.  In terms of agriculture, however, we maintain old fashioned methods  while trying to instill a combination of know-how and science; knowledge and insight. The wise wine maker is in close contact with his vineyard and if possible, lives on the grounds.. a winemaker is someone who feels responsible for his family and drinks his wines....


GL: Switching gears a little bit, I want to talk about the film you were in, BellaVita. Tell me about your experience.  


PC: I spent memorable moments with exceptional people. The film’s director,  Jason Baffa and surfer Chris Del Moro arrived in Italy with a dream and little money. I offered a roof, good food and of course,  an ever-present glass of wine .. This spirit of adventure instilled within many people during the making of the film helped turn a dream into reality. It's difficult to create a list of all those who gave a hand but surely we can say that Bella Vita is the fruit of the labors and collaborations of many amazing people...The Italian hospitality was one of the principle forces that helped to create this project along with the talents of Jason and the big heart of Chris.


GL: Surf has increasingly grown more popular in Italy, but how did you yourself discover this sport when it was relatively unknown as little as twenty years ago.


PC: I started to surf due to a curiosity about trying to pursue something unique in our culture.  Then, I took a break from the sport in order to pursue other opportunities...when I returned... I re-established contact with the has been a passion that I share with my fifteen year old son.

I think surfing has been beneficial in my life.. great for the heart, body, and the mind. Thanks to sheer beauty with its direct link with nature, it helped better my relationships with others, cultivate extraordinary friendships, bring more balance in my life and joy in my emotional well being.

GL: In order to make good wine, one would imagine it requires a great deal of patience, an acute  sense of smell and taste... For surfing, what characteristics are needed to help you as a surfer.


PC: Because there doesn’t exist a teacher who teaches surfing, one needs a lot of determination and a lot of patience. I did incredible things in order to back into the water and catch a wave.

Once, I surfed at night because during the day I had to work.  I was once seriously injured and the first thing I did, once healed, was get right back into the water with a board.

I observed those surfers who are better than me. and I tried to imitate them with dedication. I traveled distances where I could find good waves, but this never deterred  me to-I never gave up  even the surfing conditions were sometimes awful.  Consistency, patience are needed...along with a good dose of madness that it is essential to accomplish something beyond one’s limits ... the same is needed in order  to make good  wine.  Plus, I never forget my motto: "life begins at the end of your comfort zone."


GL: Quite a life you have had. I am sure you are at this moment either at your vineyard or in the water, so with that, I thank you.


PC: I would like to thank you for this interview and take this opportunity to thank the one who contends with my humor and my moodiness in those weeks without wife, Chiara.


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After living in Italy for several years, Gaya teaches while spending time with her little girls.

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