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For the Pruneti brothers the olive tree represents the soul of Tuscany, and they create oils dedicated to the rich beauty of their homeland.
When we visited Frantoio Pruneti at the peak of the harvest season, their oil production was in full swing. Local growers arrived one after the other, their trucks filled with olives, as other trucks departed loaded with steel containers filled with freshly extracted oil. The mill ran non-stop, from morning until long after dark. In fact, during the harvest time, the mill often runs 24/7 as the mill equipment performs better without breaks. Brothers Paolo and Gionni Pruneti often find themselves working 24 hours a day as well, though producing fresh oils at harvest time always brings a big smile to their faces. Harvest means more to them than having reached the culmination of a year’s work. Their pride and the passion from which they speak comes from creating a product from the land that they love.
Originally civilized by the Etruscans, the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany contains many traces of both Etruscan and Roman activity in wine production. Although the Gran Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici officially defined the Chianti wine-growing region in the 17th century, documents with the name Chianti may date as far back as 1398. At the heart of Chianti Classico sits Greve in Chianti, where Frantoio Pruneti tend their olive groves. These hills were fought over for centuries between the cities of Florence and Siena, having held an historically strategic position at the crossroads of three important pilgrimage roads. As the legend goes, the two rival cities decided to hold a race between two knights on horseback to settle their age-old conflict. Each knight would ride from their respective city at dawn, and the place where they met would determine the border between their two territories. In this era dawn was marked by the call of a rooster, and while the Sienese white rooster was well-fed for the occasion, the Florentine’s kept their black rooster without food for days before the race. The hungry black rooster crowed long before dawn, so the knight from Florence nearly reached the walls of Siena before meeting the opposing rider. Today the Chianti Classico DOP (protected denomination of origin) represents their region with the symbol of the Black Rooster on a pink seal.
In 1975, only one year after the Pruneti brothers’ father, Gilberto Pruneti, became a member of the Chianti Classico Consortium for wine production, the Consorzio Olio DOP Chianti Classico was founded for olive oil production. The Prunetis still carry their own DOP wine label, yet in this region with a long history of wine production, their oldest grape vines date only to the 1990s. Their olive trees, however, date to the mid-1800s, with some much older, of unknown age. For more than 160 years this land which they worked nurtured the Pruneti family, giving them their livelihood. In turn, Frantoio Pruneti makes products that respect the land, ultimately sharing the essence of the soil, and giving voice to the sacrifices and passion of those who cultivate it. Perhaps inspired by the black rooster, the Prunetis have also taken a proactive role in spreading their love of Tuscany and the oils that represent the taste of their land. In 2010 they opened their “Salone dell’Olio”, a special tasting room above their mill that celebrates their favorite things: the pleasure of eating and the peace that you can find among their hills. Here they invite visitors to taste different oil varieties and food pairings with the hope that their guests will learn to love the oils as they do.
For the Pruneti brothers the olive tree represents the soul of the Tuscan land. While their location in Italy’s famed Chianti region makes grape vines the expected agricultural product, olive oil is their principle production. In addition to wine, they also produce saffron and harvest the iris flower for perfumes. Each of these different crops add meaning to the work. Just as the Moraiolo olive trees and Sangiovese vines belong to this land, so does the Crocus flower, from which the iris bulbs and saffron stigma are collected. For much of the last century, all the Pruneti crops grew intermingled among the olive groves, sharing space and air and soil. The iris in particular loves life on the fringes, preferring the rocky edges of the groves in places where boots will not tread. Here they grow and flourish and share their beauty for all to see, for this is a land rich in history, art, and culture, with soil fought over for many generations and centuries beyond, back to ancient times. Frantoio Pruneti takes a similar path; they do not simply produce and sell olive oil, they create oils dedicated to the rich beauty of their homeland, while opening their doors for guests to share in their creation.
"Our brand reputation grew up with us thanks to the quality of our oil, so consumers from more and more countries now ask for Pruneti oils."
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The Pruneti Family
The Pruneti Family
Gionni and Paolo Pruneti suggest that finding their origins is a useless endeavor, for their family has always been present in the area of San Polo in Chianti, in the heart of Tuscany. Their oldest records indicate that the farm they work today was founded by Antonio “di Tanghe” - son of Pasquale with the surname Pruneti - in Greve in Chianti over 160 years ago. A provincial road served their little town which included a blacksmith, a parish, and tavern. Here di Tanghe employed his mules in small productions of wheat, olive oil, iris flowers, wine, figs, and anything else that nature made available. By the turn of the century his son Girolamo created the Pruneti Agricultural Company and they began trading their produce in the Florentine Markets.
The next generation, led by Natalino and Sabatino, began working directly with French companies who were in search of Iris bulbs to create their perfumes. The land suited a kind of promiscuous agriculture, with vines growing through the olive groves and iris flowers growing in the extremities. The various productions - hoeing the soil, extracting the oil, making wine, peeling and cleaning the iris bulbs - brought great satisfaction to the entire family and raised the prominence of the Pruneti business in the region. Gilberto Pruneti worked with his father Natalino to introduce mechanization to the company with the purchase of their first tractor in the 1960s. During this period the first dedicated vineyards appeared and their crops moved into more specialized plots. Yet they never abandoned the traditional and trusted companion of so many labors, their mule, Cesira, who worked alongside them until his death in 1975.
The Pruneti Family
The Pruneti Family
Brothers Gionni and Paolo Pruneti took over the family business in the 1990s with the aim to specialize in the production of high-quality olive oil. As the fourth generation in a family of farmers who had lived an agricultural life since childhood, their passion for producing olive oil rich in nuances elevated the business. Both brothers engaged in serious study, not only in agriculture, but also in technology. Gionni honed his ability in tasting to become an official international extra virgin olive oil taster, and by combining the teachings of their grandparents with continuous research, they began the process of modernizing the company. They paid particular attention to every production phase: from the restoration of old olive groves, to the choice of land and cultivars for new ones; from pruning techniques, to the improvement of olive oil extraction and conservation. They also worked to expand the market for their oils beyond traditional direct sales by marketing the product in Italy and abroad. Today the extra virgin olive oils of Frantoio Pruneti stand among the most prized in the world.
The Land & Trees
The Land & Trees
As the Prunetis tell it, each fruit from their trees "tells a unique Italian story that can only happen here, in Greve in Chianti in the heart of Tuscany, a place like no other." Like most growers in central Italy, Frantoio, Leccino, and Moraiolo make up their primary olive cultivars. Yet across their groves they have an incredible 13 different varieties, all native to the region, amongst their more than 30,000 trees. Many of the lesser known varieties, such as Maurino, Correggiolo, Leccio del Corno, and Leccione, find their use by aiding pollination in the spring. Of these lesser varieties, Pendolino allows the easiest picking as it grows branches close to the ground. The Moraiolo can be the toughest to pick because new branches grow in the upper heights making it difficult for the pickers to reach the olives. The oldest trees still harvested today date to the mid-1800s, yet even older trees of unknown age can be found scattered through the groves.
In discussing the land with Paolo, he often mentioned the galestro, the unique soil found in the region. With its deposits of calcium and lime as well as clays and silt, this rocky soil makes up a huge part of the heritage of the Pruneti olive trees. The stone-rich soil often leaves the trees bereft of water, yet this land and the microclimate created by the changing seasons in this part of Chianti give the trees a particular territorial characterization. So with special care from the land, air, and Pruneti hands, the fruits produce a precious oil, an absolutely unique and unrepeatable product.
The first day of harvest typically arrives around the middle of October, when the olives remain mostly or completely green. The rest of the olives in the Pruneti groves will be harvested within 60 days as each grove ripens at different stages, even groves adjacent to each other. People from the Pruneti company perform both the harvesting and pruning operations together with local companies that specialize in agriculture service. As witnessed on our visit, they begin working a grove first by harvesting a small number of trees with a single team of olive pickers. These olives will be transported to the mill and crushed within 4 hours, and the resulting oil assessed shortly thereafter. If the oil meets Pruneti standards, multiple teams will join in the following days to harvest the rest of the grove. All olives get picked by hand or with hand-held pneumatic combs, as these methods allow for harvesting of difficult spaces like the high hills and terraces characteristic of this part of Tuscany. They always seek to collect the olives at the optimal ripeness for that particular variety, and extraction always occurs within 4 hours.
Over the last ten years Frantoio Pruneti has upgraded each production phase to the highest quality standards with significant investment in cutting-edge technology for extraction, storage and bottling. Catalyzed by the construction of their new mill in 2009, these actions aim to improve the quality and customize the production processes to get the most of every variety of olive. The mill provides different methods to crush the olives, and whether using hammers, knives, disc or dripper crushers, the different extraction methods can help elevate the characteristics of the different batches. The use of latest generation machines impacts multiple production phases: the malaxers add nitrogen so crushing occurs with the least oxidative impact; the two-phase decanter extracts the oil from the paste without adding water; then the freshly pressed oil passes through a filtration station to remove any residue. Furthermore, storage takes place inside temperature-controlled stainless steel containers and the bottling of oil only occurs on request. Each of these steps helps preserve both the high phenolic content and elegant flavors of the oils for the consumer.
Sustainability & The Future
Sustainability & The Future
After the crushing and extraction processes, the waste pomace gets collected and turned into green energy bio-fuel. This practice fits nicely alongside the organic farming practices used for most of their high-quality oils. Making oils with DOP status also requires strict technical standards and commitment to work the land with patience. The iris production of Frantoio Pruneti also reflects this perspective. Grown on the fringes between vines and olive trees, on scraps of ground not otherwise exploitable, the iris flowers receive no fertilizers, only sun, wind, rain and the Tuscan galestro. Living in such a land dedicated to agriculture for centuries, the brothers Pruneti say that much of the hard work was completed long ago, yet they still seek out the challenge of increasing the quality level of their oils while growing their production capacity. They discuss creating new olive groves from select varieties and continue to examine new extraction technologies. So when asked what comes to mind when anticipating the next harvest season it’s no surprise to hear the response: "Emotion... or maybe also never-ending discovery."
Visitors to the Chianti Classico region who wish to enjoy “The Pruneti Extraordinary Experience” can visit the Pruneti mill in Greve in Chianti. Open since 2010, Frantoio Pruneti’s “Salone dell’Olio” invites guests in search of authentic and unrepeatable experiences to book an oil tasting. There visitors can learn how the Prunetis make their extra virgin olive oil and taste the Pruneti monocultivar oils and their blends, a sensational journey between perfumes and flavors, with guided tastings and multiple tips on use and possible combinations. This special place embraces both ancient knowledge and contemporary intuition.
Visiting during the harvest months of October and November allows guests to witness the oil production in action, and those arriving in April have the chance to see the iris fields in full bloom. Dedicated to all extra virgin olive oil enthusiasts and globetrotters, the tasting room does remain open year round; visits and tastings can be booked in advance for any day of the week. Frantoio Pruneti also has a store on-site, open Monday-Saturday from 9:30am to 6:30pm. There is currently no on-site lodging available.Pruneti Extra Gallery
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