From the big swimming pool with terraced garden, you can see over the hills to the Mediterranean on a clear day. Also in the castle is a reading room with fireplace and facilities for cooking and wine-tasting events. And just past the Enoteca is another fascinating feature, La Balsameria. (See box.)
"Il Borgo is a new way for visitors to enjoy the Tuscan experience," says Mariani-May. "After their grueling sightseeing around Italy's cities, a couple of days here will prepare them for the rest of their voyage."
AN EMBATTLED PAST
Construction began on what today is Castello Banfi in the early 1200s. A good fort was crucial in those violent times. Italy was a tumult of city states that warred with each other over land, trade, gold, religion and simply who should be in charge.
Two of the biggest rivals were independence-minded Siena, in southern Tuscany, and the dictatorial, power-seeking Medici princes of Florence to the north. By 1260, after the Battle of Montaperti, immortalized in Dante's Divine Comedy, the castle became Siena's first line of defense.
For centuries, the preeminent grape of Tuscany was sangiovese, which made the famous wines of Chianti to the north. In the 1880s, it was supplanted in the area around Siena and Montalcino by a sangiovese clone first called Sangioveto Grosso, later renamed Brunello. The new wine, Brunello di Montalcino, was inherently superior, but held back by poor growing and fermenting.
Then came the Americans.
THE MARIANI FAMILY
It's an Italian immigrant story with a twist. In 1919, Giovanni Mariani emigrated from Italy to New York, and, later called John F. Mariani, Sr., founded a wine importing business called Banfi in the city of Old Brookfield. It prospered for decades but began to grow explosively in the 1950s, when his son, John Jr., and John's cousin, Harry, came into the business.
In 1967 they shrewdly introduced Reunite, a soft, sweet, simple Italian Lambrusco they felt would appeal to U.S. soft-drink lovers. Reunite became America's leading wine import for 27 years. And Banfi became America's biggest wine importer.
But John Jr. and Harry had loftier aspirations. In 1978 they branched out back into Italy. They knew the wines of Tuscany, particularly Chianti, had fallen into disrepute from decades of short-sighted poor quality. They set out to pull Tuscan wines into the ranks of the world's top wines.
Thinking big, they purchased 7,100 acres of rolling land near Montalcino -- planted then in corn and olives.
They spent $100 million planting newer, better grapes, renovating Castello Banfi, building a state-of-the art winery just down the hill, equipping it with expensive French oak barrels and temperature-controlled, stainless steel fermenting tanks.
Today Brunello di Montalcino, by Banfi and other local producers, is considered one of the world's great wines. "Chianti on steroids," fans call it.