You don’t just happen to find yourself in Montefollonico; you need to go there in purpose. This thought will come to your mind when you come to the road that leads only to this tiny Medieval town located on a lonely hill top, far from more travelled roads. And it is perhaps this splendid isolation that gives Montefollonico its beauty and charm.
Montefollonico is alive and thriving, despite the beguiling background of rarefied calm, a constant feature of its history over the centuries. The little town has developed within the eleventh century terracotta walls, that same terracotta from which almost every house and building have been built.
Its name is of known, distant origin, unlike the often unknown and to a certain extent mysterious naming of surrounding villages. This was the place where people used to make cloth and the Romans had a name for the cloth workers: ¨fullones¨. In fact, Monte a Fullonico is mentioned in one of the first known documents.
Its real development began around 1100, when this small yet strategic place came to be at the centre of an infinite number of struggles between the then very quarrelsome communes.In some way, nearly everything from that time survives to this day. The walls still survive, as do the three gates, Pianello, Triano and Follonica, the seven towers together with the imposing Cassero tower and the Palace of Justice and the town’s water cistern. In addition to these many examples of civil architecture there is one of the most important Romanesque churches in the province, the parish church Pieve di San Leonardo.
However, perhaps the longest surviving and most recognizable feature of the town is its atmosphere, the sound of silence and the pure, Siena-Chianina dialect of its inhabitants. The little town has developed in such a way that the people are fully aware of their cultural heritage and very fond of their traditions. Here, culture and traditions have the deep roots of a centuries-old vine or olive tree.
The town of Vinsanto
“Would you like a drop of Vinsanto...?”. This was and still is the ritual welcoming of the local country-folk on receiving visitors. And that “drop” is not just a turn of speech. Vinsanto, precious as it was and is still today, is served in small doses.
Montefollonico is known simply as the “the town of Vinsanto” to the wine connoisseurs who take part in the annual festival appropriately named after the offer of a “drop”, “Lo gradireste un goccio di Vinsanto...?”, held every December. Here, the wine makers lovingly protect the traditional recipe of patience and dedication. In the past this wine, time-consuming and painstking in the making, was considered to be a kind of panacea for all illnesses and it was therefore given to convalescents and children, too. Of course, its main use was the worthy crowing of meals and dinners of a certain importance, served with simple, traditional home-made cakes, usually Cantucci.
Wine connoisseurs and historians have made a good number of guesses as to the origins of the name and each would appear to have found the right one. Some say the name could be down to the almost miraculous healing properties of his “sainted” wine; others say the name derives from the Greek word xantos, meaning yellow; others say that the name comes from the All Saints’ Day, when the wine is traditionally bottled. Perhaps the wisest of all is simply taste the wine, not caring as to why it is called Vinsanto, enjoying, certainly in religious silence, its unique flavour, mellowness and nuances.