How did Charlotte and Alexander end up in Italy?
It all started with Helga Guinness, our grandmother (technically Charlotte’s step grandmother but we don’t really care about stuff like that) decided to retire abroad in the early 1970’s. Helga met an Italian woman at a bus stop on a Greek island and mentioned she was looking for a house. A few months later a telegram arrived from this enigmatic woman saying a deposit had been put down in Helga’s name on a ruin near the Maremma coast.
The Maremma, Helga discovered, was a wild, unspoilt and desolate marsh area between Pisa and Rome, unspoilt and desolate due to a relatively recent history of malaria and banditry. Being adventurous, she visited it and promptly bought it. A simple farmhouse originally, it was converted by a groovy young architect friend of someone’s – Bruno Sacchi (he did the Museo Marino Marini in Florence.) It even got into Casa Vogue.
The Maremma became more and more fashionable, among the beautiful people. We spent all our holidays there, graduating from ice creams, windsurfing, discos to ruined churches, frescos, Etruscan tombs and Piero della Francesca. Charlotte used to cry every time she had to go back to London.
After Helga died, the family eventually decided to buy something bigger with the money from a surprise windfall. Property in that area was very reasonable in those days – the 1980’s. We immediately started to chase our fantasy, and found it – a vast and severe Renaissance fortress in the back of beyond hills above the coast, the Castello di Montepò. The decision was made to buy it, and restoration began. Charlotte sold up, left London, and lived for months above a cowshed with no electricity and no water while work proceeded. We planted a vineyard, and Charlotte began to develop her passion for winemaking. She produced her first bottle commercially in 1995. After ten years there, however, we decided that the castle should be sold. With its six ruined farmhouses, 1000 acres, pigs, sheep, cows and goats, it was just too much.
The Castello di Montepò was sold for a good price to a famous Italian wine-maker, Biondi Santi, and it was decided to re-invest in a smaller, more manageable property. We found, and eventually purchased from no fewer than twenty-four different owners, another even more ruined and remote castle, and started all over again. We bought the Castello di Potentino in 2000, and Charlotte has been living and working there since.