Did Sassicaia get cuttings from Lafite? Yes or No?

I'm going through the CIA textbook Exploring Wines - a fairly venerable book 'round these parts even if it is getting a bit dated at 10 years old.  I read today that Rocchetta took cuttings from Lafite Rothschild to make Sassicaia.  I've heard this a bunch of times i.e. a Decanter article from 2015.  However, Tenuta San Guido's own website says they came from a 50 year old vineyard near Pisa. 

What gives?  Can anyone tell me the story?  Did the good Marchese spread rumors in order to sell his wine?  Did customers hear that he was inspired by Bordeaux and sort of fill in some gaps erroneously?  Wikipedia says the son Nicolo came clean in 2009.  I'd just like to hear the back story. 

I'm considering adding this to my list of "wine's biggest falsehoods" right behind sulfites cause headaches and they don't use chemicals in France.  


  •  wrote our producer profile for Tenuta San Guido (which doesn't mention this story). Jon, any insights on this from your research?

  • There's an episode of I'll Drink to That with Lodovico Antinori who created Ornellaia and my memory's a little foggy but he does go back in time talking about his family's Sassiacaia and Tignanello. I believe he mentioned Peynaud was his source for his own Cab Franc coming from the right bank, but maybe he touched on where his family got their own cuttings.

  • Never trust an Italian wine maker.

  • Listened to it last night.  He didn’t say much about Sassacaia.  Great interview though.  Thanks

  • Just curious. Whats the purpose of finding out other than OCD (which I share)? Does it matter where the cuttings came from all those years ago? Is the list just to call people out? Or to define truth? Only curious what your motive is.  Not disagreeing here.

  • Not offended or anything.  Curiosity sure.  Maybe OCD.  More correctly, I don't want to tell someone the wrong thing.

    I am a university professor in the hospitality department.  I've started teaching the Wines & Spirits class and this is the textbook that they use.  This is my first semester with this class so I've been reading the book as well.  The France chapter seemed good as far as I could tell.  The book is 10 years old so it didn't talk about the St. Emilion classification of 2012, only 2006. 

    However, when I got to Italy, I found several mistakes (i.e. sangiovese requirement for vino nobile says max 70%).  With most of the mistakes I could verify the correct answer independently however I do not have a definitive source for this question.  Some very venerable authorities say they came from Lafite but San Guido's own website said they don't.  I want to be correct when I tell my students. 

    Call it OCD if you want.  I'm almost more surprised than anything.  Granted, no textbook is perfect and people make mistakes (even editors) but I've always really respected the CIA and their books.  I would expect very few mistakes from them.  If they tell this story, I almost want to believe it but that disagrees directly with San Guido.  

  • Sorry about that, there was a brief mention I remember where he describes the transition his uncle makes from drinking Sassicaia to releasing it on the market and I hoped there was more to that somewhere in there.

  • Don't apologize.  It was a great interview.  Very interesting.  

  • I've certainly heard often that the cuttings came from Lafite. However, to date I cannot find any actual text that verifies it, and therefore omitted it from the profile.  There are accounts that Mario Incisa della Rochetta spent some time at Mouton prior to WWII as the ambition to create a Bordeaux-style wine was already within him.  

    We like to think about the romantic way a producer might take cuttings from a great vineyard, and plant them in another part of the world. The Bordeaux vineyard post Phylloxera has never been about vine age.  Today, the average age of the vines that produce Lafite's Grand Vin is 39 years old.  They may have their own selection massale that is then grafted onto root stocks for replanting, but that would need to be confirmed with the estate. 

    Remember that phylloxera would have rendered Lafite replanted no longer than 50 years prior.  That is not much time for vine material that was used to replant all of bordeaux to create a selection that would be so unique to Lafite that it would be worth mentioning. The only way that could be special is if Lafite had some type of time capsule that allowed them to preserve pre-phylloxera cuttings that were a part of a few century-old vineyard. 

    For teaching purposes, I think rather than adding this to a list of falsehoods it's a lesson in discerning the difference between artifact for artifact's sake, and what really makes a wine like Sassicaia special. 

  • But wouldn’t a cutting from Lafite still be from Lafite? I don’t think Bordeaux was replanted all off one single clone, there had to still be some variation vineyard to vineyard after the blight. 

  • "However, when I got to Italy, I found several mistakes"

    As you continue your study and teachings in wine, I predict you'll come back to this statement....repeatedly. 

  • I asked a MS wine maker once, what clone of cab he was using, his answer was:"it's funny how that question comes up all the time with Pinot Noir but with Cab. Sauv., there isn't that much of flavor difference between the clones" I deducted that cab clones selections are more about vigor than flavor.

  • There certainly was variation, but the point is that Lafite cuttings wouldn't have centuries of information, they would have a few decades. And, as and her fellow winemaking MS point, out clones have a lot more to do with successful growth in specific environments than final flavor.  Yes, a cutting from Lafite is still a cutting from Lafite.  I think it represents the relationship between the Marchese and the Boredelais, and more importantly the similarity of Bolgheri's terroir to that of the Haut Medoc.

    I've reached out to Piero Incisa della Rochetta for his take on the topic. 

  • That's a very interesting take on the topic that I had not considered.  Basically you're saying the math doesn't work out.  If you count back the years, at the time Rochetta was planting Sassicaia, the vines at Lafite would not have been interesting enough to get much attention.  Thank you very much.

  • When we speak of taking cuttings from a special place, the unique characteristics of that vine have occurred through a long selection massalle process. It’s what makes that vineyard’s vines more unique than the clones they originally purchased from a nursery. We see the Bordeaux mixture come into practice in 1888, and while estates like Lafite could afford to replant and graft, the “knowledge” the vineyard had pre-phylloxera would have mainly been lost due to the vast replanting of vines and rootstocks. With the Marchese being in Bordeaux in the 30’s, he would have only seen the first generation of these new vineyards at full maturity. It’s hard to see how that is much different than purchasing material from a nursery.