Approach on foot across the Siena foothills and you can hear Carlo Cignozzi's vineyard before you see it. Prince Charles may talk to his flowers and plants, but winemaker Cignozzi plays classical music to his vines.
Not just any old classical music, either. Mozart, Mahler and Vivaldi top his pops, along with carefully selected pieces from Bach -- the Brandenburg concertos would be out.
"All plants need soft music -- violins, not organs," he said.
The grapes respond to "The Magic Flute," because Mozart's music "is well balanced," and Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" is good, because his music, Cignozzi said, "is cosy."
Before he launched Il Paradiso di Frassina, some 20 miles from Siena, Cignozzi was a lawyer in Milan. His wife, Diana Grandi, his partner in the venture, was a professional photographer, a career she still practices when not also occupied with their young daughter.
Exploring the Internet to learn more about running a vineyard, Cignozzi discovered some studies in Korea and China examining the effect of music on plants.
An accordion player, he sometimes would take his instrument into the vineyards during harvest to serenade the grape pickers. He felt, he said, a strong sense that the music benefited not only the workers, but also the grapes.
What he read on his monitor screen reinforced his determination to pursue the project of personally gauging music's influence on the growth of grapes.
After five years, he is at the point of making a judgment. He now has Brunello wine in bottles ready to drink from grapes whose vines have been exposed to music around the clock (barring the 24 hours before the harvest when the vineyard falls silent) against wine from vines 30 yards away that have heard no music at all. Music is also played to the wine as it ferments in barrels.
"Do" is his Rosso Toscano red, the word for the first musical note and a Sangiovese and Bordolais combination, while "Gea," a more refined wine made from Sangiovese grapes and exposed only to Mozart's "most delicate music," he said, is named after his youngest daughter.
Already, Cignozzi is convinced grapes do better under the influence of music. He said his musical grapes mature in 10 to 14 days, rather than the usual 20 -- which keeps the alcohol content high -- and root growth is distinctly stronger, with roots reaching toward the speakers in the vineyard.
The University of Florence is interested enough in his project to have launched its own study.
Whether or not the grapes are increasing in abundance or potency is one thing. Almost more interesting is the discovery that music appears to affect the control of bacteria and pests. Their threat to the vines has almost disappeared, which means music might be providing its own organic solution to bug infestation.
Even wild animals have been kept benignly at bay.
In its early days the vineyard was under nighttime invasion by deer and other predators from the surrounding hills, but one year of blasts of Tchaikovsky's more martial symphonies has sent them packing. Music, it seems, is a potential organic pest deterrent.
Wine has its own positive effect on food. Used in marinades, it helps break down the fiber in meat. Added during the cooking process, its alcohol content is burned away while its flavor adds a depth that contributes to the general richness of a dish.
Here is a Tuscan braised beef dish called Stracotto, in which the small amount of wine plays an essential part:
-- Brown 2 1/2 pounds beef brisket tied into a joint in a little oil.
-- Add to the pan one finely sliced onion, two finely sliced carrots and two finely chopped sticks of celery with a finely minced clove of garlic and sauté over low heat for 10 minutes, scrapping every so often.
-- Add one glass of red wine and let evaporate.
-- Add a 1-pound can of peeled tomatoes drained of their juice.
-- Cover and cook for 2 hours.
-- Check after 45 minutes and if the dish is drying, add half of the juice from the tomato can. Check again after another 30 minutes to add the remainder if necessary.
After 2 hours, remove the cover and if the sauce is too liquid, raise the heat to reduce and thicken. To serve, remove to a warm serving dish, allow to rest 10 minutes, slice, spoon over the sauce, then scatter roughly chopped parsley leaves over all.
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