Lauren Cicione-Tuscan AuteurThe Brunello Babe
On a wine bender in Tuscany, we had the pleasure to meet Lauren Cicione, a New York refugee who packed up in 2009 and left to live in the Italian countryside. No, this is not an urban legend. It’s the real story of a woman (quite lovely at that) who left to pursue her passions and live a life most of us only dream of.
Three words we would use to describe Lauren: Gutsy, entrepreneurial, dreamer
Three words Lauren would use to describe herself: Passionate, adventurous, wine geek
Galavante: We love your story. Actually, your story is our fantasy. Can you tell our readers about your background?
Lauren: I grew up in an Italian-American family in New England and worked in New York City as the director of a contemporary art gallery for a few years. I finally knew it was time for a career switch when my foodie tendencies to visit every new resto in NYC started taking precedence over my interest in checking out new installation sculpture. Concurrently, the financial market crashed in 2008 and took the art market with it. It just seemed right to seize the moment and follow my pipe dream of moving to Italy.
Galavante: That is gutsy to move to a country where you knew no one, and had to learn the language. How did you end up Montalcino?
Photo by Alex Gur
Lauren: It was tough, but it has been a beautiful adventure full of surprises.Montalcino was totally by chance. I had Tuscany in mind but knew no one here. A winemaker friend from Napa suggested I get in touch with Laura Gray, the director of Richard Parson’s winery in Montalcino. Laura just happens to be a brilliant, English-speaking Scottish women who also found her way to Montalcino and never left. She generously helped me find my first home here. So I hopped a plane to Montalcino just in time for the harvest, to begin what has become a three-year love affair with Brunello – Tuscany’s most important wine.
Galavante: What is it like living in Montalcino?
Lauren: Well, it was definitely a switch coming from Manhattan to a town of 5,000 people. But being a professional networker from my days in the city, it didn’t take long to work my way through the small town meeting everyone.
We’re definitely a bit out of touch with reality here – there’s no movie theater, and I don’t even have a television! But you find beauty and interest in nature, friends, and the surrounding landscape, which never seems to get old. Every day finishes with an enchanting sunset that reminds me each day why I’m here.
My schedule changes drastically from season to season. This is the beauty of living in the countryside; the rhythm of life is much more in tune with nature. From March to September, I’m working in my home office and am out and about, with visiting clients. Then in the winter, when everyone goes into hibernation in Montalcino, I usually travel or go back to the States to spend time with my family and friends there.
This year I will be extending my wine travel and advisory services to cover the Barolo zone in Piedmont in the northern part of Italy during white truffle season - November and December.
Galavante: How did you begin to learn about Brunello wines?
Lauren: I’m a firm believer in learning hands-on so I put myself through a very untraditional schooling to learn about wine and winemaking. When I first arrived in Montalcino, I worked in the vineyard and in the cellars of a handful of small artisanal wineries that are now becoming extremely well known. These winemakers have since all become my close friends and my network here in Montalcino.
I then went on to work with Biondi Santi, the most historically important estate in Montalcino, the founding family of Brunello. Working here gave me the opportunity to learn more about the history of the growing zone and to taste many older vintages dating back to the famous 1955 vintage, which only the most esteemed wine journalists taste.
Last fall, I spent time in Piemonte to learn more about Barolo, as I wanted to extend my knowledge to include all collectible Italian wines. I worked side by side with one of Italy’s most important and accomplished producers, Roberto Conterno of the Giacomo Conterno estate. These months were invaluable, as Roberto was an incredible mentor. Not only was I drinking Monfortino for breakfast but together we tasted wines from many other producers from all over the region. It was in the Langhe that I truly fell in love with the magic of cellaring wines as I had the opportunity to open and taste many older vintages, dating as far back as a 1937 Monfortino. Here I also met Antonio Galloni, of the Wine Advocate. We became quick friends and do some tasting together both in the Langhe and in Montalcino when he’s in town.
So, I call myself a sort of cowboy sommelier as I haven’t had official training but have instead raised a glass of some of the world’s most important wines. The best way to learn about wine is to taste anything and everything and I have been fortunate to do so with many of Italy’s most accomplished winemakers.
Galavante: What are your favorite Brunellos?
Lauren: That’s hard to say as I have so many talented friends here making exceptional wines. The Brunello that has a truly special place in my heart is made by Marino Colleoni. Partly because the wines are excellent but also because the man behind the wines is extraordinary and has played a major role in teaching me about life and winemaking.
Galavante: Tell us about your business, the Tuscan Auteur.
Lauren: Tuscan Auteur is a very specialized concierge service for the town of Montalcino. We design custom itineraries for wine collectors and enthusiasts, providing an insightful, intimate experience of wine-tasting in Montalcino. Our aim is to broaden our clients’ knowledge of the DOCG zone, through exploring the varying terroirs, elevations, viticulture, and enological techniques of a diverse group of producers.
We provide exclusive access to the top estates – meeting directly with the owners, walking the vineyards and cellars, and tasting recent and back vintages. Our focus is to introduce our clients to small artisanal producers of the area. During visits, our clients have the opportunity to purchase wines that are not easily accessible outside of Italy. We provide groupage, temperature-controlled shipping to the US and other locations.
We also offer collection advisory services, specializing of course in Brunello and Barolo. This includes sourcing current and rare older vintages from both regions including wines from historic estates such as Giacomo Conterno, Gaja, Soldera, Giacosa, Col D’Orcia, etc. There are many clients who don’t have time to visit and taste in Itlay every year so we help them build their collections from abroad.
In addition to winery visits, we offer the complete luxury Tuscan experience, sourcing private villas for clients to rent, bringing in private chefs, organizing wine-paired dinners, and arranging cooking classes. We are now offering sailing trips off the Tuscan coast where we make our way to a vineyard on an island for lunch. We're here to curate most any wine-centric experience and are open to being as creative as our clients may desire.
Galavante: When you’re not educating Wall Street on wine, what do you do for fun?
Lauren: Well, I live a rather simple life here in Montalcino - working in the garden, riding horses, cooking, sailing on the Mediterranean. Being in Europe, though, I travel quite a bit – this year I’m making a point to further explore Italy. I’ll be in Sardegna for a road trip this month and then in Puglia later this summer. Even my travels are always somehow related to food and wine.
Galavante: We’ll raise a glass to that. Thanks, Lauren, for sharing your story. Here’s to a summer of lots of Brunello.