Alfonso weighed in yesterday with another earth-scorching post devoted to wines made “Under the Tuscan Scum” (and I highly recommend it to you, especially if you’re a sommelier working with Italian wine).
But the post I can’t stop thinking about this morning is another fantastic document culled from the archives of Il Poggione’s library. In this case, the entry for the “Cooperative Cellars of Biondi-Santi & Co.” in the 1933 handbook of wines from the province of Siena, published by the department of the agriculture at the university of Siena (frontispiece, above).
Many will be surprised to learn that the early modern incarnation of the Biondi Santi winery was as a cooperative cellar. But the document is rich with clues from and traces of another era in Italian and Tuscan winemaking that help us to understand better the origins of Italy’s wine industry today. I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing Alessandro Bindocci’s translation here so that I can comment each paragraph. You’ll find the original text in Italian on Ale’s blog.
The cooperative winery Biondi Santi & Co. was established in Montalcino in 1926 thanks to the praiseworthy efforts of a group of [land] owners who were wine producers. They understood the necessity and importance of promoting two of Tuscany’s classic wines: Brunello and Moscadello from Montalcino.
Today, few remember that Moscadello was nearly as important as Brunello in those early years. When the Mariani family (Banfi) went to Montalcino in the 90s, it’s great hope was to produce sparkling wines from Moscadello that could rival Moscato d’Asti (that’s why they brought down Ezio Rivella from Asti).
1926 is the same year that Luigi Pirandello published one of his most popular novels (Uno, nessuno e centomila). He would win the Nobel prize for literature in 1934, the year after the wines of Siena handbook was published (can you name any contemporary Italian writer today?)
The farming companies who lead the cooperative winery are the following: Biondi-Santi, Cocchi Brothers, Padelletti, and Tamanti. Together, these farms have 1,200 hectares [planted to vine].
I was able to find this information about the Padelletti family, one of Montalcino’s oldest clans. And I discovered this document on the Tamanti legacy. As per my previous post on Brunello, the founding fathers of Brunello weren’t farmers who had raised wine for generations. They were rich land owners who saw business opportunity in the production of fine wine. I wasn’t able to find anything on Cocchi (in the short time I could devote to this).
Thanks to the topographic position and the geological nature of its soils, the hill of Montalcino produces grapes with exquisite flavor from which delicious wines are made — wines that have been known as such for centuries. The cooperative winery is located in Montalcino, 40 kilometers from Siena. The nearly railway station is in Torrenieri (on the Siena-Grosseto line), 9 kilometers from Siena.
In 1933, eleven years into Mussolini’s rule, the notion of italianità was in vogue in Italy: national pride in Italy’s natural, industrial, and commercial resources.
Today, many cite 1888 as the year that Brunello was “invented” and bottled as such. But this document reveals that it was famous even before Biondi Santi’s 1888 bottling. Today, Torrenieri is covered with vineyards planted to Sangiovese. In 1933, it was a railroad stop: shipping posed great challenges for wineries in that era (can you imagine a wine guide noting the location of the nearest port or railway station today?).
The cooperative winery produces more than 1,000 quintals of wine annually and it places its coveted products easily and lucratively in Italy and abroad.
The winery is endowed with highly modern equipment and well suited facilities. The technical director of the winery is Dr. Tancredi Biondi-Santi.
Perhaps the most interesting thing here is how Biondi Santi provided a new working model for Montalcino (and Tuscany in general): modern equipment, easy access to a supply chain, and a cooperative system that allowed grape growers to combine their resources.
Think how different things would be had Mussolini not come to power in Italy. Of course, Germany would have devastated Italy regardless. But, either way, the renaissance in wine described here wouldn’t have been interrupted by the conflict that followed the rise of fascism.
Ale, thank you for this fantastic document and wonderful post!