Soldera update: making sense of the unfathomable

December 4, 2012

montalcino vendetta wineMala tempora currunt (bad times are upon us), wrote Italian wine writer Franco Ziliani yesterday in an email, one of the tide of messages that pulsed across the internets as we all tried to make sense of the unfathomable: on Sunday night, someone entered the cellars of Gianfranco Soldera (left, photo taken during my visit in 2008) and destroyed more than 60,000 liters of his wines, six entire vintages, spanning 2007 (still in cask) through 2012.

According to a post today by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino (Brunello producers association), “62,600 liters” were destroyed and the site confirms that “the entire production from 2007-2012″ was lost.

The site WineNews.it also reports the same figure and vintages, noting that “the valves of 10 casks were opened.”

When reached for comment by the authors of the post, Soldera’s son Mauro told them that the wine was insured, including coverage for vandalism (before becoming a winemaker, Gianfranco Soldera made his fortune in the insurance trade in Milan).

The post also quotes the mayor of Montalcino, Silvio Franceschelli, who expressed the town’s “utmost solidarity with Case Basse for this villainous and cowardly act.”

Franceschelli is also quoted as saying that “any allusion to phenomena that bear the mark of the mafia are entirely imaginary.”

I wasn’t able to reach Soldera winery for comment today (the landline was occupied every time I called and a call to Gianfranco’s cellphone went unanswered). But I did speak to a number of people “on the ground” who concurred that the involvement of organized crime is unlikely.

Most believe that the senseless act was inspired by vengeance, perhaps in retribution for the supposed (but never verified) letter that Soldera wrote to authorities who launched an investigation into adulterated wines in Montalcino, an episode that culminated with judiciary action against a number of major players in Brunello in 2008 (the so-called “Brunellopoli” or Brunellogate affair).

(For the record, in 2008, while visting with him under the pergola of his home, I asked Soldera whether or not he had sent a letter to authorities. He flatly denied that he had and I believed him. He was, however, an outspoken critic of many of those implicated in the scandal.)

brunello scandal soldera

Above: Photo taken in 2008 during a visit to the winery. Yesterday, when we spoke, wine merchant Ceri Smith told me that she had tasted the 2007 in cask when she visited Soldera in February of this year.

One person I spoke to this morning (afternoon in Montalcino) proposed that it might have been a disgruntled ex-employee of Soldera.

But everyone I spoke to agreed that it’s unlikely that organized crime was the author of the vandalism. There has been no mafia activity there, said one informed person, and it is improbable that such an event would be isolated if the malavita were involved.

“One thing is certain,” wrote Franco Ziliani on his blog today, “today, all those who called Soldera a ‘poison pen’ or ‘snitch,’ accusing him of breaking the curtain of silence and challenging [Montalcino's] establishment, should recite a sadly belated mea culpa. They are the ones objectively responsible for having prompted the deranged vandals who violated the cellar at Case Basse as punishment of its owner.”

In a phone conversation today, one of my friends in Tuscany noted how easy it would be to empty the casks of their wine. If you’ve ever visited a winery where large format casks like Soldera’s are used, you know that it’s simply a matter of opening a valve (if the wine were aged in 225-liter barriques, for example, this egregious task would be much more complicated).

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

Above: “I let my grandchildren use chalk to draw on the casks,” said Soldera during my 2008 visit. Note the spigot at the bottom of the cask.

“The territory of Montalcino is a small and tranquil territory,” wrote winemakers Alessandro and Fabrizio Bindocci on their blog today, “where many people still leave their doors of their homes unlocked.”

As hard as it is to wrap our minds around this nefarious and senseless episode, it’s easy to imagine how simple it would be to execute the crime. When Tracie P and I stay in Montalcino, we regularly leave our keys in the rental car and the doors to our apartment unlocked.

Italy has a long history of vengeance, spanning ancient Rome, the Renaissance, and the twentieth-century, when many towns and families were torn apart by the brutality of fascism, the extreme violence of organized crime, and the envies and jealousies borne out by the gap between those who prospered in Italy’s post-war economic miracle and those who didn’t.

The English word vendetta, indeed, comes from the Italian (from the Latin vindicta, meaning vengeance).

Today, faced with the thought that no fewer than six vintages of one of the world’s greatest wines have been lost, no one among us has an explanation for the incomprehensible violation of — what we must recognize as — one of Italy’s greatest treasures and one of the most noble expressions of its cultural legacy.

United in our bewilderment, we can only express our solidarity for a man who has lost six precious years of his life.


Soldera vandalized, 600 hectoliters destroyed

December 3, 2012

If you’ve landed here, please check out the update here.

brunello mafia

Above: I took this photo of Gianfranco Soldera in his cellar in September 2010, the last time I tasted with him.

According to a report first published today by WineNews.it and then reposted by Franco Ziliani, “vandals” destroyed more than 600 hectoliters of Gianfanco Soldera’s wines last night.

After entering the cellar, they simply opened the valves of the large-format oak casks and let the wine pour out on to the cellar floor.

The report, which was based on Soldera’s own account, states that his entire production from 2007-2012 was lost.

No other damage or theft was reported.

Observers of the Italian wine industry have already begun to speculate that this act of vandalism fits the classic model for extortion by organized crime.

I’ll continue to report on this tragic episode as more information comes to light.


Brunello pres moves to allow emergency irrigation

September 18, 2012

Brunello growers and bottlers association president Fabrizio Bindocci (above) is appealing to the Italian agriculture ministry to reinterpret current appellation regulations and allow emergency irrigation without revising legislation.

As I wrote on Friday for the Houston Press, one thing was achingly apparent during our recent two-week trip from northernmost Italy to the tip of the heel of the boot, traveling through ten of Italy’s twenty regions: prolonged heat and drought have seriously impacted growers and winemakers over the last decade and their acceptance of climate change is no longer subject of debate but rather resignation in the face of an unavoidable truth.

Last week, Angelo Gaja issued the following statement:

    Climate change — marked by prolonged summer heat and drought — is the cause for the sharp drop in Italy’s grape production for 2012. It was also the reason behind the light vintages of 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2011.

    Now, as a result, another scarce year adds to the lack of wine from previous vintages lying in Italian cellars. In the space of just a few short years, we have shifted from a situation in which Italy perennially produced a surplus of wine to the current shortage.

And on Wednesday, Fabrizio Bindocci, president of the Brunello growers and bottlers association (Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino) wrote that “To make great wines, one needs healthy grapes at the right point of ripening. For this reason, we are passing through the vineyards of Sangiovese harvesting, selecting the bunches that have suffered the heat, and leaving still the whole grape bunches to ripen. [The 2012 vintage] is surely not an easy vintage, with a reduction of production not yet predictable but surely of 20%.”

Off the record, among the score of growers and winemakers I talked to over the last two weeks, many compared 2012 to the disastrous annus horribilis 2003, when unrelenting heat and drought decimated Sangiovese vineyards in Montalcino, the first in a series of warm-hot vintages that have challenged growers and producers of fine wines.

In Montalcino, the situation is aggravated by the fact that emergency irrigation — irrigazione di soccorso — is not prescribed by appellation regulations.

Above: For growers with ideal vineyard sites, like Laura Brunelli (Podernovi-Le Chiuse di Sotto [Montalcino]), the quality of fruit is excellent. The problem is that there will be less of it in 2012 (as for Bindocci’s Il Poggione). Even Laura conceded that she would have irrigated this year in certain spots if the appellation allowed it.

In the light of the warming trend, Fabrizio has been lobbying for many years (since 2003) to change the appellation regulations and allow for emergency irrigation.

When I met with him a week ago Saturday, he told me that he is currently preparing a request for “clarification” from the Italian agriculture ministry.

Apparently, the appellation regulations make no mention of emergency irrigation (or whether it is allowed or not).

“In another time,” he told me, “irrigation wasn’t included in the appellation because it could have been used to inflate yields. That’s not an issue today: our members consistently deliver yields far below the maximum requirements, which are already low. So the question is no longer quantity but rather quality. By allowing irrigation in vintages like this, we could help to raise quality for the entire appellation.”

Bindocci’s move, if successful, would also eliminate potential bureaucratic delays and headaches: now that EU technocrats in Brussels have to rubberstamp any changes to appellation regulations issued by Rome, a whole new layer of red tape has been added to the process.

“If the minister declares that, according to the letter of the law, irrigation is legal because it is not referenced in the regulations, we could potentially begin right away,” although the Italian government summer recess, which just ended, would seem to preclude that possibility at this point.

A deux ex machina from the Italian government would also resolve another set of local and political issues for the growers association (and these are my words, not Fabrizio’s).

“No one wants to be the first,” said one grower, “to irrigate without the government’s authorization. Theoretically, they could try to since the appellation doesn’t state whether it’s allowed or not. But no one wants to be the first.”


Casanova di Neri supermarket Brunello in Lecce

September 12, 2012

It’s hard to believe, I know: tasting notes for Casanova di Neri 2004 Brunello di Montalcino DOCG on Do Bianchi.

But when I saw this bottle at a downtown Lecce supermarket for Euro 22.90 (see receipt below), I couldn’t resist the temptation to pick it up (that’s $29.51 based on today’s exchange rate).

I opened and tasted the wine today before lunch and I have to say that it’s pretty good. Lighter in body than Giacomo Neri’s U.S.-bound Brunello, with bright fruit and some wood tannin on the finish. If it weren’t for the wood, I’d even say it was more than pretty good.

I’m guessing that this wine is akin to his “white label,” as it is called in the states.

On Winesearcher, I see Casanova di Neri for as low as $40. But never this low. Who knew it was a supermarket wine in Italy?

I plan to taste it tonight with pucce for dinner (on our first night in Lecce, we had an early dinner of grilled vegetables at a rosticceria and last night we had take-out pizza in our B&B; tonight is puccia night and generally we’ve either been eating very early or back at our hotel).

In an hour or so, we’re heading to one of Lecce’s culinary landmarks for lunch, Le Zie. I can’t wait!


A difficult vintage in Tuscany (and tasting notes for Poggione Brunello Paganelli 04)

August 28, 2012

Above: Our friends at Il Poggione in Montalcino began picking their Merlot today. I really admire their openness and earnestness in posting about weather and harvest conditions.

The “split-screen optics” at casa Parzen tend toward the dramatic these days.

On the one hand, we’re monitoring the path of hurricane Isaac, hoping it doesn’t veer west and make landfall in Orange, Texas where our family lives. And of course, we’re keeping our Louisiana sisters and brothers in our hearts and our thoughts, as well as Gulf Coast residents to the east.

On the other hand, we’re watching the weather in Italy carefully: a challenging harvest is already in full swing and weather patterns over the next few days will greatly influence the quality of the grapes that have yet to be picked.

On their blog Montalcino Report, our friends at Il Poggione in Montalcino write that much needed rain arrived Sunday. They’ve been very open about the difficulties posed by high temperatures and prolonged drought this year. And in today’s post they concede that, although the grapes are healthy, they’re seeing elevated sugar levels in the Merlot that they started picking today.

Above: It rained across Italy on Sunday, including Friuli, bringing some relief to grape growers, but probably too little too late to compensate for the prolonged drought.

Our friend Giampaolo Venica in Collio (Friuli) also tweeted about the rainfall, posting the photo above.

He’s been very frank about the less-than-ideal ripening conditions this summer on his Twitter feed.

Emergency irrigation is not allowed in Montalcino and, as Giampaolo wrote me the other day, it’s nearly impossible in Collio.

More than once, Alessandro Bindocci, son of winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci, has written on his blog that 2012 reminds them of the tragic 2003 vintage.

In other news…

Above: We opened a bottle of 2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Paganelli by Il Poggione on Friday night.

Our friend Mark Sayre let us open a bottle of 04 Brunello Paganelli from our cellar at Trio in Austin the other night.

Man, what a gorgeous bottle of wine! Still very youthful and muscular, like a young bronco, rich in its mouthfeel and judicious, if not generous, with its fruit. Its “nervy” acidity served as a trapeze for the wine’s berry and red stone fruit flavors as they danced with the wonderful savory horse-sweat notes that — in my view — define true Sangiovese as expressed by Montalcino.

There’s so much Brunello di Montalcino out there these days and a lot of it is good (some of it middle-of-the-road).

Il Poggione’s — especially a top-tier bottle like this — always stands out as a pure, superlative expression of the appellation. Truly superb wine…

I’ve got a few more tasting notes to post before Tracie P, Georgia P, and I head to Italy on Saturday… stay tuned…


Ezio Rivella, contrapasso, and the Triumph of Time (fugacity)

June 11, 2012

From the department of “I read the news today o boy”…

Above: Rivella in a 1982 profile by Wine Spectator.

Not a bad PR move, eh? Announce your long-awaited resignation on a Friday at the beginning of summer.

On Friday, the controversial and much loathed toad of Montalcino, Ezio Rivella, resigned from his position as president of the Brunello producers association. The news was announced by WineNews.it, in its weekly PDF (the fact that it still sends out PDFs is indicative of the great minds behind this pseudo-journal, an advertorial affair produced by a PR machine that serves as Montalcino’s in-house media outlet).

According to the press release — and yes, let’s call it what it is and stop pretending that WineNews.it represents any form of serious, self-respecting editorial coverage — Rivella resigned solely because of personal reasons pertaining to family.

In the end, Rivella did not succeed in gerrymandering changes in Brunello appellation regulations. At every step, he campaigned tirelessly in his quest to allow international grape varieties. And at every turn, even when he called votes at the peak of harvest when he knew the hardship it would cause for producers, the popular voice of Brunello growers managed to drown his.

In reading the news, I couldn’t help but think of Rivella’s Dantean contrapasso: I can see him cast in the fourth circle (greed), forced to drink endless amounts of chemical tannin and tartaric acid.

But in the end, it wasn’t the Commedia that came to mind but rather another cycle of Italian poems written in terza rima, Petrarch’s Trionfi (Triumphs). In it, Petrarch envisions triumphal processions of the forces that inform and ultimately vanquish the human condition: Love, Chastity, Death, Fame, Time, Eternity.

From what I’ve been told by industry insiders, Rivella sought to lay claim to Brunello’s throne (the regal metaphor is his not mine) in an attempt to refashion a legacy that was sullied when Banfi dismissed him (against his wishes) in 1999 after a career that spanned more than three decades. Rivella may have curated Brunello’s meteoric rise in fame but the spoils of the battle were denied him. And in a last flourish, he had hoped to beat time by once again redefining (literally) what Brunello was and could be.

But fame and time were greater forces than he.

Historically (as we have seen in recent weeks here), winemaking in Brunello has always been shaped by big business interests. And it will continue to be so (now more than ever, sadly).

Over the last two decades, those interests have moved farther and farther away from the ideals that informed Brunello’s pioneers (massal selection of a Sangiovese clone, excellent growing sites, and easy railway access). Instead, they have shifted their approach to appeal to globalized tastes and they have over-cropped their farms to deliver the quantities demanded by a globalized market.

We can only hope that Brunello’s new captain will guide its ship back to Tuscan shores and hear the ancient cadence of Tuscany’s great poets.

In other (sadder) news…

In an uncanny twist of fate, Rivella’s retirement eclipsed the sad news that Count Bonacossi, historic producer of Carmignano (above with his wife Lisa), transpired on May 24, 2012. Bonacossi’s farm produced superb Cabernet Sauvignon long before Tenuta San Guido ever released its Sassicaia. He and his wines were Super Tuscans ante litteram. A press release, issued by the winery, follows…

Read the rest of this entry »


Biondi Santi a cooperative winery?

June 4, 2012

biondi santi

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!


Brunello, for better or worse (or how I learned to love the fruit bomb)

May 31, 2012

Above: I recently asked legendary Tuscan enologist Carlo Ferrini (and historic consultant at Casanova di Neri) what he considered his great contribution to Italian wine. “I took the traditional role of the Tuscan enologist from the cellar to the vineyard,” he told me.

My brother-in-arms and close friend flying winemaker Giovanni Arcari often asks rhetorically: “How many of the winemakers in Franciacorta actually make their living — their main source of income — from growing grapes and making wine?”

I’ve been thinking about Giovanni and his bleeding heart this morning after reading Alfonso’s superb post on Brunello di Montalcino wherein the latter applies his more than three decades of experience, observation, and wisdom to the situation on the ground in the ilcinese.

Even spanning back to Brunello’s ante litteram era, we discover that even for its founding father Biondi Santi, winemaking was not the primary source of income. In fact, Ferruccio Biondi Santi — Brunello’s nineteenth-century “inventor” — was the scion of a noble family with vast land holdings and immense financial resources. His ground-breaking experimentation in massal selection redefined the appellation. But, in turn, that appellation was defined by a handful of landowners who began to produce a “fine” as opposed to “table” wine following in his footsteps.

It wasn’t until the late 1970s that wealthy northern Italians began to buy property there (and they probably wouldn’t have seen Montalcino as such a choice spot had the British not planted roots there and “manicured” the Tuscan countryside, giving it its idyllic patina that we know today; just ask anyone old enough to remember the second world war what it was like in Montalcino from 1945 through the 1960s when the British began to arrive).

Above: Ask any ilcinese over 50 and they will tell you that it was the British who planted the cypress trees in Tuscany in the 1960s.

Today, just scan the names that define the arc of contemporary Montalcino winemaking: Soldera, an insurance magnate originally from the Veneto via Milan; Illy (Mastrojanni), a coffee mogul from Friuli; Parsons (Il Palazzone), U.S. CEO extraordinaire… and of course, Mariani (Banfi), one of the leading importers of fine wine in the U.S. who went to Montalcino in the hope of creating a sparkling wine legacy and ultimately turned Brunello di Montalcino into a super market brand.

Where there were less than 20 bottlers of Brunello in the 1960s, today there are more than 250 members of the Brunello bottlers association.

To Giacomo Neri’s credit — whether you like the style of wine or not — his family started out with humble farm that Giacomo took over when he returned from his mandatory military service. I know this because I met Giacomo for the first time in 1989 on my second visit to Montalcino, when his wines tasted a lot different from the way they do today. Since his collaboration with enologist Carlo Ferrini began in 1993, his Casanova di Neri label has become one of the most sought-after wines in the world, winning impossibly perfect scores from some of our country’s greatest wine writers (what do Nadia Comăneci, Bo Derek, Ann Colgin, and Giacomo Neri have in common? Hint: it’s not their good looks).

I recently met Carlo Ferrini for the first time in Los Angeles, where he and I spoke on a panel together. I asked him what he felt, over the arc of his career, was his greatest contribution to winemaking in Tuscany.

“Before I began working as a consulting enologist,” he said, “enologists were traditionally tasters.”

“Like Gambelli?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered. “I was among the first to convince growers to replant their vineyards and to adopt more contemporary farming practices.”

And on the subject of Brunellogate?

“I’ve never believed that Merlot or any other grape should be added to Brunello,” he told me. “In Chianti, I’ve followed a Bordeaux model, using different grapes, grown in different sites, to create blends in line with modern tastes. In Montalcino, the wines have always been 100% Sangiovese. It’s my work in the vineyard that has made the difference. Not in the cellar.”

Whatever Ferrini claims and whatever we believe (and for the record, looking Ferrini in the eye, I believed him), the predominate and guiding style of Brunello has changed in Alfonso’s lifetime and my lifetime.

In the beginning, was the style of Brunello guided by a handful of wealthy families who saw big business opportunities in producing wines that could rival their French counterparts? Is it guided today by a small group of wealthy families who see financial opportunity (and tax-shelter vacation homes) in America’s thirst for wines in the global style?

The answer to these questions lies somewhere in between an alpha, an omega, and a brief window (1975-1993?) when Italy’s cultural prosperity delivered an optimism and fostered a belief that even luxury products should be the expression of the land where they were grown and the people who made them. It just so happens that that’s when Alfonso and I had our first contact with the wines.

If you following along here at Do Bianchi, you already know the Brunello that I like to drink (Il Poggione, Brunelli, Soldera are my top three, whether I can afford them or not). And there will be plenty of time to write and discuss the wines that we love at our house…

Instead, please read Alfonso’s post: The Battle for Brunello. I’m just adding my two cents here…

In other news…

Today, Italian wine blogger Andrea Petrini, author of Percorsi di Vino, reposted this offer from Albana di Romagna producer Gabriele Succi (left): if you make a donation to one of the officially sanctioned channels for donations for Emilia-Romagna earthquake victims, you can send him a scan of the receipt via email and he will ship you the same value’s worth of his wine. He sweetens the deal by discounting each of his labels by Euro 1 ex cantina. He’s not giving a portion of proceeds to earthquake victims; he’s giving you the wine for donating.

Click here for the offer (in Italian) and links to official donation sites.


Mussolini’s Brunello

April 25, 2012

I was thrilled to read this translation of the entry for Brunello di Montalcino in a 1937 (fascist era) catalog for an exhibition of Italian wines in Siena by my friends at Tenuta Il Poggione.

The document offers us a window onto how Brunello was perceived in another era. In 1937, fascism was at its zenith and Mussolini had yet to adopt Hitler’s race laws (1938). It was a time filled with national pride for many Italians (members of the fascist party) and the exhibition of “typical Italian wines” in Siena that year was indicative of the spirit of italianità that gripped the Italian collective psyche.

Alessandro Bindocci, who posted the document and translation on his blog, neglected to translate the quote from Mussolini at the bottom of the page (btw, I asked Ale to send me hi-res versions of the document; click the images here to view), il vino rappresenta il dio domestico sul riposo settimanale: wine represents the domestic god of weekly rest.

The quote is significant for many reasons. But most importantly in my mind, it offers us a trace of how fine wine was considered a medicine with health-enhancing properties in the era before the Second World War.

Brunello di Montalcino, write the editors of the catalog, has an alcohol content of “12.5-13%” (!!!) and is recommended for “those who work with their brains, the elderly, and those recovering from illness. It will give the drinker a sensation of new life.” They even suggest that Brunello di Montalcino has a “tonic” (i.e., medicinal) flavor.

It’s a fascinating however short text and I highly recommend it to you.

I hope to consult the catalog when I visit Montalcino later this year.

Buona lettura…


Call for emergency irrigation in Brunello by Fabrizio Bindocci @BrunelloMaker

March 20, 2012

“Let us debunk the common misconception that irrigation serves solely to increase production,” wrote my friend and Brunello producer Fabrizio Bindocci (above) on his son Alessandro’s blog Montalcino Report this morning. “Today, the appellation rules establish low yields and monitoring is implemented in the vineyard to see if these yields are real. For this reason, we would be opening a practice that can only help to raise the quality when there is need because of climatic capriciousness. But until today, not having this possibility, the growers of Montalcino will use the agronomic techniques that they possess to manage their vineyard the best that they can.”

If you’ve been following their blog (as I have), you know that the weather in Montalcino has been very strange this year and there are already forecasts and fears of drought in the 2012 vintage.

Drought isn’t as great of a threat for Fabrizio, his son, and the estate they manage as it may be for other growers: thanks to the age of their vines, their roots reach deeper and have greater success in finding the water table, even in lean years.

But as one of the members of the technical advisory board of the Brunello growers association, Fabrizio is speaking to and for the more than 250 bottlers in the appellation.

Fabrizio has taken a lot of flak for serving on the advisory board under Ezio Rivella, the maligned septuagenarian who continues to lobby for the inclusion of international grape varieties in Brunello.

The way I see it, Fabrizio — a friend of mine and a winemaker I greatly admire — is serving Montalcino’s best interests by working within the current political framework and climate. I can’t think of a more noble and more Tuscan attitude…

And should Montalcino be stricken with another 2003, emergency irrigation would make the blending of Merlot in Brunello much less appealing…

Click here to read his “open letter” calling for emergency irrigation in Montalcino.


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