Mr. Zaia goes to Washington (and lets Montalcino down)

October 28, 2009

smith1

It’s seems like it was just yesterday that I was posting a sigh of relief that the U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax, and Trade Bureau (TTB) was lifting its requirement of Italian government certification for Brunello di Montalcino imported to this country. Nearly every Italian news agency and feed (ANSA, Yahoo.it, etc.) had reposted agricultural minister Luca Zaia’s press release in which he announced — with cocksure nonchalance, I may add — that the requirement had been lifted following his successful meeting in Washington with TTB bureau head John Manfreda. Even Brunello producers association director Patrizio Cencioni issued a release praising minister Zaia and thanking him for a job well done. (You can read all of the press releases here.)

But it seems that minister Zaia was a little too quick to sing his own praises.

Late yesterday afternoon, another post hit the feed as the Italians were already sleeping: the TTB issued a press release in which stated plainly and clearly that the agricultural minister had falsely represented the agreement negotiated in the minister’s meeting with Manfreda last week. Despite claims otherwise, states the document, Italian government certification is still required. And it will continue to be required, according to the document, until the Italian government presents the Siena prosecutor’s final report on the investigation (the so-called “Operation Mixed Wine” inquiry into the suspected adulteration of Brunello and other Tuscan wines).

smith2

I spoke this morning to Brunello producer Fabrizio Bindocci of Il Poggione in Sant’Angelo in Colle and he told me that he and Il Poggione’s owner Leopoldo Franceschi were left dumbstruck when they read the news of the TTB’s clarification. “Maybe Zaia met with the doorman, not the TTB administrator,” Fabrizio wondered out loud with classic Tuscan wit. (Fabrizio’s son Alessandro has posted the entire series of press releases at his blog Montalcino Report.) “We feel that certification should be required and it should continue to be required,” said Fabrizio, whose wine has been certified by an independent Norwegian risk management firm since 2003, long before the controversy began.

smith3

In his post this morning, Franco published an image of Walt Disney’s Pinocchio and asked: “Just for the sake of clarity, can somebody — in Montalcino, Rome, or Treviso — help us to understand what’s going on?” (Minister Zaia hails from Treviso.) And making reference to Zaia’s bid to become governor of the Veneto (his home region), Franco asks rhetorically, “is it so hard to understand that it’s not possible and it makes no sense to run an electoral campaign in the Veneto using the supposed great success obtained in the [minister's] campaign in Montalcino?”

@Mr. Zaia you are no James Stewart: if you need an interpreter the next time you head to Washington, feel free to give me a call!


Breaking news: TTB backs off from Brunello lab analysis demand

June 16, 2008

I just received news that the TTB has backed off from its demand for laboratory analyses from Montalcino. In April, the TTB or Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade bureau had requested a list of Brunello producers implicated in the current Brunello controversy. In May, after the Consortium of Brunello producers and the Italian government had failed to respond, the Americans informed them that unless they received the list by June 23 (the original date was set for June 9), they would block imports of Brunello unaccompanied by laboratory analysis certifying that the wine was made from 100% Sangiovese. Evidently, following meetings last week between the Italian Minister of Agriculture, Luca Zaia, and his American counterpart, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer, the Americans have agreed to lift the requirement.

This is great news. It came to me via a letter circulated by the National Association of Beverage Importers.

Click here to read it.

Frankly, I feel that the whole issue had been blown out of proportion by a series of misunderstandings and mishaps.

I’m writing from the road today (stayed in Vegas last night) but will post more tomorrow on what this will mean for Brunello and for us Brunello lovers (an association of which I am a card-carrying member!).


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