Maginot lines in Montalcino

Above: Tracie P and I took this photo, facing southeast toward Mt. Amiata, in February on Strada Statale 64 (State Hwy 64) heading north from the village of Paganico toward Sant’Angelo in Colle on the south side of the Montalcino appellation. It’s just a matter of time before Asti-born Ezio Rivella will be making “Brunello” just northeast of there, in a partnership launched with Veneto behemoth Masi in 2007.

And so, just as the Germans flanked the Maginot Line, invaded Belgium and then France, Ezio Rivella — the self-proclaimed “prince of wine” — has been elected as the new president of the Brunello consortium. He has vowed not to change appellation regulations so that they would allow for international grapes, as he previously advocated. But the thought of an Piedmont-born enotechnician at the helm of an appellation situated in the heart of a UNESCO-protected territory sends shivers down the spines of many — myself included. It’s a dark, dark day in Montalcino.

Above: “Hunting forbidden.” Facing southeast, gazing out on Masi’s Bello Ovile vineyards. Taken in February 2010. Today the sun shines in the early summer heat but it’s a dark, dark day in Montalcino.

Chatting with a friend, a wine professional I admire very much, late last night, he pointed out that this battle was lost a long time ago: anyone familiar with European history and iconography is acquainted with the metaphor allegory of the Maginot Lines.

If you’re not tired of my posts on Montalcino and what has transpired there, please revisit this post on the Brunello debates where Rivella and the sorely missed Teobaldo “Baldo” Cappellano sparred over the future of Montalcino and the Brunello appellation.

I promise to write something fun and entertaining (to cheer myself up) tomorrow but today — the day after the commemoration of the founding of the Italian republic, freed from fascist tyranny — I plan to mourn. Sorry to be a bummer…

7 thoughts on “Maginot lines in Montalcino

  1. Thought provoking post. Is it the Consortium or Brunello that is a worthless defense against internationalization? I also wonder if “terrior” is a Maginot line for “internationalization”. The history and individuality of Brunello and Barolo (etc) will be ultimately determined by individuals, those that generate and purchase wine. This consortium “business” defies the one commonality in all of the distinctive wines of the world- individuality.

  2. Very disheartening indeed although I don’t think it’s where someone is born that makes the difference but rather their interest in preserving the “terroir” and its’ history and tradition. As always, your passion for Montalcino, as well as Tracie P. is notevole. thanks for the link 2b.

  3. @Trapper and Avvinare get ready for Masi Brunello! Ugh!

    @Thomas I’m as much as a foreigner as Rivella is in Montalcino (they usually think I’m from the Veneto because of my accent in Italian).

    I guess that Maginot line I was trying to say that the battle was lost a long time ago. I might concede that Rivella is a fascist (at least he talks like one, as per the Brunello debate in Oct. 08) but I would never call him a Nazi! Do you remember how the Maginot metaphor was used in Knowles’s _Separate Peace_?

    • “Fascist” also seems a bit strong, even as a rhetorical device. And a bit Orwellian, given your position. Wasn’t it the fascists who insisted on the purity of the race and ruthlessly exterminated any foreigners as substandard? Sort of like your position on Brunello, its grapes and winemakers? Intolerance is ugly no matter whose idea of “history and tradition” it is based on.

      As I understand it, the Brunello vintners voted to keep Brunello 100% Sangiovese, and Rivella has pledged to abide by that, despite the view that changes might be beneficial. That sounds like a democrat to me, not a fascist.

  4. @Thomas you are right to chastise me for my extreme position (and I mean this most earnestly), first and foremost because I’m not Italian, nor am Tuscan or Ilcinese (as the inhabitants of Montalcino are called). Rivella has vowed to maintain the purity of Sangiovese in Brunello and he seems resigned to following Biondi Santi’s suggestion that the Rosso and Sant’Antimo appellations be changed to accommodate more modern expressions of Montalcino. Ascribe my extreme position to my unbridled passion for this wine, the place where it is made, and the people who make it.

    I only wish I could share with you the many Ilcinesi voices I’ve heard (in the Brunello debate in 2008, for example, and “on the ground”) expressing their dismay that an Astigiano, the architect of an industry that many Ilcinesi believe has ruined their land and their values, will lead their consortium into the next decade. Fabrizio Bindocci’s open letter at Montalcino Report was one such voice (and one of the few that was heard in English) but it is indicative of how many people of and in Montalcino feel.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, as always. Respectfully…

    • Thank you.

      I believe that true freedom and real progress more often result from mutual respect and a willingness to compromise than from passion that is married to intransigence and self-righteousness. We should all hold our beliefs with conviction, but we should recognize that opposing beliefs are not necessarily evil and that the “perfect” as we envision it may be the enemy of the good for the whole.

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