Above: A monument rests atop Montaperti, not far from Montalcino. It commemorates the 1260 battle between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, when the temporal and spiritual [im]balance of power in the Western World lay in precarious uncertainty. In the wake of the battle, a cloud of darkness fell over Italy for centuries to follow.
Italy’s top wine blogger, Mr. Franco Ziliani, has obtained and yesterday posted (with the author’s permission) a letter addressed to members of the Brunello Producers Association by the scion of a storied Montalcino family, Stefano Cinelli Colombini, owner of the Fattoria dei Barbi. Even in the wake of an aborted call for a vote early this year to allow international grape varieties in Rosso di Montalcino (which, by law, must be made with 100% Sangiovese grapes), certain members of the body are asking its technical advisory council to consider calling again for a vote on the matter.
I have translated the letter in its entirety and believe that its truths are self-evident.
Dear friends and producer colleagues, I have just attended a meeting organized by the Consortium [Brunello Producers Association] where we discussed the inclusion of other grapes [besides Sangiovese] in the Rosso di Montalcino [appellation]. And I am writing to share my deep-seated reservations. We are faced with a serious problem because an overwhelming majority voted against the inclusion of other grapes in the Rosso di Montalcino [appellation] in a recent assembly.
An assembly vote should not be put up for discussion just a few months later. With all due respect, I would like to remind you that we have just put a tremendous rift behind us. It happened because the [fifteen-member technical advisory] Council was too stubborn to call for votes on votes [sic] on an argument (the blending of Brunello [with grapes other than Sangiovese]) for which the assembly had already expressed its clear dissent.
The message conveyed by the members is more than evident: appellation regulations are to be changed only if there is clear and broad consensus beforehand. All it takes is to ask for signatures from the members who wish to modify the appellations. We were just a handful of members but it took us just a week to gather the signatures of more than two thirds of the members against the blending of Brunello. I am certain that the Consortium has the means and the personnel to do a better job than we did. If as many producers were to sign [a call for a new vote], it would only be right and correct to call an assembly vote on whether or not blending should be rejected. Otherwise, you should stop.
Anyone who lives in this community knows that [a proposal for] blending will be voted down by the assembly, that such a vote will once again create a rift among members, and that a media storm will inevitably follow.
We must avoid such a useless confrontation. A new conflict between the assembly and the Council will lead only to paralysis and paralysis helps no one.
I’m not interested in who’s right and who’s wrong. Now, more than ever before, we need a Council that knows how to win the trust of its members. We don’t need a Council that opposes them.
The only plausible reason to allow blending has fallen by the wayside: the sale of Rosso di Montalcino is no longer falling. [Consortium] director [Stefano] Campatelli says that during the first six months of 2011, 500,000 more bottles have been shipped than in the first six months of the previous year. This represents phenomenal growth.
Previously, there could have been some doubt but now the numbers show that the sales of Rosso di Montalcino depend on the price of Brunello and not on the Sangiovese. When Brunello was sold in bulk at Euro 300 per hectoliter, no one wanted to buy the Rosso anymore. With Brunello at Euro 800, the Rosso is soaring with a 40% increase in sales.
If you think about it, it’s only logical that if a bottle of Brunello only costs a few Euro more than the Rosso, everyone will buy the Brunello. The cure for the Rosso di Montalcino malaise is higher prices for Brunello and not blending, which would not make the Rosso technically better. Blending would only make it the same as many other excellent wines that cost much less. It takes a lot more than slapping a Ferrari label on a [Fiat] Panda to sell it for Euro 100,000. And it takes more than the Montalcino name to set a high price for a wine that may be technically perfect but otherwise indistinguishable from many others that cost three or four Euros.
Your colleague, Stefano Cinelli Colombini, Fattoria dei Barbi
In unrelated news, have you noticed that Franco has announced the winner of his recent “make me a new blog banner” competition? His new banner was created by Ms. Stefania Poletti, a native of Bergamo who now resides and works in Boston. Congratulations, Stefania! Nice work!