Montalcino fait accompli? New developments today…

Above: Mt. Amiata as seen from Castelnuovo dell’Abate (Montalcino). I took this photograph in September 2010. Click the image for a high-resolution version of the image.

According to the chatter, it would appear that a change allowing international grape varieties in Rosso di Montalcino is a fait accompli.

Neither I nor Franco have access to the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino charter. And so we are not privy to voting protocols.

But all words on the street indicate that the September 7 assembly of Brunello producers will be given two options to vote on: 1) Two categories of Rosso di Montalcino, including one that allows for international grape varieties; or 2) Three categories, including one that allows for international grape varieties. The option not to change the appellation regulations is not on the table, evidently. It’s also not clear what type of consensus the technical council of the consortium needs to achieve in order to pass the changes through.

Regardless of consortium president Ezio Rivella’s sprezzatura, one thing is abundantly clear: the big business interests here — Masi (Rivella’s partner), Frescobaldi, Antinori, Banfi, Zonin (?) — are going to push this change through one way or another, come hell or high water.

I cannot help but be reminded of what I heard Teobaldo “Baldo” Cappellano say in the Brunello Debate of October 2008: sometimes the battles you know you will not win are the ones you must fight for most passionately.

The only voice of reason coming from Montalcino these days seems to emanate from my friends at Il Poggione, who have stayed above the fray, avoiding any commentary on what’s happening there and containing their observations to their blog’s harvest report series.

Yesterday, they posted a detailed report on the heat spike of August. And they suggest that the problem may not be one of whether or not to add international grape varieties to the Montalcino brand wines. Emergency irrigation, they write, could help growers to produce healthier Sangiovese in hot years like 2003 and 2011:

    We believe that in the future it will be indispensable to insert in the appellation some technical parameters like emergency irrigation, a practice that would allow growers to overcome these periods unharmed, even if limited by the great heat.

It’s possible that Rivella’s urgency in modifying the appellation may be due to the fact that, as Francesco Illy pointed out, “Grapes that were ripening have been dried up in quantities that vary between 5-50% depending on the zone and the age of the vines.”

In any case, it was inevitable that the big business actors were going to push this through.

It all makes me very, very, very sad.

Yesterday, I posted an English translation of a moving vignette written by my good friend Paolo Cantele on his family’s winery’s blog.

His grandparents, post-war wine merchants, he wrote, wouldn’t recognize the Italy for which they had sacrificed so much to build.

Ain’t it the truth?

If all goes according to plan, Wednesday, September 7, will be a dark day in Montalcino’s history.

Es muss sein…

6 thoughts on “Montalcino fait accompli? New developments today…

  1. Jeremy, this latest is no surprise. The big guys shove everybody around and manage to get everything they want. Quarterly results, etc., etc. I’d like to think the vaunted market (grimace) would differentiate the few 100% SG producers from the herd and reward them accordingly with higher prices and sales.

    But chaos and its close friend obfuscation will rule, come sempre.

    Greed and cynicism win again.

  2. I’m not familiar with the procedures out there at the Brunello Consorzio but at any assembly of members, it begins with accepting the order of the day. (Usually it’s a formality). So if it comes out that Rivella has sneaked in a vote on Rosso rules that is effectively a change that a majority doesn’t want, there is always the simplest solution of disagreeing to vote it at all.
    Re: irrigation, it’s something most wine regions should at least consider in Europe. I was exacerbated to learn in the Douro this year that in the last three years there’s more than 50% mortality in the old vineyards because of water stress (and the irony is that you can emergency irrigiate young vines to help them survive but not 100yo vines). But @ Montalcino, I think sun burn and grape drying is a bigger problem for Merlot than Sangiovese actually (Merlot ripening a good 2wks earlier).

  3. While I’d prefer the news were different, ultimately it doesn’t change much. All wines are about producer first, second and always. I will continue to buy the producers I know are pure and will continue to avoid the ones driving this change just like I do with Chianti and the various SuperTuscans. It just means we’ll have to be more vigilant as to who is in what camp. Like Clos Vougeot or Corton, you have to do your homework and know who makes the good ones and who doesn’t. Just being Grand Cru doesn’t guarantee it’s good as we’re seeing with the value of the DOCG ribbon rapidly circling the drain. There will still be excellent Brunello & Rosso made and no one is forcing us to buy the fake stuff.

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