On Monday, Ezio Rivella — Brunello’s deus ex machina and futurist of Italian wine, creator of the Brunello brand and propagator of the California dream — spoke before a group of Langa’s top winemakers in Piedmont. He had been invited their by the government-funded body Strada del Barolo (Barolo Wine Roads) to speak about the current crisis in Italian wine (the five-part series is entitled — and I’m not kidding here — “Feel Sorry for Yourself or React to the Crisis?”).
According to wine blogger Alessandro Morichetti, who attended the seminar, nearly the entire arc of Barolo was there: Maria Teresa Mascarello, Giuseppe Rinaldi, Angelo Gaja, Enzo and Oreste Brezza, Cristina Oddero, Federico Scarzello, Lorenzo Tablino, Eleonora Barale, Davide Rosso, Enrico Scavino, and Michele Chiarlo, among others.
I’ve translated the following quotes from Alessandro’s report on the talk…
“Tradition is a ball and chain. At best, it serves as historical anchor.”
“The market fluctuations following Brunellogate? Rants by masturbating journalists.”
“Quality is what people like. Those who sell [their products] are right. There is nothing to learn from people who[se products] don’t sell.”
“Blogs are [a form of] self-flattery. The people behind them are incompetent.”
And all this time, I thought that Rivella didn’t read blogs! Go figure!
Reacting to Alessandro’s account of the event, Italy’s top wine blogger Franco Ziliani wrote: “Rivella chooses the path of insults…”
If you don’t know the backstory, here’s the thread of my posts devoted to Rivella and his self-appointed mission to refashion authentic Italian wines as expressions of Californian winemaking for the U.S. market.
As a manager and winemaker at Banfi from the 1960s through the 1990s, he credited Robert Mondavi as one of the inspirations for the behemoth Brunello brand that he created with the backing of the Mariani family, the Long Island-based importers who decided nearly 50 years ago that they would make Montalcino a household name in the U.S. (initially by producing sparkling white wine, btw).
Since returning to Montalcino to gerrymander his second coming as Brunello growers association president in 2010, he has patently conceded that “80% of Brunello was not pure Sangiovese” (an egregious transgression of appellation regulations and Italian law). And in doing so, he tacitly expressed his support for using “improvement” grapes like Merlot in traditional Italian wines made historically with indigenous varieties. He has repeatedly attempted, unsuccessfully, to lobby for the passage new appellation regulations that would allow for the blending of international grape varieties in Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino. Twice he has called votes and both times the body governed by him has remained unswayed by his industrial Brunello complex.
My friends who live and work in Montalcino tell me that he doesn’t even reside there. He lives full time in Rome, governing from afar, uninterested in the workaday lives of the homegrown montalcinesi.
He is also the author of Brunello, Montalcino and I: The Prince of Wines’ True Story (2010).
What will come of the legacy of the self-proclaimed Prince of Brunello?
Perhaps he should take the advice of a Tuscan, Niccolò Machiavelli, who wrote (chapter 3, “On Mixed Principalities”): “It is quite natural and ordinary for a Prince to want to expand his rule, and when [Princes] do, if they can, they are praised and not blamed. But when they are unsuccessful, but still want to do it, here lies the error and the fault.”