Ezio Rivella, contrapasso, and the Triumph of Time (fugacity)

From the department of “I read the news today o boy”…

Above: Rivella in a 1982 profile by Wine Spectator.

Not a bad PR move, eh? Announce your long-awaited resignation on a Friday at the beginning of summer.

On Friday, the controversial and much loathed toad of Montalcino, Ezio Rivella, resigned from his position as president of the Brunello producers association. The news was announced by WineNews.it, in its weekly PDF (the fact that it still sends out PDFs is indicative of the great minds behind this pseudo-journal, an advertorial affair produced by a PR machine that serves as Montalcino’s in-house media outlet).

According to the press release — and yes, let’s call it what it is and stop pretending that WineNews.it represents any form of serious, self-respecting editorial coverage — Rivella resigned solely because of personal reasons pertaining to family.

In the end, Rivella did not succeed in gerrymandering changes in Brunello appellation regulations. At every step, he campaigned tirelessly in his quest to allow international grape varieties. And at every turn, even when he called votes at the peak of harvest when he knew the hardship it would cause for producers, the popular voice of Brunello growers managed to drown his.

In reading the news, I couldn’t help but think of Rivella’s Dantean contrapasso: I can see him cast in the fourth circle (greed), forced to drink endless amounts of chemical tannin and tartaric acid.

But in the end, it wasn’t the Commedia that came to mind but rather another cycle of Italian poems written in terza rima, Petrarch’s Trionfi (Triumphs). In it, Petrarch envisions triumphal processions of the forces that inform and ultimately vanquish the human condition: Love, Chastity, Death, Fame, Time, Eternity.

From what I’ve been told by industry insiders, Rivella sought to lay claim to Brunello’s throne (the regal metaphor is his not mine) in an attempt to refashion a legacy that was sullied when Banfi dismissed him (against his wishes) in 1999 after a career that spanned more than three decades. Rivella may have curated Brunello’s meteoric rise in fame but the spoils of the battle were denied him. And in a last flourish, he had hoped to beat time by once again redefining (literally) what Brunello was and could be.

But fame and time were greater forces than he.

Historically (as we have seen in recent weeks here), winemaking in Brunello has always been shaped by big business interests. And it will continue to be so (now more than ever, sadly).

Over the last two decades, those interests have moved farther and farther away from the ideals that informed Brunello’s pioneers (massal selection of a Sangiovese clone, excellent growing sites, and easy railway access). Instead, they have shifted their approach to appeal to globalized tastes and they have over-cropped their farms to deliver the quantities demanded by a globalized market.

We can only hope that Brunello’s new captain will guide its ship back to Tuscan shores and hear the ancient cadence of Tuscany’s great poets.

In other (sadder) news…

In an uncanny twist of fate, Rivella’s retirement eclipsed the sad news that Count Bonacossi, historic producer of Carmignano (above with his wife Lisa), transpired on May 24, 2012. Bonacossi’s farm produced superb Cabernet Sauvignon long before Tenuta San Guido ever released its Sassicaia. He and his wines were Super Tuscans ante litteram. A press release, issued by the winery, follows…

Ugo Contini Bonacossi
Il Signore del Carmignano
August 15, 1921 – May 24, 2012

Last week Italy mourned the passing of one of its greatest wine ambassadors. At 90 years old, Count Ugo Contini Bonacossi, the Father of Carmignano, past away on May 24, 2012. Born in Rome on August 15, 1921 Count Ugo Contini Bonacossi was a pioneer in the Italian wine industry and the leader of his prestigious family estate Capezzana. He led the development, education and promotion for Carmignano’s wines throughout the world. He founded the Congregation of Carmignano in 1972 and believed in the quality of these wines enough to work to achieve designate of a Carmignano zone.

In 1716 Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici selected the Carmignano area as one of the four most important viticulture zones in Italy naming it the Granducato di Toscana (Grand Duke of Tuscany). In 1975 Ugo Conti Bonacossi was instrumental in designating the zone to a DOC status and finally in 1990 through much persistence it reached the highest status of DOCG.

In the 1920s, Ugo’s grandfather, Alessandro Contini Bonacossi, acquired the Capezzana estate along with two other smaller properties. Alessandro was also responsible for the donation and unique private art collection consisting of sculptures, paintings and ceramics which is now the Contini Bonacossi Collection held in a private wing of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The Capezzana estate is comprised of 3 properties and more than 120 farm houses, all of which were under the control of Ugo. Ugo served in WWII and graduated with a degree in viticulture in 1945. He was responsible for the transformation of the Capezzana winery from a common mezzadrile (sharecropping farm) to a modern estate that exports wine and olive oil all over the world. Capezzana is the largest land holder in Carmignano.

He was one of the founders of VIDE “Associazione Viticoltori d’Eccellenza” in 1978 together with the famous wine expert Luigi Veronelli: an association of wineries which advocate the quality of production. He always believed in quality wines even in the 1960s where many Italian producers were making wines in bulk.

Today, the winery is run by Ugo’s children and grandchildren. The Count Contini Bonacossi opened the winery for numerous promotions of Carmignano wines which were linked with and promoted local artists and traditions and above all viticulture education.

The memorial service for Ugo took place on Saturday, May 26th at which family members and friends were present in the Capezzana courtyard; the little church would have been too small for so many people.

An emotional time during the ceremony was the reading of a letter by his granddaughter Annalù:

“We have the strength of a great man, a man who was very wise, a man who taught us to listen, to enjoy life with irony and to have to courage to live life to the fullest.”

Ugo is succeeded by his wife, Lisa. They were going to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary this September. His children, Beatrice, Benedetta, Vittorio, Filippo, Valentina and Giovanni and his 16 grandchildren and his great grandchildren.

One thought on “Ezio Rivella, contrapasso, and the Triumph of Time (fugacity)

  1. I feel this comparison of Rivella and toads to be an insult to amphibians everywhere. Great post again, Dr. J.

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