Era ‘l giorno ch’al sol si scoloraro
per la pietà del suo Fattore i rai
It was the day the sun’s ray had turned pale
with pity for the suffering of his Maker
I couldn’t help but be reminded of these lines by Petrarch yesterday when I heard the news that Franco Biondi Santi had passed away.
(See this translation of a statement issued by the Brunello bottlers association, including notes from Consortium President Fabrizio Bindocci. It was Fabrizio’s son Alessandro who shared the news with me when I sat down to taste with him in the Tuscany pavilion at Vinitaly.)
Just like the Good Friday that Petrarch recalls in his songbook, it was as if the rays of the sun had grown pale over the wine fair yesterday, as winemakers and fair-goers whispered to one another in hushed tones, did you hear the news that Biondi Santi died?
I never met Franco Biondi Santi in person but I did interview him once by phone.
Of all the winemakers I’ve ever had the chance to interact with, he was perhaps the one most free from the chains of megalomania and most guided by intellect and passionate focus.
A few weeks after our conversation, I received a package sent from the winery. It didn’t contain samples or a vanity folio.
Instead, he had sent an autographed academic offprint of his most recent research on the DNA of his prized Brunello. I still have it, filed in my library next to signed offprints from the many professors of philology and paleography who aided me throughout my academic career.
According to media reports today, he was ninety-one years at the age of his passing.
While his involvement in the winemaking at the legendary Tenuta il Greppo was probably very limited in recent years, his legacy as the caretaker of Brunello’s origins, steadfast defender of its integrity, and producer of one of the world’s greatest wines cannot be underestimated.
Since the Brunello inquest of 2008, the appellation has been dogged by a series of regrettable and often avoidable controversies. (Most recently, one of its most high-profile producers sparred publicly with the Brunello bottlers association in an ugly display of hubris.)
With Biondi Santi’s passing, Montalcino loses an unimpeachable patriarch, whose stewardship and leadership will be missed as sorely as his impeccable style and humanity.
I took the photo above at the Biondi Santi stand yesterday in the Tuscan pavilion in Vinitaly.
Today, the shadow cast by his passing will surely dim the glitz of the trade fair as it reminds us that the Italian wine world continues to navigate and negotiate uncharted waters.
O lovers of Brunello, do no send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee…