Above: A daybreak view of Mt. Amiata from the village of Castelnuovo dell’Abate (Montalcino).
This week, two major wine news outlets — Decanter and Wine Spectator — reported on the acquittal of ex-Argiano CEO Giampiero Pazzaglia, who had been charged by the Siena prosecutor with commercial fraud in the Brunello adulteration scandal of 2008 (the inquiry was dubbed “Operation Mixed Wine” by Italian authorities).
At the time, seventeen persons were indicted by the Siena prosecutor. Of those, one was absolved of any wrongdoing shortly after the news of the indictments broke; fifteen persons were convicted after entering into plea agreements with the prosecutor’s office; and Mr. Pazzaglia, alone, fought the charges.
Click the links above to read their reports.
News of Pazzaglia’s acquittal was reported in Italy in May of this year (nearly two months ago). But for some reason (unclear to me), the Decanter and Wine Spectator editors only picked up on the story now.
Argiano, which is now owned by a Brazilian investment group, did declassify a substantial amount of 2003 Brunello at the time of the scandal. But Pazzaglia — whom I interviewed by phone shortly after news of the scandal and indictments broke — always maintained that neither he nor the winery had engaged in any attempt to adulterate the estate’s wines or to falsify any documents.
According to the report of his acquittal in the Italian media, the court found that the charges were unsubstantiated.
So much has changed in Montalcino since the time of the controversy (Brunellopoli, as it was dubbed by the Italian media, a reference to Tangentopoli, the Italian government bribery scandal of the 1990s).
Ex-Brunello Consortium president Ezio Rivella, who lobbied unsuccessfully at the time to allow blending in Brunello, is long gone.
And the now second-term president, Fabrizio Bindocci, has won a long-fought campaign to create protocols for emergency irrigation in Montalcino.
Had those protocols been in place back during the blistering heat wave of 2003, it’s likely that the scandal would have never emerged on the scale that it did. If anything, it would have been a footnote in the annals of Italian vinous history.
Five years after the controversy, its long-term impact on Montalcino is negligible. In fact, as many other Italian appellations are still feeling the acute pains of the ongoing international financial crisis, Montalcino is a “happy island,” as Bindocci put it in a video posted recently by Repubblica.it.
65 percent of the wine produced there is exported, he says in the video, and the U.S. remains the largest consumer, representing 25 percent of sales (Germany is the next largest consumer at 7.5 percent).