In what is widely viewed as an egregious travesty of justice, leading Italian wine writer Maurizio Gily has been convicted of defamation in a case brought against him by Italian investigative reporter Paolo Tessardi. In a sentence handed down today, a judge in northern Italy ordered Gily to pay Tessardi €5,000 for damage to his reputation.
The case dates back to 2008 when Paolo Tessardi published his now infamous “Velenitaly” cover stories for L’Espresso, a popular glossy news magazine. Velenitaly is an amalgamation of veleno, meaning poison in Italian, and Vinitaly, the Italian wine industry’s annual trade fair held in Verona.
In Tessardi’s stories, he reported that hundreds of thousands of liters of Italian wine had been found to contain “poison.” He also claimed that Brunello producers were aware of the presence of toxins in their wine. The story appeared just a few days after news of the Brunello controversy of 2008 broke, when, in fact, a handful of Brunello producers had been accused of allegedly adding unauthorized grapes to their wines.
Tessardi’s articles appeared during the 2008 Vinitaly gathering.
Not long after, Gily — one of the country’s most respected wine writers — published a blog post on his Mille Vigne blog in which he contested Tessardi’s claims. Ultimately, none of Tessardi’s claims proved to be true.
In the judge’s ruling today, he noted that although Gily’s facts were correct, he had damaged Tessardi’s reputation.
In an interview posted by SlowFood today, Gily ascribes the urgency and vehemence of his blog post (subsequently removed) to the fact that Tessardi’s inaccurate reporting caused inestimable damage to consumers’ perceptions of Italian wine.
Tessardi only discovered Gily’s post three years later (thanks to an internet search). And he filed his complaint against Gily in the wake of his discovery, long after any memory of the Velenitaly story or Gily’s editorial had faded from public discourse.
Today on his blog, another leading Italian wine writer, Luciano Pignataro, remembered how Tessardi’s editor at the time, Enzo Vizzari, was so dismayed by the tide of criticism of Tessardi’s coverage, that he removed Tessardi’s blog from the magazine’s website.
As news of the sentence spread through Italian social media, scores of Italian wine trade members and observers have expressed their dismay and disgust.
“Well articulated lies and incontinent truths. This is Italy unfortunately. Solidarity for Maurizio Gily,” wrote Italian winemaker Marilena Barbera on her twitter today.
She was referring to the judge’s comment that Gily should have used “continence” (decorum or discretion) in his “personal attack” on Tessardi.
Gily has not yet decided whether or not to appeal the ruling.