Vietti, final thoughts: “without a great civilization behind them, great wines cannot be made.”

montalcino photo creative commonsAbove: “Chasing the fog” in Montalcino, a digital reproduction of an analog photo by London-based filmmaker Oliver Cooper.

As I was preparing an aggregate of blog posts on the recent controversy stirred by the sale of legacy Barolo estate Vietti to the American owners of convenience store chain Kum & Go, I realized that the most compelling piece wasn’t about Vietti at all. It was about Montalcino and its transformation in the 1990s as “foreign” investors (some of the American, most of them Italian) invaded the sleepy Tuscan hilltop village and surroundings.

“Maybe Brunello is better off,” writes my friend and client Stefano Cinelli Colombini on the Montalcino Blog (that I run for the estate). “Maybe it’s not. But regardless, it has remained the same. I don’t know of other cases of ‘grafts’ that were so successful. And I might even go as far as to say that even beyond the enologic horizon, this is a sign of a great civilization. And without a great civilization behind them, great wines cannot be made. ‘Terroir,’ money, marketing, and great winemakers are not enough. That’s been attempted in other places and it hasn’t worked. Ever.”

Watching the unfolding of Barolo’s historic arc from Montalcino, the future seems undimmed. I highly recommend Stefano’s mighty post (and my translation) to you.

In one of his most powerful posts, Antonio Galloni, the anglophone world’s leading Italian wine writer, sees a much less bright horizon in the distance.

“The recent sale of Vietti to American investor Kyle Krause,” he opines, “is one of the most shocking events I have seen in twenty years of visiting Piedmont and nearly thirty years of buying and drinking Vietti wines. For decades, Vietti has marketed itself as the standard bearer of artisan Piedmontese values – multi-generational family ownership, tradition and an attachment to the land. The question is: What does Vietti, and more broadly, Piedmont, stand for today?”

No English-language scribe has better captured the socio-cultural-historical significance of this transaction and transition.

The coda of his piece, which I highly recommend to you, brought me to tears.

In a comment to one of my posts on this changing-of-hands, Italian wine trade veteran Matthew Fioretti counters that “Vietti’s best days are still to come… In fact, the sale of Vietti was not at all surprising – at least not from the production side. Nor is it a sign of doom and gloom – unless you are idealizing the Langhe, viticulture, and life on wine estates. The fact that almost nobody is asking about the reality of production shows how wedded consumers and wine enthusiasts have become to an idyllic, Romantic picture of the Langhe.”

Matthew is a great if unsung writer. And he makes an informed, compelling and Realpolitik point in his note, which deserves our attention.

Lastly, while a few blogs have published interviews with Luca Currado wherein the Vietti winemaker addresses the sale and the controversy (you don’t need me to help you find them), the good folks over at the Italian hypertextual blog and commerical platform Vinix have published an English-language interview with Kum & Go scion Kyle Krause.

Unfortunately, Vinix hasn’t updated its site to align with the new standards of internet security. The link is not secure. So proceed at your own discretion and risk.

Krause doesn’t reveal anything new about the transaction but this is the only place on the interwebs (that I know of) where he has made his voice heard.

There ain’t no cure for the summertime blues. Thanks for being here. Buon weekend a tutti.

One thought on “Vietti, final thoughts: “without a great civilization behind them, great wines cannot be made.”

  1. In the desire for disclosure – and especially since the topic is “Italian Estate Sold to Foreigners” – I might add the footnote: In late 2012, Stefano Cinelli Colombini sold a portion of his estate, for a reported €15M, to a foreigner. I suppose he has this slated for a later entry or is using the prerogative of discretion.

    This footnote supports the argument that selling and foreign investment are not by any means indicative of a crisis or a sign of the moral weakness of the seller. A more upright ‘ilcinese’ than Stefano Cinelli Colombini cannot be found. And who is more passionate about Montalcino or goes to greater lengths to share that than him?

    Making world class wine today is an expensive and demanding task, especially in Italy where many ancient wine estates are in dire need of costly renovation. As a result, assets of a wine business might be sold in part or whole. The new owner of Poggio Landi (who went on to purchase Podere Brizio, as well) is surely making needed improvements. Fattoria dei Barbi is operating stronger than ever. Each side made a good move and Montalcino benefits as a whole. Special things are happening.

    Seems to me, when it comes to foreign capital and wine estates in Italy, you can have your cake and eat it too.

    Matthew Fioretti

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