Above: Montalcino’s breathtaking beauty is rivaled only by its extraordinary confluence of culture, history, and tradition — and its enviable economic model.
When I translated this op-ed for Fattoria dei Barbi owner Stefano Cinelli Colombini this week (I manage and contribute to the estate’s blog), I couldn’t help but be blown away by the power of his observations (not to mention his wry humor).
“Wherever great wines are produced in Italy — Montalcino, Langhe, or Valpolicella — the same old litany of grievances [is] repeated again and again,” he observes.
“The show is over and all that’s left for us ‘locals’ to do is cry: Our villages aren’t what they used to be; a wine shop stands where you used to be able to buy underwear; everything is so expensive and you can’t even find a parking spot. We’ve sold our souls and our towns are filled with SUVs and the jerks who drive them.”
But he’d rather drive an extra mile or two for his underwear and zucchini, he writes:
Our villages are wealthy and vibrant. And they offer many opportunities for our young people. Who are we to complain about not being able to find a good head of lettuce or a pair of underwear?
A “real” community is a community that has developed its own social, economic, and cultural model for living… It’s a community that offers a sustainable future to its young people. And that’s what we are.
As he points out in the piece, rare are the communities where a natural disposition for fine wine growing is combined with robust culture, rich history, and deep-seated tradition. Montalcino, he notes, is one of those uncommon examples where a model for sustained prosperity has emerged thanks to a confluence of shared vision and viticultural inclination.
Such a community, he notes, “also needs to know how to preserve its identity and how to rise up again after a crisis. Because sooner or later, the other shoe will drop.”
As I read and translated that line, it occurred to me: 10 years have just passed since news of the “Brunello scandal” broke on the floor of Vinitaly, the annual Italian wine trade fair in Verona, in the spring of 2008.
Today, I can’t imagine an Italian wine industry observer who wouldn’t concur that Montalcino and perception of its wines among consumers and trade members are stronger than ever.
I recently launched a Brunello program at a restaurant where I consult in Los Angeles: after a string of highly rated vintages, it’s the only Italian wine “brand” that seems to sell itself. Our offering is arguably more esoteric than most of our competitors’ and few of our guests recognize the estates we carry. But that hasn’t hampered sales by any means. All it takes is the mention of “Brunello”… And in the three months since we debuted the selection, not one — not a single one — of the diners has mentioned the controversy.
“If I need to drive a couple of extra miles to buy some zucchini,” writes Stefano, “that’s fine with me. You can keep your radishes. I’ll take the Brunello instead.”
Sommelier, sommelier! I’ll have what he’s having!