The world of Italian wine mourns the passing of Francesca Cinelli Colombini, “Lady of Brunello,” cultural icon and viticultural pioneer.

Image via the Fattoria dei Barbi blog.

Francesca Cinelli Colombini, grape grower, winemaker, and matriarch of one of Italy’s most iconic families in wine, has died. She was 91 years old.

After the passing of her father Giovanni in 1976, she took the reins as director of her family’s historic Fattoria dei Barbi winery and farm in Montalcino.

Under her leadership, the property became one of the first major Italian producers of fine wines to ship their wines beyond Italy’s borders.

In a time in the U.S. before the current Italian wine renaissance began to take shape, she envisioned an international future for the Sangiovese of Montalcino. She guided her family’s estate through a major shift in how Tuscan wine was produced and how it was perceived throughout the world. The early commercial success of her family’s wines in north America was a reflection of her talents as a winemaker. But it was also the fruit of her acumen as an entrepreneur.

By the time she stepped down from her position as director in 1990, Brunello di Montalcino was already well on its way to becoming one of the most coveted and collected wines in the world today. She is widely known — in Montalcino and across the globe — as the “signora del Brunello,” the “Lady of Brunello” (with a capital “L”).

News of her passing was reported by the Italian mainstream media. She was also remembered in a blog post by the Fattoria dei Barbi, today led by her son Stefano, and a Facebook post by her daughter, Donatella, owner of the Donatella Cinelli Colombini winery, also in Montalcino.

After stepping down from her role as director of the family’s estate, she authored a number of highly acclaimed books on her own life and times in Tuscany.

I only had the opportunity to meet her once (when, disclosure, I worked as a media consultant for her son Stefano). She was a truly “larger-than-life” character. My brief encounter with her reminded me of times I met Hollywood stars during my years as a student in Los Angeles. Anyone who ever met her would agree: she was one of Italy’s first “celebrity winemakers.” Her high profile was another way she revolutionized the Italian wine world. And she did it in a time when the trade was still rife with chauvinism — a trailblazer and a genuine original.

Sit tibi terra levis Francisca.

You are an inspiration to generations of Italian grape growers and winemakers.

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