In the wake of my Friday post where Franco and I revealed one of the “hypotheses” for a new Rosso di Montalcino category that would allow the use international grape varieties, a lot of folks have been asking, what the hell is going on in Montalcino, anyway???!!!
Today, on his blog, Franco asks rhetorically, is the proposed change prompted by market demand or does it reflect the interests of certain actors?
The fact of the matter is that there is an oligarchy of commercial, big-business, industrial wineries that want this change. Their baron-robber chum and ringleader Ezio Rivella — gerrymandering president of the Brunello producers association — says that before the Brunello controversy of 2008, 80% of Brunello (which by law must be made from 100% Sangiovese grapes), was blended in part using international grape varieties. (Here’s my post and translation of that story.) He and his gang claim that the market (read AMERICA) wants international grape varieties from Tuscany. What he doesn’t acknowledge is that the overwhelming majority of Brunello growers and producers — 90% by most counts — want to protect their appellation from internationalization in the name of Italian and Tuscan cultural heritage. The last time that Rivella tried to hold a vote on changing the appellation to allow other grape varieties, he had to retreat at the last minute because he knew he would lose. (Here’s the post on VinoWire.)
In the days that led up to the aborted vote, Francesco Illy — scion of the Illy coffee dynasty and owner of Montalcino estate Mastrojanni — published two open letters exhorting his peers and colleagues to protect the identity of Montalcino’s iconic wines. (Juel Mahoney posted English versions of the letters here.)
Comparing the crisis in Montalcino to the hard times faced by his father in the coffee industry, he wrote that “Experiences tell us [sic] that those who have managed to defend its identity in the end he won [sic].”
The bottom line is this:
1) The big-money, establishment producers want to make the rules more flexible so that they can make more wine, even in bad vintages, when Sangiovese is more difficult to cultivate (and Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are more consistent and reliable).
2) The overwhelming majority of smaller producers do not want to change the appellations because they feel a deep connection to their land and their traditions and they do not want to see their wines internationalized (Rivella is from Piedmont, btw, not Tuscany). Ultimately, they realize, if Rivella and his gang prevail, there will be no space left in the market for their products (Walmart wins again).
3) The industrialists continue to create new scenarios that would allow them to use international grape varieties through a “back door” or “loop hole”; in other words, let’s create a new category that allows us to use Merlot when we need or want to. In keeping with the current strategy, Rivella continues to water down (forgive the pun) the different scenarios, hoping that eventually one will be approved.
If Rivella prevails, everything will be lost in Montalcino. Clear some trees, build a golf course, and, hell, why not turn all of Tuscany into a Disneyland-run tourist attraction? And after we build Disneyland in Tuscany, we’ll start working on Disneyworld in Piedmont. After all, the American boom times will return and all those fat cat brokers in Manhattan are going to need more Tuscan Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah to wash down those steaks. Shit, Tuscan Merlot costs less than Californian anyway!
O tempora o mores! Pasolini, Gramsci, Marx? Therein lies the answer…