Challenges Facing Brunello di Montalcino

Brunello has been facing many challenges recently.   It all began when members of the Brunello Consortium considered a proposal to permit the addition of grapes other than Sangiovese to make Brunello.  Though the proposal was defeated, an anonymous letter surfaced accusing some Brunello producers of using other grapes, creating a lot of animosity among the members and an investigation by the authorities.

Another challenge has been the loss of one of the staunchest advocates for the traditional, all-Sangiovese Brunello, the legendary Franco Biondi Santi who passed away recently at age 91.  He prided himself on making wine the way his grandfather did and used his influence to make sure that Brunello would only be made from Sangiovese.  His loss has been deeply felt by those who believe in the traditional Brunello.

As if there this was not enough, there is also the strange case of Gianfranco Soldera, owner of Cassa Basse.  An ex-employee of the winery who did not like the way he had been treated entered the winery one night and destroyed over 60,000 liters of wine by simply opening the valves.  Most of the 2006 vintage had already been bottled but almost all of the wine from 2007 to 2012 has been lost.  This was a considerable loss since Soldera Brunello sells for over $200 a bottle.  Mr. Soldera may have had insurance, however.

The Brunello Consortium offered to give Mr. Soldera wine.  He thanked them but refused the offer.  Later, he made statements to the press about this offer that the Brunello Consortium did not like, so now they are suing him for libel.

Following is the press release by the Consortium and its Chairman Frabrizio Bindocci.  I think it makes for very interesting reading!

The Consortium of Brunello di Montalcino, considering the statements made by Gianfranco Soldera and published by the Corriere della Sera of 26th March last to be highly injurious, has decided to bring an action for libel against Mr Soldera. The suit, which will be filed with the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Milan, refers to the part of the interview given by the owner of the Case Basse Estate where he defined the proposal of the Consortium to give him the “wine of solidarity”, with a different bottle and label, after an employee had drained the contents of his barrels down the drain, as “inadmissible and offensive, a fraud to the consumers”.

As underlined by Fabrizio Bindocci, Chairman of the Consortium, “we consider the lawsuit a necessary course of action to safeguard the image of the winemakers, of Brunello wine and of the entire territory of Montalcino. We feel deeply offended and damaged by these and other negative statements on the Consortium and the winemakers made by Mr Soldera following the event that struck him. Our decision was made as a result of the request voiced in unison by the winemakers to take a strong measure against someone who offends the reputation and work of each one of them. This is the only reason behind our decision, and we are very firm in underlining it, once and for all”.

Pursuant to the lawsuit, the Board of the Consortium has also decided to immediately expel Gianfranco Soldera, as set forth in the articles of association. Despite his being a resigning member, Mr Soldera would have been part of the Consortium until 2015 – but his highly improper behaviour has determined the incompatibility of his participation in the Consortium.

Focusing on the motivation of the lawsuit, Chairman Bindocci wishes to stress “how incomprehensible it is to label as fraud a gesture that Mr Soldera himself, in a press release, had ‘highly appreciated’ ”. The entire phrase spoken by Gianfranco Soldera is: “They wanted to give me their wine: I would have had to bottle it as if it were my own, not knowing where it came from. An inadmissible and offensive proposal, a real fraud to the consumers”. The Consortium stresses that its proposal was meant as a symbolic gesture of solidarity, given that his wine estate had suffered great damage due to the act of vandalism.

“We consider it important to point out,” concludes Chairman Bindocci “that the statement reported by Corriere della Sera, as well as the tone adopted by him and his groundless inferences made during that interview, have considerably damaged the image of Brunello and its territory, one of Italy’s expressions of excellence worldwide”.

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