Opinion: “Montalcino, I had a dream” by Franco Ziliani

I had a dream, I dreamt I was in another Montalcino.

In my dream, it was a different Montalcino. The landscape wasn’t different. All the landmarks were there: the Fortress, the church of Sant’Antimo, the historic medieval town, the cypress-lined road that leads to the Greppo estate, the winebar and cafè in the Logge di Piazza, the Giglio hotel and restaurant. All of Montalcino’s characters were there, too. I distinctly remember seeing Giulio Salvioni, the former Consortium president Sarrino Fanti, Piero Palmucci, Gianni Brunelli, Stefano Cinelli Colombini. They were all there. But in my dream, Montalcino was different… there was a different spirit and people were talking but about different things.

I remember that in the fury to point the finger at Gianfranco Soldera and to declare him “guilty” of sending letters to the Siena magistrate’s office (letters that unleashed a dust storm), the unthinkable happened (something probably better if avoided): the Siena prosecutor’s office and the magistrates decided to summon Soldera. They were the same magistrates who had heard rumors of Soldera’s “guilt,” rumors started by persons who wished to distract attention from their own responsibility in the matter.

They summoned Soldera because he was a person who “knew the facts,” a person who might have something to tell the magistrates. Perhaps he would present substantive research on Montalcino and its wines, research conducted by him and his collaborators — famous scientists well-known for their unerring work and meticulousness.

It was a truly strange dream, a dream that had nothing to do with reality.

In the dream, instead of absolving and making excuses for those persons under investigation by order of the magistrate (and not by order of any journalist), the world of Montalcino — from the Consortium to every single producer — reacted with great dignity and pride. Instead of trying to whitewash everything, to conclude the matter as soon as possible and to “forget,” Montalcino asked for people to take responsibility, calling for a clear-cut distinction between the majority of sensible persons who respected the law and the consumer and the minority of charlatans.

In the dream, the producers under investigation considered the situation carefully and decided, as a precautionary measure, voluntarily to suspend themselves. They simply wanted to defend their good name and the shared legacy of Brunello di Montalcino and its Consortium. They chose to let justice take its course.

In the dream, the producers of Montalcino — small and large — were proud of their work. The chief concern was to protect the good name of Brunello, its credibility, and its prestige. They took matters into their own hands and they collected signatures and formed a committee undersigned in boldface by the wineries and their owners. They set out to do what the Consortium was not doing or what it could not do: they reached out to consumers, clients, markets, and importers… they spoke, explained, clarified, reassured, and offered transparency.

They reaffirmed their belief in an indisputable paradigm: that Brunello must be made with 100% Sangiovese grapes grown in Montalcino. They expressed their conviction there is no serious or substantive technical, enological, viticultural, or commercial reason to change the identity of Brunello — a wine the world wants because it is different from others, a wine that should not be homogenized or forced to imitate a Super Tuscan.

In the dream, these good-willed producers — and they formed the majority — took out a page in the Corriere della Sera and The New York Times where they explained their position and their intentions. And following the advice of their public relations agency, they held a press conference in Montalcino and laid out a clear-cut plan to save their industry.

Firstly, they called for the reformation of Siena Chamber of Commerce Tasting Commission. The panel, the said, would be invested with the power to sample and green-light wines to be labeled and released on the market as Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. The body would approve only true Brunello and it block not only technically questionable wines but also any wines out of line with regulations for production.

In the dream, the producers and the Brunello Consortium were united: they decided, with an overwhelming majority, to submit not only the current-release 2003 Brunello for examination but also future releases: 04, 05, 06, and even 07, the child of the most recent vintage. And they even decided to submit a few samples from previous vintages — 02, 01, and 2000 — for analysis.

But it was just a dream… just a dream I had.

Dear Montalcino winemakers, wouldn’t it be wonderful to make this dream, this utopia into realty? Why don’t you take the words of Martin Luther King and make them yours: exclaim, all together: “I have a dream, a dream of untarnished Brunello di Montalcino, transparent and free of any trickery. A dream of a Brunello that protects the hard work of the good-willed women and men who make it. A Brunello that defends its good name, credibility, and the shared legacy of an appellation. A special, singular, inimitable wine, a wine that will continue — albeit on more solid ground — to be an epic wine of our times.”

I know you can do it. All you have to do is try.

— Franco Ziliani

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