Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino maximum yields reduced and Chianti Classico “cuts sales”

The Regione Toscana (the Regione of Tuscany) has announced the passage of new legislation that will cut the maximum yield for Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and Rosso di Montalcino DOC by “1 ton per hectare.” Beginning with the 2009 vintage, the maximum yield per hectare for Brunello will be 7 tons or 47.6 hectoliters per hectare and 8 tons for Rosso or 56 hectoliters per hectare (source: Montalcino Report).

According to a report posted last week by the Italian news agency ANSA’s English-language site, “The consortium of Chianti Classico producers has decided to put less of the famous wine on the market in order to stabilise prices… ‘The economic downturn, together with a strong euro over the dollar, has hurt us and forced us to adopt measures to counter the decline in prices,’ explained Chianti Classico consortium chief Marco Pallanti. ‘We are fortunate that in our favor we have been producing excellent vintages over the past five years and all indications are that this year will be the same,’ he added. ‘For this reason we have decided not to cut production but to store more wine for the future and put less on the market,’ Pallanti said. The Chianti Classico consortium decided to limit the amount of its wine it will bottle for sale for a period of up to two years.”

Brunello consortium director defends actions while president names new auditing firm

VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani has obtained two letters sent to Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino (Brunello Producers Association) members in recent days by director Stefano Campatelli and by association president Patrizio Cencioni. Both letters address the members “pursuant to the [Italian] Treasury Department’s press conference a few days ago [see below] and news that has appeared in the media.”

In the first letter in question, director Campatelli does not confirm or deny that he was named in the Treasury Department’s findings among the seventeen persons found to have “cheated in commercial transactions” [translator’s note: official EU translation] and “falsely certified public documents.” He does, however, reveal that he was accused of said transgressions and explains his actions as follows:

“The accusation leveled at me is that of having allowed the sale of wines sourced from vineyards for which [an evaluation of] “light non-conformities” had been issued in relation to the presence of vines not in accordance with those prescribe by [Brunello di Montalcino] Appellation Regulations. In the view of the [Italian] Treasury Department, a[n evaluation of] “grave non conformity” should have been immediately issued and reported to the appropriate authorities (the Provincial Administration of Siena, the Siena Chamber of Commerce, and the ICQ [Inspectorate for Quality Control of Food and Farm Products]). In keeping with standard practices, the interpretation was to treat such situations as “light,” since it is possible to rectify the situation and bring it into conformity through grafting or by grubbing up the vines. This is what happened in nearly all of the cases.”

In the second letter, president Cencioni encourages members to project a “positive message” in the light of the Treasury’s findings and he announces that the auditing firm Valore Italia has been contracted to certify quality of association members in future.

VinoWire will continue to report on this story as new information emerges.

Official findings of “Operazione Mixed Wine” Brunello investigation

The following summary and translations have been rendered from a report initially published Saturday, July 18, 2009, by Siena Free and information subsequently published by the Florence edition of La Repubblica. Translations by VinoWire.


Above: Italian Treasury Department officials reported their findings in “Operazione Mixed Wine” on Saturday in Siena.

In a press conference held Saturday, investigators for the Siena office of the Italian Treasury Department announced that seventeen persons were found to have “cheated in commercial transactions” [translator’s note: official EU translation] and “falsely certified public documents.” Of these, eight persons engaged in plea bargaining with Italian authorities while nine received official notice that they had been found to have committed these transgressions.

Over the course of the “Operazione Mixed Wine” investigation, which was launched by the Italian Treasury Deparment in September 2007, the following amounts of wine were impounded and subsequently declassified and/or distilled according to authorities:

6.7 million liters of Brunello di Montalcino impounded, 20% declassified to Toscana Rossso IGT;

1.7 million liters of Rosso di Montalcino DOC, Chianti Classico DOCG, and Toscana Rosso IGT impounded, 40% declassified to lesser designations and 100,000 liters were “sent directly for distillation”;

400 hectares of vineyards suspected of being planted to unauthorized grape varieties were seized. Of these, 350 hectares were “put into line with the law.”

The director of the Consorzio del Brunello (Brunello Producers Association) and two inspectors of the Certification Committee were sent notice that preliminary investigations had found that they had taken part in a “conspiracy to cheat in commercial transactions” and that they had “falsely certified public documents.”

Seven wineries were investigated by authorities (later named by La Repubblica as Antinori, Argiano, Banfi, Casanova di Neri, and Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi). Two were cleared of wrongdoing (Biondi Santi and Col d’Orcia).

The investigation was headed by the Siena Prosecutor’s Office and was conducted by the Treasury Department of Siena and the Central Inspectorate for Quality Control of Food and Farm Products of Florence. The press conference was held on Saturday, July 18, at the Provincial Command Office of the Treasury Department of Siena.

The judicial inquiry began with an examination of documents taken from Consorzio del Brunello (Brunello Producers Association) “concerning the execution of ‘erga omnes’ monitoring intended to establish the ampelographic basis and unitary yield of grapes permissible for hectare planted to vine.” In other words, documentation of the types of grapes authorized and actually planted and the yields allowed and actually employed as per appellation regulations.

“Over the course of their monitoring, Consortium inspectors revealed the cultivation of grape varieties not recognized by the ampelographic basis allowed by appellation regulations for Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino (100% Sangiovese).”

“Despite the grave irregularities in inspectors’s verbal reports, the Certification Committee within the Consortium released ‘light non-conformity’ that allowed producers to obtain and sell entire productions of Brunello di Montalcino from the years 2003 to 2007 that lacked the requirements necessary to be adorned with the above-cited appellation of origin.”

“The Italian Treasury Department and the Inspectorate for Quality Control engaged in numerous operations delegated by the Siena Judicial Authority: searches of company headquarters (offices, cellars, chemical laboratories) and dwellings, wire-tapping, seizure and analysis of documentation by the Consorzio del Brunello di Montalcino, direct inspections of the vineyards, aerial photographs of the land by the Treasury Department deployed from the Pisa airbase, analysis of copious accounting and non-accounting documentation.”

“These operations allowed investigators to ascertain that Montalcino wineries have violated appellation regulations for the production of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Rosso di Montalcino DOC, Chianti DOCG, and Toscana Rosso IGT.”

“The results of further inquiry led investigators to ascertain that leading Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino producers of national and international stature had engaged in commercial fraud by obtaining those wines using grape varieties not recognized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Forest Policies for the appellations in question and the illicit blending of vinous products.”

Wineries named in Brunello investigation

A report published today in the Florence edition of the Italian national daily La Repubblica names the 5 wineries officially cited by Italian authorities for “cutting and softening” their wines. Winemakers Antinori, Argiano, Banfi, Casanova di Neri, and Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi have been cited by the Italian Treasury Department (Guardia di Finanza) for releasing wines “not in conformity” with appellation regulations. According to the report, Biondi Santi and Col d’Orcia were also investigated but cleared of any wrongdoing.

VinoWire will continue to report on this story as more information emerges.

“Operation Mixed Wine”: amounts of declassified Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino and Chianti Classico announced by Italian authorities

According to a report published today, Italy’s Treasury Department (Guardia di Finanza) has announced that 20% of the 6.7 million liters of Brunello di Montalcino impounded last year and that 40% of 1.7 million liters of Rosso di Montalcino DOC and Chianti Classico DOCG have been declassified from DOCG and DOC status to IGT Toscana Rosso. At the conclusion of an investigation, dubbed “Operation Mixed Wine” and launched in September 2007 by Italian authorities, 5 wineries have been cited for adulteration of their wines, which have been “cut and softened” with unauthorized grapes according to their official findings. At least 13 persons have been named in the investigation’s findings and at least one person has been cited for falsifying public documents.

VinoWire will continue to report on this breaking news as details emerge.

Errata corrige (July 19, 2009): yesterday, VinoWire reported that 7 wineries had been cited for adulterating their wines. In fact, 7 wineries were investigated, 5 were cited for releasing wines “not in conformity” with appellation regulations, and 2 were absolved of any wrongdoing.

Healthy vintage expected for 2009 in Italy

According to a report published today by the ISMEA (Institute for Food and Farming Market Services) and UIV (Italian Wine Union), a healthy vintage is expected in Italy for 2009, with estimated production levels only slightly less than the 5-year average of 48 million hectoliters. In 2008, Italian winemakers reportedly produced roughly 46 million hectoliters and they are expected to produce slightly more this year, despite heavy rains across the Italian peninsula in early July. An early harvest is expected because of high temperatures in May, even in northwestern Italy, where a very cold winter delayed budding and the vegetative cycle by roughly 10 days.

Italian Sommelier Association opposes government registry of wine professionals

Source: ANSA.

A bill has been tabled in the Senate to create an official registry for wine tasters, a fast-growing profession which is also attracting more and more women.

The bill was proposed by Senator Pierfrancesco Gamba of the governing People of Freedom (PdL) party who explained that the registry was needed ”to better define the requisites to become a professional sommelier, a category which today sees people call themselves experts just because they have taken wine tasting courses”.

However, the initiative has run into the opposition of the Association of Italian sommeliers (AIS), which together with the Italian Federation of Sommeliers, Hotel and Restaurant Operators (FISAR) has been issuing diplomas in wine tasting for the past 40 years.

”There is no need for an official registry. I think this bill has been proposed to favor private interest groups, like universities offering degree courses in the food sector, rather than in the interest of the profession,” said AIS Chairman Terenzio Medri.

”The profession of sommelier already exists and we offer a precise training procedure to become an official expert,” he added.

Among those in favor of the registry is the association Citta’ del Vino, whose members are towns which produce fine wines, which believes such an initiative ”will make the whole category of sommelier much more responsible and accountable”.

The association added that the bill should be expanded to set up registries not only for professional wine tasters, but also for those who taste other quality food products like olive oil and cheese.

The profession of sommelier has been expanding at a rate of between 10 and 15% a year and today some 60% are women. The average age of people taking the three-year courses offered by AIS and FISAR is said to be between 18 and 35 and only 40% make it to the end to receive a diploma.

People holding the AIS and FISAR diplomas either find work in hotels and restaurants or set up their own wine bars and restaurants.