Editorial: Cancellation of Taurasi Fair was politically motivated

Writer and scholar Luigi Metropoli is the author of Divino Scrivere. Translation by VinoWire.


After eleven years, the Fiera Enologica di Taurasi (Taurasi Enologic Fair) has been canceled without due cause. The organizers have laid blame with decree 23, law 88/09, which prohibits the alcohol in public squares. They have canceled the event despite the fact that subsequent legislation, resolution 69837, exempts fairs from such restrictions and thus the Taurasi fair would be in accordance with the law.

According to fair organizers, however, this resolution was not sufficient and the only solution was to cancel the fair only a few days before its scheduled dates. The fair normally draws 50,000 visitors and is an important opportunity for small producers of Taurasi to show their wares.

Many continue to suspect that decree 23 was a pretext to conceal backroom political squabbles and that the cancellation of the event resulted from a power play by parties who wanted to attract attention to the weakness of local administrators. Some might call it a form of retaliation.

The Taurasi appellation is one of the greatest expressions of the Aglianico grape, one of the most ancient and most noble in Italy. And yet, few know the appellation. This is the consequence of the cultural, social, economic, and political backwardness that has crippled southern Italy and has impeded its ability for self-promotion. Taurasi has become an emblem for the South, its fruitless rivalries, and its inabilities to create the means and efficient channels to promote its riches.

Inspired by a deep love of the South, Luciano Pignataro and Divino Scrivere are protesting this situation with a petition that was delivered to Alderman Nappi of the Region of Campania on Friday, August 28 in Castelvenere (Province of Benevento) where the Grandi Vini da Piccole Vigne (Great Wines from Small Vines) conference was held on the same date. The petition calls for a new Fair Oversight Committee that will coordinate event planning beginning next year.

A number of journalists and associations have already signed and reposted the petition, including the Associazione Italiana Sommelier (Italian Sommelier Association). The authors of the petition have also conducted and posted a series of interviews nationally and internationally acclaimed wine writers.

—Luigi Metropoli

Local politicians call for transparency and protection of existing appellations in Montalcino

The following translation is an excerpt of a statement issued by the Partito Democratico of Montalcino. The center-left Partito Democratico or Democratic Party is one of the predominant political parties in Italy. The statement appeared earlier this week in the Corriere di Siena online edition (and subsequently on VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani’s blog Vino al Vino) following a meeting between the mayor of Montalcino and leading party officials. Translation by VinoWire.

Decisive action is needed to empower the administration of the body responsible for the promotion and development of winemaking [in Montalcino]. Such action should be directed toward transparency and a necessary break from the past, with a view to restore credibility and to renew solidarity among producers. Restored credibility would also allow for access to important public finances. Such action should be intended to orchestrate initiatives for the strengthening and a renewed commercial launch of the existing appellations. The name of Montalcino and its history deserve these appellations.

In the light of this, moreover, we believe that it is necessary to open a peaceful and constructive dialog between producers, associations in the sector, and its institutions with an aim to reinforce the relationship between the product and the land. Such discussion should include a balanced evaluation of the opportunity to introduce a new appellation compatible with the will of producers and the relative evolution of legislative matters. But such discussion should not be help with the aim of changing existing tradition and history or affecting Italy’s current viticultural excellence.

Craig Camp: Blousy Barolo

Winemaker Craig Camp authors the popular wine blog Wine Camp.

Everyone seems to love this wine, but me. Huge points always seem to accompany Paolo Scavino’s Baroli, yet to me they have very serious problems — they don’t taste like they were produced in Barolo or produced from the Nebbiolo variety. This time the wine was being served by the glass so, while expensive, it was not as big a of hit as buying a whole bottle of pricy wine I was unlikely to enjoy. Being by the glass it gave me a chance to give the wine another chance. I was also hopeful as it was from the lighter 2002 vintage, so I hoped it would have escaped the extremes of the Scavino style. No go. The first glass was clearly oxidized. I just thought it had been opened too long, but the bartender insisted that it had only been opened three or four hours before. A second glass, from a newly opened bottle, was fresher, but the fact that a Barolo that had been opened for only a short period was already shot shows you what happens when you put the wrong variety in new barrels. This newly opened wine showed lots of new oak flavors over a pruney, simple vague overripe fruity flavor. You can buy the same thing for a lot less money, done a lot better if you like that style, from Australia and California. Paolo Scavino is clearly a passionate winemaker, but for me, his choices simply do not work. I just cannot give up the idea that Barolo should taste like Barolo. These wines could come from anywhere.

Banker and winemaker Gianni Zonin proposes wine as collateral for bank loans during credit crisis

Source: Ansa.it

Producers of fine quality wines should be allowed to combat the current credit crunch by offering them as collateral to secure bank loans, according to the chairman of Banca Popolare di Vicenza, Gianni Zonin of the famous winemaking family of the same name.

Parmigiano Reggiano is already used as collateral in Italy and Zonin said it was time for the Italian Banking Association (ABI) and farmer associations to sit down and hammer out a way for this practice to be extended not only to exclusive wines but also to quality products like prosciutto ham and other unique Italian food delights.

”If the quality of select Italian foods is unmatchable worldwide, there is no reason why this value should not be banked on as a means to guarantee credit,” Zonin observed in an interview published in Tuesday’s edition of the daily Corriere del Veneto.

The proposal got an immediate thumbs up from Italy’s minister for agriculture, Luca Zaia, who said ”it’s an excellent idea and has my full blessing.”

”Finance is not one of my responsibilities but I will most certainly discuss this proposal with (Economy) Minister Giulio Tremonti.”

According to Zaia, Zonin’s proposal ”not only responds to producers’ need for cash but also recognises that the excellence of Italian agricultural products represents a kind of gold reserve.” Banks like Credito Emiliano have been accepting Parmigiano Reggiano as collateral for loans for over 50 years and earlier this month there was even an attempt to steal the cheese from its vaults.

Should a producer default on a loan, the bank sells the wheels to recover the lost capital There are claims that Parmigiano has been used as tender since the Middle Ages.

Franco Ziliani on Montalcino: “It will take courage, strength, and responsibility to turn the page.”

The following post has been translated from a post that appeared yesterday at VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani’s blog Vino al Vino. Translation by VinoWire.

On the investigation.

The inquiry is not over. The Magistrate’s office has now received the judge’s report on the preliminary investigation and a request to determine whether or not to indict or acquit the 5 wineries — Antinori, Argiano, Banfi, Casanova di Neri, and Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi.

The investigators’s findings revealed elements that made it impossible for them to arrive at an acquittal. They have determined that the practice of “adjusting wines” has been widespread in Montalcino for years.

In the words of the investigators, the Guardia di Finanza [Italian Treasury Department] “large quantities of wine from the 2003 through 2007 vintages were ‘cut or softened’ with grapes other than Sangiovese, the only variety allowed by Brunello di Montalcino appellation regulations.” Beyond the five names made public (and the two wineries, Biondi Santi and Col d’Orcia, that were full acquitted), they also said that “in the course of the inquiry, 17 persons were reported to Siena Attorney-General’s office for the offense of having cheated in commercial translations and falsifying public documents, and, in some cases, for conspiracy, not to mention the offense of falsifying information provided to the public prosecutor’s office. Of these, 8 entered into plea bargaining while 9 receive notice that the investigation found them to have committed these offenses.”

They added — and this where it becomes really serious — that grave accusations were leveled at no ordinary functionary. The powerful director of the Consortium has been investigated for “conspiracy to cheat in commercial transactions and false certification of public documents.”

Because he had worked at the Consortium for many years, he knew everyone and he was aware of many things that allowed him — let’s say — to be “biased” toward the producer members of the Montalcino Consortium.

For the most part, the inquiry is over. I do not think any new information will come to light, unless new facts emerge from the proceedings that the subjects of the investigation face. The big question mark is whether or not it all can be hushed up and whitewashed by a provision inspired by political gain. Local and national politicians are pressing strongly for a pardon. It would be a mockery and an insult for honest winemakers who have followed the rules.

On the fallout of the controversy.

The situation that followed the Brunello scandal, coupled with the grave difficulties owed to the Italian and international economic crisi and the drop in demand for premium wines like Brunello di Montalcino, could lead to the sale of some wineries.

But the international situation is perhaps not so favorable at present (even though Montalcino is an extremely beautiful and fascinating place, in terms of the landscape) for the sale of wineries or investiments from other Italian regions or elsewhere in the world, as has occurred in the last 20 years. Montalcino has been transformed into a land of conquest and gratification for people from all over the world.

There was a time when all you had to do was write Brunello di Montalcino on the label and the wines — good and or not so good — would sell. Everything was considered justifiable in the name of business and the market.

Now, following the Brunello scandal and the effective end of an era, we could see the emergence of a “new” strategy to salvage the “pathological” relationships that led to the anomalies that became the rule and to make a radical change.

On the political, financial, and corporate origins of the controversy.

Specifically, you have to take into account the fact that Siena and its farmland are governed by an untouchable political party (yesterday it was the PCI [Communist Party], then the PDS [Democratic Party of the Left], today the PD [Democratic Party], even though it shares its financial spoils with the opposition.

Everyone operating in the province is “monitored” by the above-mentioned party and everyone “owes” it something: information, money, jobs, etc. One unique aspect of all of this is that many jobs are filled by persons largely lack the minimal competence to fulfill their duties. The intersecting ties and relationships:

1) companies (that need to invest, plant, and operate); 2) townships (that grant licenses for construction and permission to build wineries); 3) the Province of Siena (which grants business licenses and funnels monies from the European Community; 4) the Big Bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena (that gives loans); 5) trade unions (governed by political dropouts who have close ties to the townships, province, and region, and who redirect EU financing; and 6) the Consortium (that oversees the individual wineries).

And you mustn’t forget the presence of Roman politicians within the party, nor the Regione Toscana (Tuscan Region), nor the Fondazione Bancaria (Banking Foundation [which oversees the Italian government’s private investments and its shares in the stock market]).

There is a lot of disagreement between the wineries, as much so between small and mid-sized wineries as between the big ones, and so much so that they can never take a stand together.

This is the inextricable network of relationships that “explains” the absurd silence of so many producers, small and mid-sized, that form the connective tissue of the world of Brunello production.

By remaining silent, the seem in some ways to “whitewash” and to justify the actions of the big wineries with Sicilian-styled omertà — whether or not those implicated in the investigation are acquitted or indicted. It’s hard to think that anything can be as it was before since the most famous and powerful brands of Brunello have been implicated in the investigation, from the American company Banfi to the renowned wineries Antinori, Argiano, and Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi and Casanova di Neri, which was the winner of the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 some years ago.

At the least, they have all brushed by suspicion and questioned for their way of “interpreting” Brunello.

On the 2004 vintage.

Aside from a few rare examples (like the classic wines of Case Basse and Franco Biondi Santi’s Il Greppo, or a few small producers like Il Colle, Fonterenza, Poggio di Sotto, Gianni Brunelli, Giulio Salvioni, Gorelli Le Potazzine, and if you want also Uccelliera, Pian dell’Orino, Salicutti, Stella di Campalto, Le Macioche), I do not believe that the 2004 vintage is a great one. It doesn’t reach the level of classic vintages like 1999 and 2001.

It might have been overestimated and presented as being great than it really is for the sole reason that it “had to be” the upswing vintage following the big “mess” of the Brunello scandal and the mediocre and anomalous 2003 vintage. Many of the wines are thin, lacking precision, and with little personality.

Many wines are clearly the children of higher yields (the 2004 vintage was abundant throughout Italy) and they lack concentration and meatiness. Many wines show green tannin.

Many wines are strange and seem to have been corrected, swiftly, spurred by desperation, in the cellar. The wines are now longer “cut” with “prohibited” grapes but rather made more youthful with other vintages or with wines purchased who knows where, because the original wines or those produced up until the 2003 vintage had become “unpresentable.”

And then there was also a lot of work performed by technicians, who used mannoproteins to adjust the color of the wines and concentrators and reverse osmosis, which is an prohibited practice, but many resort to its use. So far, the 2005 vintage does not seem to be an easy one.

It has more character than the 2004, but as the Wine Spectator enologists observed at the end of the harvest, “it was not a great year for Tuscany’s dominant grape variety, Sangiovese, which struggled to ripen fully in many areas and, because of the damp conditions, had to deal with the threat of botrytis… It’s a bit of a leopard-skin vintage for Sangiovese. Some of the grapes just didn’t ripen, and there was botrytis in the vineyard.”

The outlook isn’t exactly cheery and if the market for 2004 Brunello doesn’t pick up, I doubt the 2005 will do any better.

One thing is for certain. There is no need to single anyone out for pillory in the public square, but the residents of Montalcino need to take stock of the fact the season of unchecked growth has ended and that it transformed Brunello into a wine commodity, an easy business governed by only one rule: the eradication and the loss of identity of an iconic wine and its transformation into an average wine that merely costs more.

It will take courage, strength, and responsibility to turn the page and the residents of Montalcino need to openly show the world — with transparency and sincerity — that they have the will to take this step.