In what is perhaps the most closely watched and most talked-about election in the history of the Italian wine industry, the town of Montalcino and Italian wine industry observers across the peninsula are bracing for the May 18 election of new members and president of the administration of the Brunello producers association (Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino).
Tensions on the ground are high: in the wake of the recent Brunello controversy (which emerged after producers were accused of adding unauthorized grapes to their wines), authorities recently released the names of 6 persons who have been indicted for “adulterating” their wines, selling fraudulent products, and lying to government officials (11 other individuals accepted plea bargains, according to reports, thus avoiding trial and public scrutiny). The current director of the producers association is among those indicted by authorities and the previous president was forced to resign after he was implicated (although later exonerated) in the inquiry.
In a page seemingly torn from a Verga novella, matters have been aggravated there last week by the circulation of an anonymous and heinous letter defaming some of the more notable candidates.
Yesterday, relative newcomer to Montalcino, Angelo Gaja (more famous for his Piedmont properties and his controversial approach to the vinification of Langa wines), released a statement in which he addressed members of the producers association, informing them that the promotion of tourism and its infrastructure in Montalcino should be their primary concern. He also endorsed the candidacy of veteran producer Donatelli Cinelli Colombini, a producers with a wealth of experience in promoting tourism, he wrote, the only woman in a “council formed solely by men.”
Following publication of the document in the Gambero Rosso forum, the Italian wine blogosphere exploded with reactions, for the most part disparaging Gaja’s omission of issues of transparency and regulation.
A number of high-profile observers of the Italian wine industry have posted strong reactions to events on the ground and to Gaja’s open letter: VinoWire editor and author of the influential blog Vino al Vino Franco Ziliani marveled that Gaja did not address his previously published statements in which he proposed reforms of appellation regulations and a new more flexible DOC; southern Italy’s leading wine blogger, Luciano Pignataro proposed 10 challenging “questions for the new president of the consortium”; and Antonio Tomacelli, editor of the widely popular blog Intravino, wrote “There’s no question that tourists play their part, for goodness’s sake, but they come to shake hands with Brunello producers — a difficult operation, especially when they’re wearing handcuffs.”