The Picture is Murky.
At Vinitaly I met with Lars Leicht, Banfi's Director of PR, who told me that yes indeed, Banfi is under investigation for fraud with respect to the 2003 vintage of Brunello, which they have been told to declassify. But not for having used non-Sangiovese grapes to make Brunello. Rather, for overcropping (producing more grapes per hectare than the Disciplinare governing Brunello production allows -- 80 quintals, or 8 metric tonnes), and this is where things become surreal and (to me) disturbing.
Banfi makes the Brunello in question from several vineyards located around the castle, and Lars told me the total yield of all the vineyards in question was less than the legal limit of 80 quintals/hectare. However, it was uneven, with some producing slightly less, and one slightly above. And that's what created the problems; the Prosecutor in Siena looked at the vineyard-by-vineyard yields, and even though the yield for the total vineyard area was within the limits set by the Disciplinare declared the entire production illegal because one vineyard produced more.
From a very narrow legalistic standpoint the man is right; yields should be below 80 quintals per hectare.
However, as Lars points out, vineyards are not precise factory environments. Vines produce grapes, and if left to their own devices produce lots, so the winemaker aims for a given per-hectare yield through vineyard management, which includes green harvesting and whatnot. While it's true that if one stays well under the maximum yield, one has no problems, doing so also costs money -- less wine = less income -- so people try to get close, and if this means averaging production, I see nothing wrong with that, provided total production doesn't exceed what would be allowed for a single vineyard of that area.
You may wonder, don't the vineyards that produce more grapes produce less quality? The answer is not necessarily. What is important is the production per individual vine, and if a producer has some older vineyards planted to a density of 4000 vines per hectare, and newer ones with vines planted to 8000 vines per hectare, the 80 quintals from the newer vineyard will be much better than the 80 quintals from the older vineyard because the older vineyard's vines are producing twice as much. 81 quintals from the new vineyard will probably be better than 65 from the older, and this is why I think the prosecutor is showing an excess of zeal in ordering that Brunello made from a series of vineyards whose average yield is less than 80 quintals/hectare be declassified because one parcel goes over.
"In the future we'll just aim for a maximum of 75 quintals/hectare; the wine will be better and we'll charge more for it," said Lars, and this brings up a second very important point about this investigation. The names that have come out so far are almost all large, but we've heard rumors to the effect that another 20-80 producers are under investigation, as is the Consorzio itself.
If these as-of-yet-unnamed producers are under investigation for using non-Sangiovese grapes in their Brunello, they should be prosecuted, because they're doctoring Brunello to appeal to market tastes (they could just as well label their "appealing" wine Sant'Antimo DOC, Montalcino's catchall appellation, but that doesn't sell as well as Brunello or for as much, which brings greed into the picture as well). Ditto if they're overcropping by a significant margin. But if they're under investigation for what Banfi is, the punishment -- having cellars sealed and being forced to declassify a vintage -- seems totally out of proportion with respect to the crime.
Especially in the case of small wineries; someone Banfi's size will be hurt by a forced declassification, but makes lots of other wines that are unaffected and will weather the storm. Forced declassification and cellar closure could (probably will) be a death knell for many smaller wineries, and if wineries are facing this despite staying within the limits set by the Disciplinare something is very wrong. Especially since Lars tells me the Consorzio has always told people to figure their production over their total vineyard area, and adds that as a result of this policy the Consorzio is now also under investigation too.
Bottom line: There are two things happening at Montalcino. On the one hand, some people cheated and got caught. On the other, people followed established practices and are getting ground up by an extremely narrow reading of the rules. The former should be punished, but the latter? I think not.
Almost Wordless Wednesday: Between Here And There - I took this shot during the Pelleginaggio Artusiano in the spring of 2011. The mirror is somewhere between Castrocaro Terme and Portico di Romagna (on the ...
4 years ago