CRIME AND SCANDAL IN BRUNELLO LAND: VANDALISM AT SOLDERA'S CASE BASSE WINERY

It has been a long week in Montalcino. Wine makers or not, the residents' main topic these days isn't the icy cold weather or the nightmare of Berlusconi making his way back into politics, but the mean act of vandalism, which has taken place at Gianfranco Soldera's Case Basse winery at the beginning of December. 


Sunset and vineyards in Tavernelle, Montalcino
Sunset in Tavernelle, the hamlet below the Case Basse winery



The famous Brunello producer woke last week to find his entire wine production had gone literally down the drain. During the night his wine cellar had been broken into, and the taps of Case Basse's beautiful big oak barrels (Soldera is no friend of barriques) were opened up, releasing 600 hl of wine from six vintages. Only the wine stored away in bottles was left intact. In fact not one of Soldera's forbiddingly expensive Brunellos went missing. 

No point in beating around the bush. My first thought and that of many another wine lover went back to an unpleasant memory in Montalcino's recent history. Gianfranco Soldera is the man, who in 2008 brought the Brunello scandal out into the open. And rightly so. Until that year a tendency by some producers to disregard the 100% Sangiovese rule of Brunello making had been heard of, but it was just a voice in town until the Case Basse producer decided to make some names. The affair created a lot of upheaval, but no doubt it was high time the lingering wine fraud was dealt with officially to avoid a watering down of the Brunello disciplinary. It's fine to produce Sangiovese Merlot blends in Tuscany. These blends may even make for fine wines, but they're no Brunello or Rosso di Montalcino. 

The day after the crime, one of the first hypothesis coming up on national newspapers was about the involvement of organized crime. A statement that got everybody here shaking heads. The Mafia breaking in so as to open the taps of a few barrels? This is a mean deed, but far from the atrocities the Mafia commits.

Next in line (as with every crime that involves insurance money), the question asked is, whether Soldera may have opened those taps himself. But why should he? The economic crisis may have its repercussions for most of us, but Louis Vuitton, Ferrari and luxury wine sales don't seem to be affected by any of it. And with Soldera having been an insurance broker before moving into wine making back in 1972, he surely knows that nobody is stingier when it comes to handing out money than insurance companies. 


So what does this leave us with? Back to the first thought? The crime coming down to a competitive wine maker who's still pissed off that Soldera and the majority of wine producers in Montalcino, made sure Brunello remains nothing but 100% Sangiovese grape? Asking around in Montalcino, everybody seems to think this is highly unlikely. The 250 Brunello producers may have their discordancies, but it's hard to imagine any of them watching Bacchus' heavenly juice (be it friend's or fiend's) disappearing down the drain, without doing anything about it. 

A lot of people in Montalcino seem to lean towards another theory. Case Basse's Brunello may sell for a fortune, but rumors have it, that Soldera isn't too generous when it comes to paying the people employed in the cellar and vineyards of the winery. It would also make sense that whoever entered the cellar was well aware of the total absence of video cameras and an alarm system (a surprising fact in such a world-famous winery, but still a normality in most of Tuscany's wine cellars).

Listening to interviews with Gianfranco Soldera his strong character shines through. A great producer and marketing strategist with a unique approach to wine making, the Milan born Soldera deals calmly with this major misfortune. This is not just about money; the emotional loss must be huge and will be relived for years to come. No other Italian wine is being aged for as long as Brunello di Montalcino. With Case Basse's 2007 to 2012 vintages lost, 75 years old Soldera will have to patiently wait till 2018 (the release year of the the 2013 Brunello harvest) to be able to present a Case Basse Brunello again. If this is already tough thinking for a wine lover, it must be heart breaking for a winemaker.
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