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Brunello di Montalcino is one of the greatest and most sought after Tuscan wines . The vineyards around the village of Montalcino have always produced red wine, however it was only towards the end of the 1800s, with the intuition of Clemente Santi, pharmacist of Montalcino and patriarch of today's "cult" Biondi Santi winery, that Brunello was born. He was the first to believe in and vinify pure Sangiovese Grosso . Since then, wines of great value have been produced here that have become symbols of Italian and world enology, real works of art in the bottle that can boast the DOCG brand. In reality, the Brunello di Montalcino denomination was created only in 1965, to protect and regulate production, and at least another 20 years had to pass before Brunello was recognized as an extraordinary and then cult wine: this thanks to the intuition of an oenologist Piedmontese (Ezio Rivella) and the capital of an Italian-American family (the Marianis) who founded the now so famous Banfi winery. The bouquet of the Brunello di Montalcino red wine is one that can drive a wine lover crazy, of such complexity that it can represent the "Holy Grail" of wine. Brunello is a wine for those who know how to wait: it takes years for its full potential to develop: tannins and acidity must be refined, rounded, smoothed out, blended to create a magical intertwining of scents that become ever more ethereal. The result is truly extraordinary and everything to try! Discover Vinopuro 's offer for Brunello di Montalcino wine.
Brunello was born in Montalcino , of course, and it was invented by the Ilcinesi, or rather the inhabitants of Montalcino. But if today it is so famous in the world, it is certainly due to a Piedmontese by the name of Ezio Rivella . But let's go in order and see who are the protagonists of this story, so intriguing and little known: Montalcino , a beautiful medieval village in the province of Siena; Sangiovese Grosso (locally called Brunello); Ezio Rivella , winemaker from Asti; the Mariani brothers , Italian-American entrepreneurs from New York and, finally, Castello Banfi , the largest winery in Montalcino.
If we start from the splendid village, we discover that the winemaking vocation of this beautiful medieval town, in the south of Tuscany , is very ancient: it even dates back to the time of the Etruscans . But arriving at the modern era, as early as the 19th century a very robust and long-lived red wine was produced here which the locals call Brunello , given the very dark color, precisely brown, of the Sangiovese Grosso grape , which is the one used in purity (i.e. 100%) to produce the famous wine. There are only about ten producers in Montalcino, in this period, including the one considered the putative father of Brunello: Clemente Santi , precursor of the most noble winery ever in the territory of China, or Biondi Santi . This will be the family that, most of all, will believe in the great Tuscan red, since the end of the nineteenth century and which still excels among the most famous wineries in the area.
At the beginning of the 1900s, Montalcino was, in terms of inhabitants, the third largest city in southern Tuscany after Siena and Arezzo; it is a lively center of commerce that has its most famous product in Brunello! And so in the first half of the twentieth century, Montalcino developed around its great wine; many ideas and projects that are still the basis of the modern marketing and production of Italian quality wine. For example, in 1931 Fattoria dei Barbi was the first winery in Italy, ever, to sell wine by correspondence with a mailing (by letter, of course) to all the lawyers and doctors in Italy and in the same years, Biondi Santi began to ship bottles of Brunello to the United States and to various foreign countries: we are witnessing the first examples of exports.
But we arrive in 1964 with 2 traumatic events that destroy almost everything that had been painstakingly created in these decades of fervor and innovation: the first event is of national caliber; Sharecropping is abolished and only a few farms in Montalcino (but also in the rest of Italy), already impoverished by the Second World War, can find the resources to reconvert to the most current working models; the others, most of them, close inexorably! The second event is absolutely local, but devastating; the Autostrada del Sole is inaugurated and opened , then, suddenly, no one passes from the national road called " Aurelia " (which crosses the village)! The country suddenly loses those millions of transits a year on which it lived commercially : it is as if a port city suddenly found itself without the sea! At the dawn of the seventies, Montalcino was therefore one of the poorest towns in southern Tuscany. The production of Brunello is reduced to a flicker. The area, as Ezio Rivella writes in his autobiography "Io e Brunello" «was desolate... four houses and a small railway station (Sant'Angelo Scalo) with more trains than passengers, uncultivated land and not even the shadow of the dozens of cellars and farmhouses that you see now".
And here we introduce the key character of our story: Ezio Rivella , in fact. Piedmontese from Castagnole Lanze , born in 1933, winemaker graduated from the Alba school, in the early 1950s, very young, Rivella left Piedmont, at the time too tied to a production tradition that did not allow him to develop the modernity of his ideas. Rivella's first destination is the Castelli Romani area, where he becomes a consultant to a large cooperative winery: the famous "Marino Gotto d'Oro". Here Rivella discovered his innate vocation for marketing (at the time, an almost unknown term) bringing new and winning ideas to this sector as well (for example, the screw cap ) which increased the sales of the wine of the same name tenfold.
But let's get to 1967 : topical year. At the Fiera Campionaria in Milan , Rivella (who in the meantime has moved to work at the Cantine Riunite in Reggio Emilia) meets a person by chance: it is John Mariani Junior from New York . this is a meeting destined to become historic for the history of wine, in Italy and in the world! John, together with his brother Harry, leads Banfi Inc. an American company that since 1917 (surviving prohibition) has been importing and distributing Italian wines and gastronomic specialties in the United States. The name Banfi is in memory of the mother and a dear aunt, perpetual of the archbishop of Milan, Achille Ratti, future Pope Pius XI , in 1922. John, in Milan, is looking for a hundred cases of good Lambrusco to test it on the market American. Even then, Americans had a predilection for sparkling wines! The solution is in the stand opposite his: that of the Cantine Riunite of Reggio Emilia , commercially led by Rivella. Thus was born a commercial partnership among the most famous and fruitful of the Italian wine world: the sparkling Lambrusco of Banfi Inc., "dressed" especially for the Americans" by the Riunite of Reggio Emilia, in 1970 was placed in 12 million bottles which will become 120 million in 1980 ! Mind-boggling numbers! Thus was born that financial fortune that will allow Banfi a few years later to realize an extraordinary dream.
In fact, jumping forward a few years, we arrive at 1977 , when John Mariani Junior, at dinner in New York with Ezio Rivella for the usual commercial meeting, pronounces an historic phrase…“ Perhaps it is the case that we can do things here, maybe it's time for Banfi to become a wine producer (and not just a retailer, ed)!” The right time has come for Rivella to get rid of a fixed nail (for many years) stuck in his head: Montalcino and its Brunello , or rather the re-evaluation and redemption of an extraordinary wine and territory, which fell into disgrace for years! Rivella, therefore, immediately presented his idea to Mariani: to buy all that land on sale at ridiculously low prices, in that semi-remote place, but with enormous potential, which could become the place for "his" ideal company. “ I like it, Ezio! How long does it take ?" asks the pragmatic American to a bewildered Rivella who can barely answer, at first blush: "But...I don't know...at least 50 million dollars ...!" This is a colossal figure for the time; in reality, then the 100 million investment will be exceeded. John Mariani doesn't bat an eyelid and replies: "Ok, give me 5 years of time, I'll send them to you a little at a time" . And after a week, Rivella, back in Italy, receives a strange phone call from the director of the Credito Italiano in Rome (where Rivella lived and had his current account): “Dr. Rivella, look, 4 billion lire have arrived here with a wire transfer for her ..." Rivella, absolutely thrilled, only later did he realize that John Mariani was serious...
The Mariani brothers, together with Ezio Rivella, therefore gave life to " the greatest project that has ever been carried out in the production of quality wines, in Italy ", namely Castello Banfi in Montalcino.
At this point, it is also necessary to make a small historical comment, contextualizing the situation and the time of events: no one would have bet on Italy in those years, the sadly famous “ Years of Lead ”… especially such huge figures: political factors such as terrorism , the killing of Aldo Moro (May 1978) and the economic instability of Italy were certainly not encouraging. The only casually, but truly favorable, situation will prove to be the devaluation of the lira and this is just one example: in 1978, 1 dollar = 836 lire and 6 years later, i.e. in 1984, 1 dollar = 2,000 lire! Furthermore, Banfi Inc. bought wine in lire (in Italy) and resold it in dollars, then sent the dollars to Rivella which were changed into lire and invested in Montalcino. Sometimes the currency exchange could yield up to 30%!!! Hence, in 1977 , the pharaonic land acquisition campaign by the new corporate structure, Castello Banfi, began . In total, in the end about 3,000 hectares will be acquired out of the total 30,000 of the entire municipality of Montalcino!
In 1984 , after years of projects and difficulties of all kinds, the ideal company of Rivella, that is the quality industry , was built and ready to be inaugurated ; that is, the most modern winery in the world was built, where high quality Brunello was produced, with an initial goal of 300,000 bottles/year when, at the time, all the Montalcino producers together produced the same quantity! And precisely in 1984, after 5 years of exhausting negotiations (and only due to the sudden death of the owner), the marvelous Castle of Poggio alle Mura was restored from scratch (4 years of work and 3 billion lire only to redo the foundations) , ( still today the headquarters of the Banfi Spa winery) and therefore the company as a whole was inaugurated, i.e. the headquarters and the production site: a true war machine . State-of-the-art equipment in the vineyard and in the cellar. Dozens of latest generation tractors, even a helicopter! We start with the production and, obviously, the reference market is the American one, where the sale of most of the bottles produced of Brunello is expected.
But in 1985 , so just one year later, the Apocalypse happens !! The company didn't have time to start production when the Austrian wine scandal broke out in February (addition of antifreeze to the wine, or ethylene glycol); therefore the American agency FDA (Food and Drug Administration) immediately blocks European imports! This leads to a loss of about 80 million dollars for Banfi Inc in the following year . which can no longer import and resell Lambrusco on the US market (the real financial engine of the Brunello operation) and naturally not even the latest product: Brunello! Thus, in fact, the Montalcino operation is financially exposed !
But the worst was yet to come! Early 1986 another scandal breaks out, this time in Italy, that of methanol . Therefore, exports of European wine to the USA are still blocked! A little over a year after the inauguration of the largest, most modern and most ambitious winery in Europe (and perhaps in the world), its leader finds himself without financial backing and without reference commercial markets. The Mariani brothers throw up their hands, they are on the verge of bankruptcy. From now on, Rivella was a single man… But after an initial moment of total bewilderment, he managed to draw up a strategic plan, which (over time) proved to be successful. Here are the salient points: search for financial coverage from Italian banks, obsessive research and production of quality, new sales strategies on the Italian and (later) European market through the acquisition of existing sales networks, making Brunello known through dinners/tastings/meetings to the people "who matter", to make known the most beautiful thing: the company and the castle, therefore guided visits to foreign buyers, maintenance of the high positioning of the product and no sale of Brunello, the price does not go down! and, lastly, "en primeur" sales , as is customary in France.
Thanks to these strategies, after 5 very long years , Brunello grows in the Italian market and then in the world and the Americans return with fresh capital! Ezio Rivella won the challenge! Thus, after leading the company to produce (and sell) 1,000,000 bottles of Brunello per year , Rivella left the helm of Banfi in 2000 to take care of his own vineyards in Tuscany and Piedmont. Periodically it receives honors and prestigious assignments, in Italy and in the world, while Banfi returns to the hands of the Americans with the seventh generation of the Mariani family: we are in the present day, the star and luster of Brunello shine in the world, having moreover created, over time , an incredible induced in the area that has seen the multiplication of manufacturing companies (today over 250(!)), the presence of dozens of accommodation facilities and millions of visitors a year. Long live Brunello, then!
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