With more than 1 million bottles of 2003 Brunello di Montalcino sitting in cellars, impounded by a Siena magistrate, one winery has decided it cannot afford to wait for the wheels of the Italian justice system to turn. Argiano, one of four Montalcino estates known to be under investigation for allegedly violating DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) regulations, announced on April 21 that it would declassify its 2003 Brunello, labeling it an IGT, so that it can sell it now.
"We just can't afford to wait for a decision from the authorities," said Stephane Schaeffer, commercial director of the winery. "We are a small producer and we make mostly Brunello, so we can't afford to let the 2003 stay in our cellars. We have no choice." The more than 6,600 cases of wine—two-thirds of Argiano's 2003 Brunello production—will be labeled Il Duemilatre de Argiano (the 2003 of Argiano) and sold under the less rigorous IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) classification for at least 15 percent less. A few bottles of the Brunello, exported before the investigation, can still be sold as Brunello.
Police, under the direction of Siena's public prosecutor, Nino Calabrese, have so far blocked shipment of Brunellos from Argiano, Castelgiocondo (owned by Marchesi de Frescobaldi), Pian delle Vigne (owned by Antinori) and Castello Banfi. Calabrese and the police began investigating last November whether some producers were using other grapes in their Brunellos, which must be 100 percent Sangiovese. The authorities claim they found other grape varieties in vineyards of these producers, and have impounded the wines while the investigation continues. Subsequent vintages, still aging, are also impounded.
The wineries under suspicion have appealed the decision, arguing that any other varietals were used in other wines, such as their regular IGTs. But while the appeals are ongoing, the wine is trapped in the cellar, tying up needed revenue. Sources report that Antinori is thinking about doing the same thing with its 2003 Brunello di Montalcino Pian delle Vigne. Meanwhile, the crisis has damaged the entire appellation's reputation, as a barrage of stories from the Italian press has condemned the wineries even before all the facts have come in.
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