Marchesi de' Frescobaldi, one of Tuscany's most prominent and historic wine producers, is facing charges of fraud in connection with wines produced on its 260-acre Fattoria di Castiglioni estate in Montespertoli, southwest of Florence.
Investigators allege that the estate's winemakers used a higher percentage of grapes from southern Italy than is legally acceptable in the production of some estate wines. Castiglioni is known for wines such as Giramonte, a Merlot-Sangiovese blend that bears the Toscana Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) designation, and the traditional Sangiovese-based Castiglioni Chianti, which carries a Denominazione d'Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). It also began producing a new Cabernet Sauvignon-Sangiovese IGT blend called Tenuta di Castiglioni with the 2003 vintage.
Italian law permits IGT-labeled wines to contain up to 15 percent grapes from outside the designated region; in DOC and DOCG wines, no outside grapes are allowed.
"It's important not to jump the gun here," said Lamberto Frescobaldi, who manages all the Frescobaldi family wine holdings. "The grapes we buy from Puglia [in southern Italy] serve predominantly to meet local demand for bulk wine."
Frescobaldi said the company sells the equivalent of about 160,000 cases of bulk wine, which can legally be a blend of local wine--in this case mainly second-choice grapes from Frescobaldi's estates--and wine originating in other regions. "We are confident that this misunderstanding will be cleared up soon," he added.
According to local press reports, investigators started to monitor shipments of grapes from Puglia to the Castiglioni estate more than a year ago, following a tip from, it is believed, an ex-employee.
Then, on April 13, officers of Italy's Guardia di Finanza (the financial police) staged a search of the company headquarters in Florence and of two Frescobaldi properties, the Castiglioni estate and the company's winery at Sieci, east of Florence, where the wines produced at Castiglioni are stored. The police seized samples of finished wines and documents relating to the purchases of grapes from Puglia.
The financial police confirmed reports of their actions, but declined to elaborate either on the details of the accusations or the progress of the investigation. "We have been told by the public prosecutor to make no further comment," said an officer.
Marchesi de' Frescobaldi has been making wine in Tuscany for more than 700 years. Today, the company owns 10 Tuscan estates, located in all the major wine-producing areas of the region, as well as the Attems estate in northeastern Italy's Friuli region.
Earlier this month, the company purchased the prized Bolgheri estate of Tenuta dell'Ornellaia from Constellation Brands. Frescobaldi, which had been a partner in the winery, became the outright owner by buying the 50 percent stake that had belonged to Robert Mondavi Corp.
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