Antinori has been renting the abbey's historic cellars since 1989, according to Brother Abele, who is in charge of the order's administration. "We have no objection to renewing the rent contract; all we're asking for is a fair rent," he said.
"The past six-year contract stipulated a yearly rent of $20,000," said Federico Frediani, the legal representative for the monks. "It's a really low rent considering the value of the wines they are storing. The monks have very little commercial sense, but feel Antinori is taking advantage of them."
Badia a Passignano, just south of Florence, has been the property of the Benedictine order since 890. In 1987, the monks sold off about 1,000 acres of land to Antinori, who has replanted 150 acres to vines. Today those vineyards produce Antinori's Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva.
Before the lease ended on April 21, the monks asked Antinori to come up with a better proposal for a higher rent, according to Albiera Antinori, communications director. The Florentine wine firm offered $35,000 per year, which the monks turned down. They then demanded $75,000, saying that an anonymous American bidder has already offered $90,000 a year.
"We have made a perfectly good offer," said Albiera Antinori. "It's one thing to double the rent but to quadruple it is just not on."
The monks' lawyer said they have issued an eviction order and are waiting for Antinori to formally respond, but Antinori doesn't seem too concerned. "We are not prepared to be blackmailed like this," said Antinori. "If we don't reach an agreement to renew the lease, we'll move the barriques to the new winery at our Santa Cristina estate. It would be a pity because the abbey's cellars are really quite stunning."
But the dispute doesn't end at finances, explained Frediani. "Antinori has been using the image of the abbey and its crest as if they owned it. Not only is the abbey's crest on the label of Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva, they are using it as if it were their own family coat of arms."
Brother Abele added another complaint: "Tourists are forever turning up at the abbey, saying they want to see Antinori's castle and cellar. It's not surprising, if you look at their Internet site they talk about the abbey as if it were their property."
Antinori, which has been using the abbey's crest on the label of Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva since 1988, claims they have a right to use the name and the crest because the vines are on Badia a Passignano's property. Antinori said, "If you ask me, it's a lot of fuss about nothing."
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