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A Half-Century of Progress

The Consorzio Brunello di Montalcino turns 50, coming a long way from its humble beginnings
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: May 9, 2017 2:00pm ET

In 1967, a year after the creation of the Brunello di Montalcino Denominazione di Origine Controllata (D.O.C.), 25 producers founded the Consorzio Brunello di Montalcino to defend quality, protect its image and promote its wines. About half of them were bottling their own production, amounting to 12,500 cases.

Today, there are 229 member bottlers, whose average production over the past three years was 750,000 to 790,000 cases. Americans have a tremendous thirst for Montalcino's flagship wine, buying roughly 175,000 cases each year, nearly 15 times the entire region's output when the Consorzio was founded.

The Consorzio just celebrated its 50th anniversary in Montalcino, with a tasting of Brunello di Montalcino encompassing all five decades from 2006 back to 1967. I wasn't there, however, I did have an opportunity to sit down with its president, Patrizio Cencioni and director, Giacomo Pondini, during Vinitaly.

Cencioni, who also served an earlier term as president from 2008 to 2010, also owns the Capanna estate. I asked how the region had changed over the past 50 years. "The producers have better knowledge of their vineyards and the vinification process," he said. "We have spent the past 50 years understanding the right clones of Sangiovese and the right soils to plant them."

Technology has also allowed the region to improve quality, even in a year like 2016, he added, citing temperature control as an example. Since the 2006 harvest, Brunello di Montalcino has had lower-than-allowable yields, according to Cencioni. "Now that we are at the correct level of production, we have better control over the markets in terms of supporting prices."

Regarding the future of the region, Cencioni said the big challenge is to look back over the past 50 years, see what they have done right and wrong, and improve on it. "We must follow the important and best markets and understand the culture of wine in those markets."

When I asked about the scandal over the alleged addition of other grape varieties to Sangiovese in 2008 and its effect on the perception and sales of Brunello, he joked that the Consorzio was more concerned about the collapse of Lehman Brothers than Brunellogate. However, he conceded there was some turbulence in the markets, but Brunello sales recovered quickly.

The only dark cloud during the Consorzio's celebrations was the passing of one of its founding members, Nello Baricci, on April 19. The Baricci vineyards are on the Montosoli hill, where Nello crafted rugged, savory, cherry-infused reds. His grandson, Francesco Buffi, told Wine Spectator that Nello was concerned about the vineyards up to his last breath. "Montosoli was all his life," said Buffi. "Five minutes before passing away we were talking about green manuring (plowing under cover vegetation) and vine pruning. [He was thinking about the vineyards] until the last meter."

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