Brunello di Montalcino: an overview

Here is a report on a trip to Tuscany.

Brunello di Montalcino, the expensive darling of Tuscan wines, has a real estate market that is as hot as the hard-to-get wines themselves.

Brunello’s rise on the world market is a result of tiny production and of forward taste. It means a bottle of the 2002 Brunello runs €40 and up in a wine shop, depending on the producer. As a result, both the number of producers and the prices for vineyards under this bit of Tuscan sun are also on the rise.

Chianti vineyard Basically, growers who might have as few as five acres have stopped selling grapes to other wineries.

“Step by step, producers here are building cellars, replanting, making their own wines,” said Stefano Campatelli, director for the Brunello wine bureau. “The cycle of creating an estate wine is not easy; it takes 10 years before you start to get money back,” he said.

Of course, many of the properties have been in the same families for centuries and this stab at making wine is not the first. But it does make it difficult for outsiders to buy into a property.

Marianis lead way

It wasn’t always this way. Back in the late 1970s, the Mariani brothers, wine importers from New York, got together with Italian wine guru Ezio Rivella and, parcel by parcel, put together a 7,100-acre estate, the largest in the region, with 80 acres of vines. Castello Banfi came complete with a “fixer-upper” castle and some 35 smaller houses. The land was dirt cheap and afforded Rivella the option of experimenting with hundreds of clones, rootstocks and soils that are only now in full production.

Where one goes – and succeeds – others follow. Italian heavyweight Frescobaldi has its Castelgiocondo estate here; the Franchesi family, owners of Il Poggione, produce their Talenti Brunello (and, as does everyone, a younger Rosso di Montalcino) on 27 acres; the Mastrojanni label, created in 1976, has grown to 44 acres.

Globalization

In 2000 Antinori, the then champion of Super Tuscans, released its first Montalcino wine under the Pian Delle Vigne label – a 1995 Brunello, not a Super Tuscan – from 73 acres on an estate purchased in July 1995.

In 2006 Washington State corporation Ste. Michelle joined forces with the now rapacious Italian giant Antinori to assimilate Napa Valley collectible Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.

A few Tuscan estates have been around a bit longer: Fattoria dei Barbi, and its 211-acre vineyard, has been in the Colombini family since 1790 (the Colombinis have called Montalcino home since 1352).

Still, the small producers have been under pressure for the past ten years. A number of them admitted they are frequently approached about selling their tiny vineyards but, “We are making good wine, very good wine. Why would we sell?” said Rosalba Vitanza of Tenuta Vitanza. Her first release was 1995.

A hectare (2.47 acres) of vines runs about €150,000 (€61,000 an acre), but Campatelli reasoned that “there’s a price and a market – the market could mean €250,000 or more a hectare because nobody is selling vineyards.”

And if the Tuscan dream includes an ancient, small and rustic villa? That would come in around €300,000 and, says Campatelli, “save another €400,000 to fix it up.”

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2 Responses to “Brunello di Montalcino: an overview”

  1. Zubair Daher says:

    I love Brunello di Montalcino. These wines are velvety and fruity!
    The problem is the price…

  2. Alessandro Bindocci says:

    Hi! Just a clarification. The Franceschi family are the owners of Il Poggione, in Montalcino, and they produce Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino and Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino. Il Poggione is 590 hectares of which 125 hectares are under vineyards.
    Talenti is another company owned by other people and not by the Franceschi family.