The story of Brunello di Montalcino, like all beautiful things, starts a bit by chance and a bit because of someone’s determination. A person’s dream can become the dream of many, and this is what happened in Montalcino
The territory of Montalcino is one of the most unique in the world because of its wealth of minerals due mainly to its geological conformation and also because of its proximity to Monte Amiata, a volcano that was active until 700.000 years ago.
The intervention of man in understanding, selecting, and studying in this territory a special vine for decades led to the birth of one of the most famous wines in the world: Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
Only produced within the municipality of Montalcino and only with a specially created native variety called Sangiovese Grosso, Brunello di Montalcino was one of the first two Italian red wines to receive the DOCG in 1980 along with Vino Nobile.
Montalcino is one of the largest single Comune of Tuscany and Italy, and it is in a strategic position on a hill, 650 meters above sea level at its highest point (about 2.000 ft), where it dominates the valley below and where you can see the sea, which is 50km away, on the clearest days.
Already in 1.500, Montalcino was famous for the production of red wine, but it was in the mid-1800s when it was understood that the territory really had great potential and that it was necessary to create a vine that could bind the people, the climate and the soil together.
Sangiovese, the red berry grape that is still the most used in Italy and that covers 2/3 of the entire production in Tuscany, has always been cultivated here, but the mineral-rich soil and the strong acidity of Sangiovese made it too pungent and almost undrinkable as a young wine.
The Early Brunello di Montalcino by Clemente Santi
Another problem with Sangiovese in Montalcino was the color, and this is where the intervention of man comes in, particularly Clemente Santi who, in 1850, began to create clones of Sangiovese that would give more color, tannins, and sweetness to the fruit. In the end, he decided to use the clone BBS11 (Brunello Biondi Santi 11) and to name it Brunello or Sangiovese Grosso. Grosso means big, and it refers to the thickness of skin and not the size of the bunch or the grape berry. Since then, Sangiovese Grosso has been the official grape of Brunello di Montalcino.
Clemente Santi began to ferment the wine for longer periods of time, and he also aged the wine in barrels of different varieties of wood and origin ultimately identifying Slavonian oak as the most suitable for Brunello to support long aging as it is a more neutral wood. He created a patent for Brunello certifying that Brunello should only be produced within the municipality of Montalcino using 100% Sangiovese Grosso grapes and that it had to age in barrels for at least four years before being put on the market and could only be released on the market in the fifth year.
The dream of Brunello di Montalcino
A person’s dream can become the dream of many, and this is what happened in Montalcino with Brunello wine.
No one could ever have imagined that a wine created by a single winery would one day reach a production of twelve million bottles per year and would still be produced today by 250 wineries and that it would be marketed in every corner of the world.
In the early 1900s when there were only a few families that produced Brunello di Montalcino, many of whom were noble families and landowners, the farmers produced an everyday wine that could be sold easily and cheaply.
After the Second World War, the number of producers increased, but the real major change occurred at the beginning of the 1960s with the abolition of the sharecropping system that effectively freed the workers and most of the farmhouses were abandoned. Very few workers bought the farms where they had been living and working and began to produce Brunello di Montalcino.
Until the end of the 1980s, Montalcino was one of the poorest areas of Tuscany being far from the main roads and forgotten by all. For centuries, agriculture sustained the local people. Montalcino was mostly famous for its olive oil, which was also the largest source of income for peasant families until 1985 when a frost killed 80% of their olive trees. As a result, many farmers in the area decided to plant vineyards instead of replanting their olive groves.
At the beginning, only 500 to 1.000 bottles were produced every year because it was a big challenge to sell the wine. It was expensive and nobody could afford to buy a bottle of Brunello so most bottles remained unsold.
The Synergy Between Locals and Newcomers
In 1967, the Consorzio del Brunello di Montalcino, an association of the producers, was founded in order to try to enhance and market a brand that would soon become one of the most important in the world.
At the same time, Montalcino became more and more famous, and some people from the north of Italy decided to invest in Montalcino where the cost of the land was extremely affordable. The number of producers started to grow steadily.
But what really changed Montalcino forever was the arrival of an Italian American family who bought the Poggio alle Mura estate in 1978 and gave it a new name, Banfi. The owners, the Mariani brothers, started to invest in Montalcino but the most important treasures that they carried with them were the power of marketing and the ability to sell globally.
From that moment, thanks to the synergy between locals and newcomers, Brunello di Montalcino came to be known in every part of the world, and the Brunello Boom is something we are still living nowadays in Montalcino.