Montalcino / Montalcino History / Op-ed

The Fortezza Opens: Ten Days that Shook the World of Brunello di Montalcino (part 2)

The following post is the second in a series of the “Ten Days that Shook the World of Brunello di Montalcino.” Each post will appear in tandem with the Italian version on the popular Italian wine blog Intravino (click here for the Italian).

fortezza fortress montalcino

Above: The courtyard of the Fortezza as it looks today.

As I wrote in the first part, 1980 was the year that set the stage for the Brunello and the Montalcino we know today.

It was the year that the DOCG was created, the first year of the Festival dell’Attore (Paolo Coccheri’s Actors Festival), and the year of a new and vibrant interest in Brunello.

The relationship between wine, appellation, and culture came together that year in a way it never had before.

A steady influx of tourism began but there was also a major problem: Following the economic crisis of the 1960s, many business had closed and Montalcino lacked the infrastructure needed to manage the presence of so many visitors.

In the light of this fact, one of the most important events of 1980 was something that only we “natives” know about. And in many ways, it became the cornerstone of modern-day wine tourism in Italy: Three young Montalcino residents, Pianigiani, Giannelli, and Turchi, won a contract from the township to reopen to the public and manage the Enoteca della Fortezza (the Fortress Wine Shop).

They had all the wines and all the classic packaged food products from across the appellation. And that’s all they had.

Classic, authentic wine and food and three sharp, enthusiastic young people working in a monument that was a showstopper even on its own. It was an instant success and it quickly surpassed their expectations. Millions of visitors flocked to Montalcino and made it abundantly clear that Brunello could generate significant income in the appellation even for those who were not winemakers.

In the wake of their success, hundred of new businesses opened: Wine shops, restaurants, lodging, and tourists services that now occupied the many storefronts left empty after so many mom-and-pop storefronts had closed in the historical center of the village.

A new Montalcino was born, perhaps a little less “genuine,” but the prosperity of the new Brunello changed the lives of every last family. Well, almost every last family.

All of this began in 1980, when the ancient appeal of Brunello had received a boost for the first time thanks to its elevation in the Italian appellation system (to DOCG). It was also thanks to the shrewd management of the media, the use of culture, the appellation, and the creation of a shopping district that fueled tourism and the perception of the wines among consumers.

Let’s call it “virtuous synergy,” where every element helped to enhance and drive every other.

Genius or luck? It’s hard to say.

There’s only one thing that we know for certain: As much as we should appreciate the enormous contribution of the brilliant entrepreneurs who came to Montalcino from every corner of the world in the years that followed, this was a chapter of its history that belonged solely to Montalcino and its people.

Stefano Cinelli Colombini

montalcino wine fortress

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