Montalcino / Montalcino History / Op-ed

The day Banfi came calling and changed the course of Brunello history

The fifth in Stefano’s series of posts on the “Ten Days that Shook the World” of Brunello di Montalcino: The First Sales Boom of the 20th Century.

Click here for the complete series. And click here for the original post in Italian published by the popular Italian wine blog Intravino.

castello banfi

Love it or hate it, Banfi has been the most important change in Montalcino in the last twenty-five years. There’s no doubt about it.

But those who dabble in history often enjoy asking questions like “what if Napoleon had one at Waterloo?”

It’s in this spirit that I’d like to share you a story, absolutely true but never-before published. It could have changed everything. But it didn’t.

It was the summer of 1969 when two Americans called on my grandfather Giovanni Colombini. They were the Mariani brothers, the owners of Banfi. Two affable gentlemen, who got straight to the point.

They were interested in Brunello and they wanted 20,000 bottles right away. The expected that number to reach 100,000 bottles over the next four years, they said, and 200,000 over the next decade.

At the time, Fattoria dei Barbi was the only estate that could produce such a quantity of Brunello. No one else could deliver 20,000 bottles. Banfi wanted a “licensing agreement” with their own label for the U.S. market. By September drafts of labels had arrived. And lo and behold, they were black like the labels that would ultimately create for their Montalcino estate.

But when the contract arrived, the problems began.

The demanded that they be given exclusive rights for the North American market. But we already had a contract with an importer in the U.S. and another in Canada. From their point of view, this was perfectly logical. They wanted to catch the proverbial two birds with one stone. They wanted to sell Brunello in their market and at the same time, they wanted to eliminate their only potential competitor.

My grandfather took a week to think about it. He spoke to the entire family. And then he told us: “This would bring us a lot of money and these people are very good at what they do. I would be happy to work with them. But we are not going to do it with these terms.”

“The future of our family lies in the Fattoria dei Barbi brand. And if I were to give up the U.S. market, I would be giving up the potential for growth.”

And so it took Banfi another ten or twelve years to get to Montalcino. And the history of Brunello took a different turn.

Was it better this way?

In our case, definitely. We were already an important brand and to work as the suppliers of an “unfinished product” wasn’t right for us.

Was it better for Brunello? Who can say?

Stefano Cinelli Colombini

One thought on “The day Banfi came calling and changed the course of Brunello history

  1. Pingback: “We made this monster”: reflections and notes on the Vietti sale | Do Bianchi

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