So much more to Montalcino than meets the eye…

fortezza montalcino benvenuto brunello

It’s hot outside (except for today) and it’s not the best time of year for big red wines.

And so, until harvest arrives, we are taking a break from our series “Ten Events that Shook the World of Brunello.”

For a parting thought, here’s an interesting look at Montalcino that reveals something very true and very different from what most think. Because it’s not just Brunello that breaks records in Montalcino. But no one really knows that…

According to data published by the township, Montalcino covers a surface area of roughly 24,000 hectares of which 11,500 are used for farming and it has 5,118 residents. It’s hard to believe but it’s true: The number of inhabitants has continued to drop since 1901. This trend stopped over the last decade but only because of heavy immigration. If you look at the numbers, we are record-breakers. But nobody knows it.

We have had 2 million visitors per year and we are rapidly reaching that number again with nearly 400 visitors per each resident. It’s the highest percentage of tourists per resident in Italy. But go figure: No one considers us an important tourist destination.

We have 745 businesses of which half are farmers. More than 100 are merchants and roughly 60 hotels and restaurants. That means there is one business for every 7 residents. This, too, is probably a national record.

With just 5,000 residents, we produce 5 percent of the gross national wine product. And this probably makes us the farming community with the greatest gross income per capita on the planet. Our unemployment rate is 2 percent and our foreign residents have never had any problems integrating into our community despite the fact that they represent 12.5 percent of the total number of inhabitants.

Will you find paradise in Montalcino? No, of course not. But it is a great place to live, in part because the montalcinesi don’t just make wine, open wine shops, and cook for people passing through.

Montalcino produces more honey than any other township in Italy. We have nearly 800 hectares of olive groves and that’s not all we do. We grow saffron. We produce handmade dolls. We publish children’s books. We have wood sculptors, potters, graphic designers, antique furniture restorers, pipe makers, and producers of briar root mementos. We have tailors, jewelers, producers of hemp fabrics. We have pastry shops and bakeries that preserve our local culinary traditions and shops that sell classic Montalcino food products. We have a very industrious and diverse workforce, including many young people who create and manage new business opportunities.

But Montalcino is also about wine, naturally.

We have 363 farming businesses and of these, 273 grow grapes. Ranching has all but disappeared. There are less than 100 heads of cattle and a few thousand sheep. There are 1,600 persons employed by farmers but that number exceeds 2,200 during the period when vines are grafted and during the olive harvest. It’s probably a record that nearly 40 percent of those employed in a thriving economy work in farming!

In our small corner of the world, we have very unique social model. We are an environmentally sustainable farming community with no pollution. And forgive me if you don’t find that impressive. Vines cover 3,480 hectares in Montalcino and of those vineyards, 2,100 hectares are devoted to the production of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 510 to Rosso di Montalcino DOC, 38 to Chianti DOCG, and 832 to Sant’Antimo DOC or Toscana IGT. Of the total surface area planted to vine, 2,750 hectares are planted to Sangiovese or 80 percent of the total.

But if we exclude the three wineries that have the greatest percentage of grapes other than Sangiovese, the results change significantly: 270 wineries (out of a total of 273) have 2,560 hectares total, with 2,480 hectares planted to Sangiovese or 97 percent of the total.

These data explain why Consortium members have always refused to allow blending grapes other than Sangiovese in both Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino. And when they vote, the nays always exceed 85 percent. Production and sales of Brunello di Montalcino, between the classic and reserve wines, has remained stably above 10 million bottles. That’s the highest volume ever. Even the price for bulk Brunello 2011 is the highest it’s ever been at more than €12 per liter. The price of vineyards is hard to determine. But if you eliminate the stock market speculators and the big brands, I’d guess that it’s about €1 million per hectare. And it’s probably closer to €1.2 million. These prices are tangible proof of the belief in the future held by the residents of Montalcino, whether foreign-born or local. And this aligns with a continuity in creativity that arrives from afar.

In a dispatch to Cosimo de’ Medici III in 1676, auditor Gherardini described the inhabitants of this land with words that still ring true today.

“The montalcinesi,” he wrote, “are acutely intelligently and most are endowed with a natural wit. The most well-off citizens are very civilized. And thanks to their refined intelligence, they are far from docile. They are admired by their neighbors and they can be querulous. They are industrious and active… and a good amount of money comes into this city because not only do they oversee their city and court but they also oversee the surrounding countryside and they spend a lot of it as well in Maremma.”

Intelligent, civilized, not docile, and a bit querulous. That would be us.

Wishing you a great vacation from Montalcino,

Stefano Cinelli Colombini

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