Montalcino / Op-ed

Op-ed: Is Montalcino being sold because it’s a legend or is it a legend because it’s being sold?

The following op-ed appeared in Italian on December 23, 2016 on the popular Italian wine blog Intravino. Translation by Montalcino Blog.


After the umpteenth phone call with someone saying “we’re looking for a winery in Montalcino” on the other line and after having seen the price of bulk Brunello and the price of vineyards double in two years, I’m feeling a little bit imbalanced.

What doing to happen to us? Is everyone going to sell?

With this on my mind, I began to reflect on the systems of the cosmos.

Obviously, it’s clear that all of this is happening because Brunello is a legend. But there are plenty of great wines in Italy and plenty of legendary appellations. So why is this happening to us but not to others? Maybe it depends on how and why Brunello became a legend. This is what led to the nature of the phenomenon and it’s also what made it possible for Brunello to endure. I’ve heard a thousand possible explanations but none of them add up.

In order to “balance the ledgers,” we are forced to imagine that everything began sometime between the 1800s and the 1900s at the hands of one and possibly another Creator (a leading brand or leading product, to quote my friend Angelo Gaja). He or they are the one or ones who molded the existence of Brunello from nothing.

How can we be so sure?

There are plenty of entrepreneurs capable of establishing a company throughout the world. Angelo is a prime example. But an entire appellation? Beyond ability, it would also take superhuman altruism. Have you seen people like that around? I haven’t. Those who are capable of building a global brand do it for themselves.

But Brunello has two or three centuries of well-documented history that tell a completely different story. Few know this story, even among the native producers. In postulating a cohesive hypothesis as to the reasons for what has come to pass, we have to consider that the success of Brunello is owed, above all, to the fact that from the very beginning, the focus has been on the product and not on the producers. In other words, Brunello producers have always given the spotlight to the “collective brand” as opposed to private brands or the people behind the wineries.

We aren’t the only ones, of course. Champagne did the same thing but on a much grander scale. Why does it work? Because a “collective brand” connects thousands of individual interests and as a result, it also connects them with the township’s public interests. This is unthinkable for an individual brand, which bears its fruit only for its owners. If everything is working correctly, a “collective brand” generates the continuity, reach, and longevity of the investments of many individuals (or entities). Together, they increase the value of the “collective brand,” something that would be impossible for a single company.

It’s kind of like a boat in a regatta. A boat with eight rowers will always be faster and go farther than a boat with one rower. But it also has to know where it’s going. And it also needs to be guided by rowers who don’t fight with their captain or try to break the rules. There are a lot of factors at play. We’ve played this game for a long, long time. And as a result, the Brunello brand has acquired enormous value.

Have we fought among ourselves? Often, but without ever breaking. In the end, we all move in the same direction. Always. Can this be copied? Yes, of course. Work together. Work well. Maintain continuity. And let’s talk again in a century or so. If even one of the components is missing, you’ll end up like the usual comet. You will shine for a night or tow and then it’s all over. And I’ve been forgetting one vital “detail”: This is not a project for narcissists.

A “collective brand” creates prosperity for many. But there is another side to the coin: The brand image is what dominates the rest. Because it is stronger than any single brand. Thus, in the long history of Brunello, many wineries have been famous for a decade or two. But then they fall back in line with the group. They live well but they don’t stand out on their own. Just a handful of them have remained at the top for a generation. Could such a thing be acceptable in other parts of Italy, a brilliant country where people often feel a need to be the center of attention? It could only happen in Montalcino. And that’s why I’m not losing any sleep over it. Even though the world is coming to Montalcino, it’s not going to be a problem. Montalcino will always be Montalcino. Because that’s the only way it can be.

Stefano Cinelli Colombini

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