Gianfranco Soldera, grande produttore di Brunello, muore a 82 anni

Gianfranco Soldera, uno dei vignaioli simbolo di Montalcino – noto per la produzione di eccezionali vini di notevole finezza ed equilibrio – è deceduto ieri, 16 febbraio, a Montalcino dopo che la sua auto è uscita di strada a causa di un presumibile malore. Aveva 82 anni.

© Paolo Tenti | Gianfranco Soldera

Soldera ha fondato la sua tenuta Case Basse nel 1972, lasciandosi alle spalle una carriera di successo a Milano come broker assicurativo. Dopo aver cercato per anni la tenuta giusta per produrre vini eccezionali, si imbattè in una proprietà abbandonata a Tavernelle, a sud-ovest di Montalcino. Anche se non c’erano vigneti, Soldera era convinto che il terreno collinare vicino alla piccola chiesa di Santa Restituta sarebbe stato il luogo ideale per le sue aspirazioni enologiche. La sua intuizione si è dimostrata giusta, grazie al microclima secco, alle lunghe ore di luce solare e al terreno ricco di minerali. Soldera e sua moglie Graziella hanno pensato di realizzare un ecosistema unico per generare un equilibrio naturale e un microclima sano. A tal fine, Graziella ha creato un magnifico parco botanico di 2 ettari, completo di oltre 1.500 varietà di rose e numerosi altri fiori ed alberi. Un lago artificiale e nidi creati per favorire la dimora di una moltitudine di api, uccelli predatori, insetti, rane e serpenti, che a loro volta hanno sviluppato un sistema naturale ideale per le piante e la fauna selvatica.

A Case Basse Soldera produceva vini squisiti, delicatamente colorati e impeccabilmente equilibrati che vantavano una complessità affascinante. Erano l’esatto contrario del loro enologo piuttosto schietto e talvolta imperioso. Le sue spietate critiche ai migliori Barolo, Brunello e Borgogna insieme ai loro vignaioli divennero quasi mitici quanto i suoi vini, e come chiunque abbia mai visitato la tenuta ricorderà sicuramente che sputare durante le degustazioni, anche da campioni di botte, era severamente vietato.

Eppure, per quanto abrasivo potesse essere, l’innegabile passione di Soldera – alcuni potrebbero dire il fanatismo – alimentò la perenne ricerca della perfezione che portò a questi magnifici, memorabili e incredibilmente costosi Brunelli.

Seguendo i consigli del Maestro Assaggiatore Giulio Gambelli, Soldera ha mantenuto rendimenti notevolmente bassi, circa la metà di quanto consentito dal disciplinare del Brunello, ed è stato un pioniere nella selezione delle uve. Ha inoltre lavorato a stretto contatto con diverse università, tra cui l’Università di Firenze, per studiare la migliore gestione del vigneto e la vinificazione del Sangiovese, mantenendo sempre un approccio rigorosamente naturale a tutti gli aspetti della vinificazione. Il suo approccio radicalmente non interventista in cantina prevedeva solo fermentazioni spontanee con lieviti autoctoni effettuate in grandi tini di rovere di Slavonia e senza controllo della temperatura ma con frequenti rimontaggi, seguiti da un lungo affinamento in botti di Slavonia.
Soldera è stato uno dei principali sostenitori del 100% di Sangiovese ed è stato fondamentale per aiutare gli associati a guidare il Consorzio nel voto del 2008 che ha rigettato le modifiche proposte al disciplinare del Brunello che avrebbe consentito lìutilizzo di altre uve.
La polemica ha sempre circondato Soldera, ma è diventato sempre più isolato dopo il sabotaggio del dicembre 2012, quando un ex dipendente ha fatto irruzione nelle sue cantine, ha aperto i rubinetti sulle botti di Brunello e ha svuotato più di 62.000 litri di vino dal 2007 all’annata 2012.
In quello che doveva essere un atto di solidarietà, i membri del Consorzio si offrirono pubblicamente di donare parte del loro vino a Soldera, che rifiutò. Soldera ha rassegnato le dimissioni dal Consorzio nel marzo 2013, dopo aver espresso pubblicamente le sue opinioni sull’offerta che considerava a dir poco fraudolenta. Per rappresaglia per le sue osservazioni, il Consorzio lo espulse, anche se si era già dimesso. Nello stesso anno, Soldera estrasse i suoi vini dalla denominazione, preferendo invece etichettare i suoi vini come IGT Toscana.

© Paolo Tenti | Gianfranco Soldera and Kerin O’Keefe

Ricorderò per sempre la mia prima visita a Case Basse durante la vendemmia del 2003. Soldera acconsentì all’intervista, ma solo se avessi fatto le domande in cima a una tino di fermentazione di legno molto alto, così da poter continuare a pompare il vino mentre rispondeva alle mie domande. Dopo trenta minuti dall’inizio dell’intervista, tra le risposte alle mie domande, l’abbaiare degli ordini allo staff sottostante e l’attenzione al vino, notò ben prima che lo facessi che i vapori della fermentazione mi stavano facendo perdere i sensi. Mentre ero contenta di scendere, per me rimarrà sempre un ricordo prezioso. Più tardi, pochi secondi dopo aver dichiarato arrogantemente che il suo vino “era uno dei pochi vini veramente fantastici al mondo”, osservai mentre sorrideva teneramente e pazientemente seduto mentre una delle sue giovani nipotine metteva un bouquet di fiori appena colti sulla parte superiore della tuta che indossava quel giorno mentre lavorava in cantina.

Ho sentito dire che è difficile conciliare la personalità controversa di Gianfranco con l’eleganza quasi eterea del suo Brunello, ma io dico che l’uomo era complesso e profondo quanto i suoi affascinanti vini.

Cult Brunello Producer Gianfranco Soldera Dies at 82

Gianfranco Soldera, Montalcino’s most controversial and outspoken producer – known for making stunning wines boasting remarkable finesse and balance – died yesterday, February 16, in Montalcino when his car careened off the road. First responders found him in cardiac arrest. He was 82.

© Paolo Tenti | Gianfranco Soldera

Soldera established his Case Basse estate in 1972, leaving behind a successful career in Milan as an insurance broker. After looking for years for just the right estate to make exceptional wines, he came across an abandoned property in Tavernelle, southwest of Montalcino. Even though there were no vineyards, Soldera was convinced the hilly terrain near the small church of Santa Restituta would be the ideal place for his winemaking aspirations. His intuition proved right, thanks to the dry microclimate, long hours of sunlight and mineral rich soil. Soldera and his wife Graziella went on to create a unique ecosystem to generate a natural balance and healthy microclimate. To this end, Graziella planted a magnificent 2ha botanical park, complete with more than 1,500 rose varieties and numerous other flowers and trees. An artificial lake and man-made birds’ nests provide the perfect home for a multitude of bees, predator birds, insects, frogs and snakes, that in turn have developed a natural system of checks and balances for both the plants and the wildlife.

At Case Basse Soldera produced exquisite, delicately colored and impeccably balanced wines that boasted mesmerizing complexity. They were the exact opposite of their rather blunt, and at times imperious winemaker. His ruthless criticism of the finest Barolos, Brunellos and Burgundies along with their winemakers became almost as legendary as his wines, and as anyone who ever visited the estate will surely remember, spitting during tastings, even from cask samples, was strictly forbidden.

And yet, as abrasive as he could be, Soldera’s undeniable passion – some may say fanaticism – fueled his perennial search for perfection that led to these magnificent, memorable and incredibly expensive Brunellos and other bottlings.

Following the advice of Sangiovese Maestro Giulio Gambelli, Soldera kept yields remarkably low, roughly half of what the Brunello regulations allow, and he was a pioneer when it came grape selection. He also worked closely with several universities, including the University of Florence to study the best vineyard management and vinification for Sangiovese, while always maintaining a strictly natural approach to all aspects of winemaking. His radically non-interventionist approach in the cellar included only spontaneous fermentation with native yeasts carried out in large Slavonian oak vats and without temperature control but frequent pumping over, followed by lengthy aging in Slavonian casks.

Soldera was one of the leading advocates for 100% Sangiovese only, and was fundamental in helping guide the Consorzio in the critical 2008 vote that threw out any proposed changes to Brunello’s production code that would have allowed other grapes.

Controversy had always surrounded Soldera but he became increasingly isolated in the aftermath of the December 2012 break-in, when a former employee broke into his cellars, opened the taps on barrels of aging Brunello and drained out more than 62,000 liters of wines from the 2007 to 2012 vintages.

In what was meant as an act of solidarity, members of the consorzio publicly offered to donate some of their wine to Soldera, who refused. Soldera resigned from the Consorzio in March 2013 after publicly voicing his thoughts on the offer that he considered nothing short of fraud. In retaliation for his remarks, the Consorzio expelled him, even though he had already resigned. That same year, Soldera pulled his wines out of the denomination, preferring to label his wines as IGT Toscana instead.

© Paolo Tenti | Gianfranco Soldera and Kerin O’Keefe

I will always remember my first visit to Case Basse during the 2003 harvest. Soldera agreed to the interview but only if I would conduct the questions on the top of a high, wooden fermenting vat so he could continue pumping over the wine while he answered my questions. Thirty minutes into the interview, in between answering my questions, barking orders to the staff below and tending to the wine, he noticed well before I did that the fumes were getting to me. While I was glad to get down, it will always be a treasured memory. Later, just seconds after arrogantly declaring that his wine ‘was one of the only truly great wines in the world’ – I watched as he smiled tenderly and patiently sit still while one of his young granddaughters placed a bouquet of just-picked wildflowers across the top of the coveralls he wore that day while working in the cellars.

I’ve heard some say it’s hard to reconcile Gianfranco’s contentious personality with the almost ethereal elegance of his Brunello, but I say the man was as complex and as deep as his fascinating wines.

Gianfranco Soldera – Case Basse (by Paolo Tenti)

Paolo Tenti catches up with the Brunello di Montalcino producer who lost most of six vintages when his cellar was vandalized.

© Paolo Tenti | Gianfranco Soldera

Gianfranco Soldera established his Case Basse estate in 1972, leaving behind a successful career as an insurance broker. He’d looked for years for a Barolo estate, but as owners of good vineyards were not willing to sell, he searched elsewhere and found the perfect estate in Montalcino. Although the land was abandoned, with no vineyards, he had a strong feeling it would be perfect and his intuition proved right.

Soldera’s Brunello di Montalcino, almost always designated as riserva after five or six years’ aging, is among the most sought-after and expensive wines in the denomination.

Read the article: Gianfranco Soldera

Police arrest suspect in Soldera wine sabotage

Police have arrested a former employee of Brunello producer Soldera in connection with the destruction of thousands of litres of wine.

As reported earlier today on Montalcino-based website winenews.it, Di Gisi was arrested last night after a coordinated investigation involving Montalcino and Siena carabinieri, as well as the public prosecutor of Siena.

According to reports, the suspect already has a record of crimes involving destruction of property. In this case, he is charged with sabotage.

According to unofficial reports, Di Gisi bears a grudge against Soldera, stemming from the fact ‘Soldera showing preference to another employee by giving him better lodging’ at the winery, online daily siena.free.it said.

At a televised press conference in Siena the authorities said they arrested the subject after following his movements on 2 December on various video cameras around Montalcino and later intercepted a cell phone call where he told his nephew, ‘Wine isn’t like blood, with two washes it will go away.’

Read the article: Police arrest suspect in Soldera wine sabotage

Montalcino rallies round as Soldera’s Brunellos are destroyed

Vandals have destroyed thousands of litres of ageing Brunello in the cellars of cult producer Gianfranco Soldera.

The cellars at Soldera’s Case Basse estate in Montalcino were broken into and the taps opened on all of his Brunello barrels, draining the every litre of vintages from 2007 to 2012 – more than 600 hectolitres (60,000 litres) of ageing wine. No bottles, nor any valuables were taken or damaged.

Most observers assume this was a personal attack on Soldera (pictured), one of the most outspoken Brunello producers and a staunch advocate of the rule that allows only 100% Sangiovese in the blend.

Fellow producers and their consorzio, shocked at the crime, are rallying behind him.

Read the article: Montalcino rallies round as Soldera’s Brunellos are destroyed