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.

Tradition Rules at Giuseppe Quintarelli (by Paolo Tenti)

This hard-to-find Valpolicella estate is worth discovering, explains Paolo Tenti.
© Paolo Tenti/Quintarelli | Francesco is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, making dried grape wines
When wine lovers hear the name “Quintarelli,” they immediately think of Amarone. The association is understandable: Quintarelli’s famed bottlings are among Italy’s most sought-after wines, even if the family firm has never done any marketing or promotion. There’s not even a sign at the entrance to the estate. Yet the wines have attained cult status.

Read the article: Tradition Rules at Giuseppe Quintarelli

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

Bruno Giacosa: Pioneering Precision in Piedmont

No discussion of Barolo and Barbaresco would be complete without mention of Bruno Giacosa, one of Italy’s most esteemed producers. Paolo Tenti reports on “the genius of Neive.”

He’s the producer who inspired a generation of winemakers. A pioneer in introducing single-vineyard bottlings of Barolo and Barbaresco. And a man who’s not afraid to say no to a vintage if he thinks the grapes are not good enough.

© Paolo Tenti | Bruno Giacosa

Born into the family wine firm, Bruno Giacosa started his career at the tender age of 15 as a grape buyer, sourcing fruit for his father and grandfather, and then for many of Barolo’s large houses. In 1960, he started his own company and soon became famous for both his golden palate and his ability to recognize the best vineyards in the Langhe.

Thanks to his vast hands-on experience with growers – and his years spent seeking out the best grapes – he was among the first producers in the area to bottle single-vineyard wines. They included the now legendary Barolo Collina Rionda.

Read the full  article: Bruno Giacosa

Sicily. A continent of wine

Once infamous for making industrial quantities of concentrated musts and uninspiring sweet wines, Sicily is fast shaking off its bulk-wine and sticky Marsala image. Kerin O’Keefe identifies the island’s best growing areas and the dynamic estates that are transforming its reputation.

Photography by Paolo Tenti

Thanks to almost ideal growing conditions and a patrimony of unique native grapes, Sicily’s once stagnant wine scene is undergoing a much deserved quality renaissance. Now a wellspring of experimentation and investment, the largest island in the Mediterranean is quickly becoming Italy’s most exciting wine-producing region, as winemakers discover the island’s ancient grapes and classic growing areas.

Though the recent past was devoted to industrial-quantity winemaking, the future is focused on top-quality wines of relatively good value that are both modern and indisputably Sicilian. Sprinkled with ancient Greek temples and Norman cathedrals built by former invaders, Sicily has long been a land of contradictions, and this is especially evident in its flourishing wine sector, where new boutique wineries can be found alongside sprawling cooperatives the size of oil refineries. Even though Sicily is no longer merely a vast reservoir of grapes and concentrated must, the island’s determined drive toward quality is hindered by its steadfast image as a bulk-wine producer.

Its lingering reputation is not groundless: Sicily remains one of Italy’s most prolific wine-producing regions, with as much land under vine as all of Australia and more than double that of Piedmont or Tuscany. Surprisingly, only 17 percent of Sicily’s massive output is bottled on the island, and only 3 percent of this is under Italy’s Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) appellation system. The island remains a leading producer of strong grape must (vino da taglio), which is covertly used by many northern producers to give their more delicate wines an injection of southern muscle, while the brunt of the harvest, of dubious quality, is still sold in bulk or distilled. But side by side with these dismal remnants of mass production, dynamic winemakers have carefully revived ancient grapes and are now making some of Italy’s most innovative wines.

Read the article: Sicily. A continent of wine

Barolo patriarch Bartolo Mascarello dies (by Paolo Tenti)

Italy’s Bartolo Mascarello – the patriarch of Barolo – died at his home in Barolo on Saturday at the age of 78.

A teenage partisan during the Second World War (he used to tell German wine lovers, ‘first you chased me, now you chase my wine’) he was dubbed ‘the Last of the Mohicans’ for his dogged refusal to let traditions die.

Deploring the shift from the traditional wooden botti to smaller, 225-litre barriques, he never accepted any method of making Barolo other than low yields, long maceration, big oak casks and minimum intervention in the cellar.

His dedication to the preservation of Barolo’s true character and above all its longevity, made him the patriarch of traditional Barolo and gained him an international cult following – with fans as diverse as the cellist and conductor Rostropovich, and the Queen of the Netherlands.

Mascarello spent most of his life tending four small vineyards in prime locations: Cannubi, San Lorenzo and Rué in Barolo, and Rocche in La Morra. He favoured the old-school practice of blending from those four plots, rejecting the modern style of single vineyard crus. He always argued, ‘We don’t even have a word for cru: we have to import it from France.’

Read the article: Barolo patriarch Bartolo Mascarello dies