Soldera Tragedy: Vendetta or Vandalism?

Vandals allegedly spill six vintages of Brunello at Azienda Agricola Case Basse.

On Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, vandals allegedly broke into Azienda Agricola Case Basse (the Montalcino winery owned by Gianfranco Soldera), opened the spigots on the producer’s large oak casks and spilled six vintages, 2007–2012, (some 16,500-plus gallons) of wine destined to become Brunello di Montalcino onto the floor. It’s a tragedy for anyone who loves Italian wine.

Almost immediately, blogs and social media lit up with tales of the Brunello “vino vendetta,” translated to “wine revenge”—a cultural stereotype that Italians practice vengeance and violence. Indeed, such scandals make for great headlines, and speculation over the vandals’ motives is enthralling. People in the Italian wine business have long maintained that Soldera was the snitch who tipped off authorities about producers who created adulterated Montalcino wines, leading to the Brunellogate scandal of 2008 (also known as Brunellopoli).

Several high-profile producers—including Marchesi Antinori, Castello Banfi, Argiano and Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi—were named in an investigative probe, but many more were reported to have released Brunello that did not meet DOCG criteria of 100% Sangiovese. We will never know the full details of what happened, however, because much of the investigation was never made public—something that will also likely be true of this Soldera scandal.

To suggest that another wine producer would take revenge on the producer by spilling six years of his life and passion down the drain is irresponsible. I am saddened that the vino vendetta story has had such legs.

I was at dinner with a group of wine producers and sommeliers the day after the news broke nearby in Tuscany. The overwhelming sentiment among our group? Outrage and shock. The story from Montalcino over the past few days has been about winemakers rallying behind Soldera to offer support. The region’s small, tight-knit community of winemakers are offended by the act and worry that it will lead to serious repercussions for the entire community—one already exhausted by scandal and controversy.

As the foreign press runs wild with speculation that the vandalism was revenge for Brunellopoli, other theories and rumors abound. Maybe the vandalism was the result of unpaid debt on winery work? Maybe it was insurance fraud perpetrated by Soldera himself, who made his fortune as an insurance broker?

In truth, much of the vino vendetta theory has to do with the fact that very few people actually like Gianfranco Soldera. He is a difficult and outspoken man, known for offensive word choices that are said to anger everyone in his vicinity. I remember a dinner with him a few years back. When I told him that I was from California, he snapped back, “California is only good for growing potatoes and the wines are poisonous.” I left the dinner with my feathers pretty ruffled. 

My hunch is that if he had that effect on me, he surely must have angered a long list of people. The vendetta theory may indeed be plausible, but to assume that someone in the wine industry is the perpetrator of this vandalism is nothing short of gossip.

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