Herewith an article by venerable American wine writer Tom Hyland on Brunello di Montalcino: "Reputation on the Line".
During much of the winter in the southern Tuscan town of Montalcino, about an hour’s drive south of Siena, the streets are quiet. Only one or two hotels are open for business; many eateries, whether elaborate ristoranti or simple trattorie, have shut their doors for the season. But suddenly, for four days in mid-to-late February, Montalcino becomes the capital of the wine world—attracting scores of international journalists as well as hundreds of tourists, all eager to taste the latest vintages of Rosso di Montalcino and especially of Brunello di Montalcino, bothnormale and riserva . The annual Benvenuto Brunello, organized by the local Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, demonstrates the excitement generated by this iconic Italian red, which is produced solely from Sangiovese Grosso. Yet as recently as 1966, there were only 40 producers of Brunello, releasing 375 cases a year from 425 acres of vineyards. By 1979, production had swelled to 25,000 cases per year; in 2012, some 330 producers, working 5,100 acres, turned out 750,000 cases.
What happened to cause such spectacular growth? For Fabrizio Bindocci, who has been winemaker at Il Poggione since 1999 and has recently been appointed president of the Consorzio, the answer has much to do with quality. In recent years, he says, producers have begun to pay careful attention to their vineyards, using methods such as green harvesting. Technological improvements in the cellar have also improved the caliber of the wines. Of course, enthusiastic reviews from the Italian and American wine media haven’t hurt. In response, dozens of wealthy entrepreneurs—many from outside Tuscany—have purchased land and planted vineyards in hopes of obtaining a small share of fame and fortune for themselves. Unfortunately, the rush to glory has brought some growing pains.