Interview with Stefano Campatelli, director of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino

The Guild had the chance to conduct a short interview with Stefano Campatelli, current director of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino.  He weighs in on proposed changes to Rosso DOC legislation, the recent Brunello scandal, and other topics.  At the conclusion of the interview we've published Stefano's notes on the last ten vintages for Brunello di Montalcino.  

How would you, in general, differentiate the Brunello (Sangiovese Grosso) clone of Sangiovese from the Prugnolo Gentile, Morellino and Sangioveto (Chianti) clones?  What differences can be detected in the vineyard, and what differences may tasters detect in the finished wines?

    Prugnolo Gentile, Morellino, Sangioveto, are actually simply “Sangiovese”. Actually they are nicknames of Sangiovese. For me you can’t speak about “Sangiovese Grosso”, there is Sangiovese; that’s it. To be honest a lot of books, booklets, and even labels of Montalcino producers, report about Sangiovese Grosso. But I really think it is a mistake: this is my personal fight against this way to present our grape and our area. The differences in the wine depend mainly on the territory.

    Recent proposed changes to the Rosso di Montalcino DOC legislation that would permit the inclusion of grapes other than Sangiovese has been put on hiatus.  How would you characterize the strength of opposition to this change?

    At the moment change to the Rosso di Montalcino legislation is frozen. Some producers don’t agree to this change and the assembly of the members of the Consorzio decided to wait.

     If other grapes were authorized for Rosso di Montalcino DOC, even in small proportions, would the Consorzio advocate for enacting a similar change to the Brunello DOCG legislation?

      Nobody has proposed this possibility.

       What is your response to the criticism that allowing international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon to Sangiovese diminishes the grape’s distinctive character? 

        I don’t have an opinion about this matter. The producers decide and they have to know what is better for their wines.

        Speaking of adding Cabernet Sauvignon to Sangiovese, you were successfully prosecuted by Italian authorities in 2010 for your role in the “Brunellopoli” scandal, in which several major producers were investigated for releasing adulterated wines as Brunello di Montalcino.  You were charged for taking part in a “conspiracy to cheat in commercial transactions.”  Can you comment on your role in the affair?

          The prosecutor said that I didn’t respect the procedure of the control system. He said I didn’t report to the official authorities (the office called Ispettorato Repressione Frodi, established inside the Agricultural Ministry) when I found noncompliance in some cases of vineyards with vines other than Sangiovese.  Actually I was sure the procedure allowed the Consorzio to manage those kind of noncompliance issues.  Everything is finished and I am trying to forget this matter.  No kind of conspiracy to cheat was found, and the board of the Consorzio and the members of the Consorzio trust in me, otherwise I wouldn’t be here now.

          During the investigation, 6.7 million liters of Brunello were seized, along with 400 hectares of vineyard, and several major producers had their reputations tarnished.  Although only the 2003 vintage forward was subject to investigation, is it probable that this activity had been occurring for a long time?  Is the scandal at the core of the movement to reform the Rosso di Montalcino DOC?

            At the beginning they seized that quantity of wines and those hectares of vineyard. But the official data of the prosecutor shows that, at the end of the investigation, only 2,500,000 litres  (3.4% of the Montalcino's total quantity of 60,000,000 litres) were involved. The total number of hectares involved at the end of the investigation was 40, or 1.1% of the 3,500 hectares of vineyards in the area of Montalcino. As usual they start with big quantities they think are suspect. The scandal and the reform of Rosso di Montalcino are two different things. Even before the scandal the producers talk about the legislation of Rosso di Montalcino.

            What individual wines, in your opinion, really stand out as the standard-bearers for quality in Sant’Antimo DOC?

              The director of the Consorzio can’t answer this question. Sorry.

              How do you define as modern vs. traditional approaches to winemaking in Montalcino?  Are these still useful categorizations, or do most producers fall somewhere in-between in their approach?    

              It is difficult to say. Of course there are many things that can characterize producers: the size of vineyards and production quantities, the time of fermentation, the use of wood. Of course you can find more modern or traditional producers, but it is difficult to make two clear lists.

              Is there any movement to create legal subzones in Montalcino, such as Castelnuovo dell’Abate or Torreniere?  Can you describe the different climates, soils, and styles produced in different areas of the DOCG?

              There isn’t at the moment the idea to create legal subzones. Usually about climat you can recognaize two different areas, one north side and one south side. In the North there is more rain and a lower level of temperature, in the south a higher level of temperature and less rain. You can find a lot of soils: galestro (clay shist) in Nothwest, mixed sands and clay in Northeast, mixed sands and clay with stones in Southeast, and galestro and mixed sands and clay and stones in the Southwest. Usually in the North side you can find more elegant wines, delicate wines with fine aromas. In the South the wines are strong, powerful and intensely aromatic.

               Do you think that interest in single vineyard sites in Brunello will continue to grow, or will focus remain primarily on the estates rather than individual sites, in the manner of Bordeaux?

               The interest in single vineyards will continue.

              Are there plans underway to define Brunello cru vineyards, as the Barbaresco and Barolo DOCGs have?  Are there particular vineyards, regardless of ownership, that you think represent the best sites in Montalcino?


               We’re putting you on the spot: What’s the best bottle of Brunello you’ve had in recent memory?

              Same answer to the question number seven. Sorry I can’t. I love all the 208 producers we have within the Consorzio.



              VINTAGES IN MONTALCINO 2000-2010

              2000 VINTAGE

               Weather Conditions - the beginning of the vegetation period showed several rainfalls, followed by nice and sunny days with hot temperatures. Temperatures below the average and rainfalls in July and mid-August enabled a fast development of the vineyards, overriding all the single phases (budding and flowering of the fruits). The heat of the second half of August enabled the ripening of the grapes. The harvest in 2000 started earlier compared to the norm, only in certain cases already in the last days of August. This harvest was anticipated at least 10 days before the average, even if the decreasing temperature in the first 10 days of September rebalanced a lot the ripening.

               Characteristics of the Product – wines with high alcohol degrees, pleasant aromas, slightly unbalanced polyphenolic structure.

               Amount of stars – three (out of five)

               2001 VINTAGE

               Weather Conditions – the winter of 2000 and 2001 showed a lot of rainfalls and therefore a lot of water was stored in summer. On 14th April, the weather was cold with snow, the temperature decreased to –4 C°. Especially the vineyards in lower altitude were affected by damages to the early budding. The weather conditions in the summer period in Montalcino were within the norm. Due to the water storage in the winter/spring period, the development of the vineyards was good. The late cold in April influenced slightly the vegetation and the ripening. In the beginning of September, the grapes had already a good ripening, but the acidity decreased and the polyphenols could be extracted later. The harvest started late compared to the past years , due to this, the producers had to wait for the right balance of parameters.

               Characteristics of the Product – nice colours, clear and extensive aromas, good alcohol degrees and good acidity, wines with a good character and a good level of polyphenols.

               Amount of stars – four

              2002 VINTAGE

               Weather Conditions – the winter of 2001 and 2002 was very dry, the temperature was rather above the norm, due to sunny days. During spring time there were a few rainfalls compared to the average and the temperature increased particularly in May and June. The summer time showed sunny periods as well as cloudy sky and rainfalls. July and August showed higher temperatures compared to other periods. In September there were some rainfalls, but the temperature was within the norm. The ripening normally starts in the end of August to mid-September, due to rainfalls which delayed the evolution, the harvest started from mid-September and differed from area to area and winery to winery.

               Characteristics of the Product – wines with a good polyphenolic structure, sufficient body and structure, good aromas.

               Amount of stars – two

               2003 VINTAGE

              Weather conditions – the weather during the winter preceding the vegetative development was excellent, with good rainfalls resulting in a good accumulation of water in the soil levels where the root systems of the vines are. The weather during the months preceding the harvest from April to the end of August was consistently good and sunny bringing about an excellent development of the grapes, which at the time of the picking were in first-rate condition both from the point of view of the health of the grapes and their excellent quality. The beginning of the 2003 harvest was early, it started at the end of the first ten days of September. The summer heat affected the quantity of grapes, reducing them by 5% compared to the average. The Sangiovese grapes at the time of the harvest were very concentrated, with excellent parameters both for their sugar content and for their other components, particular the polyphenols, useful in bringing about a better aging. 

              Characteristics of the product- high qualitative level, excellent body and structure, products generally destined for quite a long period of ageing.

              Amount of stars- four

              2004 VINTAGE

              Weather conditions- Throughout the whole period of the development of the vine – from April to the end of August – the weather was excellent. It was marked by alternating rain and sunshine, in exactly the right moments for the needs of the vineyards. The persisting Spring showers brought about a considerable accumulation of water in the land and this reserve helped the plants overcome the summer heat. July and August were hot and sunny but there were days of cooler temperatures and even some rain. The benefits of the balanced weather of the year 2004 were added to the characteristics of the soil and the geographic position of the territory. The harvest took place in the normal period, neither before nor later than usual and went on until after the 20th of October.

              Characteristics of the product- maximum levels of quality, wines with body and structure, but at the same time well balanced and elegant, products generally destined for a long period of ageing.

              Amount of stars- five

              2005 VINTAGE

              Weather conditions -  The period of July and August was quite hot and sunny, despite the presence of days with cooler temperatures and a few rainy days. Generally speaking balanced weather conditions which allowed for  a very good development towards the end of August. The rains that started during the first days of September had an effect on the grapes and delayed the harvesting. the harvest was good however helped also by the return of the sun during the second half of September. The producers selected the grapes, leaving aside those that were not perfect and diversifying the production. Thus they were able to produce Brunello di Montalcino with the grapes that had the most poliphenols and the highest sugar content, and  the grapes that were less structured and more fruity were set aside for the production of Rosso di Montalcino.

              Characteristics of the product - excellent quality, elegant wines with a good body and structure, that can be destined for a medium-long period of aging.

              Amount of stars -  four

              2006 VINTAGE

              Weather Conditions – From April to June a period of persistent rainfalls resulted in a considerable accumulation of water underground, which proved extremely useful during the summer heat. The month of July was very hot and sunny, with an excellent development of the grapes and the right phenological phases of the vine. The month of August was less hot than normal, as the sky was often cloudy with occasional rainfalls. The first part of September was very hot and sunny and ensured the final evolution of the grapes into a complete and balanced fruition. The second half of September began with some rainfalls causing a distinct weather change and the beginning of autumn. The situation very soon became stable once more enabling the start of the harvesting operations.

              Characteristics of the product - Wines rich and with body, ample poliphenolic components, wines with a good body and structure that can be kept for a long time.

              Amount of stars – five.

              2007 VINTAGE

              Weather conditions -   The 2007 harvest in the Montalcino area began on the 10th of September, a little sooner than average. The vegetative development was ahead due to a very dry warm winter. The rains came from the end of May to the beginning of June, much to the relief of the vineyards. Later on, hot and dry periods, particularly in July, alternated with cooler moments but with little rain. From the month of August the lower temperatures were accompanied by rainfalls, a situation which brought about a more normal development of the phenological phases of the vines. By harvest time the grapes were very concentrated, with high degrees of sugar and a gradual developing of the phenological components. The grapes were healthy when they were picked, with uniformly sized bunches not over large.

              Characteristics of the product – Structured wines, with a good poliphenolic component, moderate acidity, elegant.

              Amount of stars – five.

              2008 VINTAGE

              Weather conditions - The 2008 Brunello harvest took place in optimum conditions and with ideal weather. The result is a vintage with good wines some of which attain excellent qualitative levels. From the point of view of the weather conditions it has been a good year: after a considerably rainy winter, though not particularly cold, the spring proved very regular both in its rainfalls and its temperatures. As for the quantity the harvest is within the average of the last 2-3 years. The rains, with alternating phases, went on until the middle of June, whereas the periods with high temperatures alternated in June and July with cooler rainy moments. With this kind of weather the first phases of the development of the vines, from the spring germination to the veraison, were somewhat delayed.

              Characteristics of the productWines with good acidity, with soft structures and not overly aggressive tannins.

              Amount of stars – four.

              2009 VINTAGE

              Weather conditions - During the first phase, there were many rainy days which resulted in a large accumulation of water reserves in the land. This was in the Spring, at the beginning of the vegetative development of the vines. This mainly rainy phase lasted longer than normal, until the middle of July. During the second phase,  the summer season, the weather was very dry and hot. The water reserves, accumulated during the first phase, proved very useful. The ripening speeded up from the second half of the month of August and followed a steady rhythm, as is clear also from the analytical data collected by the Consorzio. The potential alcohol contents of the grapes are quite high, but with excellent levels of total acidity and extracts. The amounts of polyphenols are both substantial and well balanced.

              Characteristics of the product – elegant, with tannin but not excessive amounts of tannins, of medium ageing capacity.

              Amount of stars -  four.

              2010 VINTAGE

              Weather conditions – The year 2010 will be remembered in Montalcino for a delay in the budding due to below average spring temperatures and for the frequent rainfalls that characterized this period, a situation that consequently favoured a strong vegetative development and caused some problems in the flowering phase, resulting in a slight decrease of production, of around 10%.

              The summer phase was marked by a stable climate with good weather conditions, and only a few rainfalls during the month of August that mitigated the heat and favoured a recovery of the phenological cycle even though the beginning of the veraison took place ten days late compared to the average of the last ten years.

              But Sangiovese grapes show their total capacity for recovery if, during the ripening of the grapes, the weather remains favourable – and this is what happened this year, allowing for a harmonious ripening of the phenological and sugar contents.

              The wines obtained from this harvest – begun after delays that varied from a minimum of 8 to a maximum of 14 days – manifest therefore, extraordinary features for Sangiovese, both with regard to their organoleptic profile as to the parameters of their composition.

              Characteristics of the product  - Excellent level of alcohol content in some cases, even, on the high side; levels of total poliphenols, of anthocyans and extracts that are extremely high and rarely found in this grape variety; a very high capacity for aging.

              Amount of stars – five.