On the night of December 2, someone snuck into the winery of Gianfranco Soldera, in Montalcino, Italy, and opened the spigots on huge wooden casks of Soldera Brunello from vintages 2007 through 2012. Over the course of the next few hours, 62,000 liters of extremely expensive wine—equal to 84,000 bottles—spilled out onto the floor. The damage was discovered the next morning.
The Solderas are still trying to figure out why this occurred. It was an act of vandalism on an unprecedented scale, destroying six vintages of Brunello di Montalcino from a top producer. An extremely traditional winemaker, Soldera was in the habit of aging his wine in large casks for a prolonged period of time, only releasing it when he felt it was ready. His Brunello typically sells for $200-250 on release.
In the aftermath of the incident, some people speculated that this was an act of extortion perpetrated by the Mafia (Soldera’s son, Mauro, made statements to that effect). However, there is no record of the family ever receiving any threats, and most observers feel the Mafia connection is imaginary. You might wonder why the intruder didn’t set off an alarm. Montalcino is a small, rural community where many people don’t even lock their doors at night (this will likely change, at least at the Soldera winery).
A more plausible explanation is that the vandalism is revenge for Soldera’s role as a whistleblower in the Brunello scandal of 2008. During Brunellogate, it was alleged that up to 20 famous producers had used grapes other than Sangiovese in their wine. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is a serious violation of Italian wine law and was treated as such. The grapes in question were probably Cabernet, since the addition of Cabernet would make the wine more appealing to Americans. Cynics had maintained that this had been going on for years, and—like gambling in Casablanca—had been tolerated by the authorities. No charges were brought against any of the producers. Many people suspected that Soldera had played a role in the affair, but he denied it and there was no proof that he was involved.
The only silver lining is that the wine was insured. Soldera, after all, started as an insurance agent in Milan. Sometimes, your past doesn’t come back to haunt you.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to http://www.iconicspirits.net.