Soldera: The Wine Icon of Brunello di Montalcino

Origins…

Gianfranco Soldera first and foremost was a wine lover. A man who in his youth would travel around Italy visiting his favourite wineries, most notably in Barolo. He was fascinated with Nebbiolo. In his mid-thirties he decided he would make his own wine and bought the neglected Case Basse property in 1972. This Tuscan winemaking enterprise was a bit of a compromise for an insurance broker from Milan, following unsuccessful attempts to buy vineyards in Veneto and Piedmont. The Case Basse property, located in the Brunello sub-zone of Tavernelle, was recommended to him by a friend due to the site’s perfect altitude and sun aspect: warm enough to get high levels of concentration, whilst high enough to retain fresh acidity and retain aromas and complexity through slower ripening.

Right from the start, Soldera’s project was one focussed purely on producing the finest wine possible on the site. Monica states he insisted on buying a property where there were no vines. He wanted absolute control over the clones and vines he would use and he wanted his vines to exist in complete harmony with their environment. He didn’t want to inherent vines that had been pushed to produce volume. He wanted vines that remain content enough to be able to age for a very long time without suffering. In total, the property consisted of 24 hectares of which just ten hectares were planted with vines. The remaining land was forest that completely surrounds the vineyard, creating a secluded eco-system to feed the vineyard and fight the issues caused by agricultural mono-cultures whilst protecting against the propagation of diseases from neighbouring vineyards.

Producing the finest wine possible on the site also meant sacrificing yield (hard pruning down to only one to four bunches per vine) and paying close attention to every vine throughout the season. Unlike most low production sites, Soldera allows the canes to grow as long as they want, creating a large canopy of leaves that protect the grapes from the sun’s full intensity, as well as providing shelter from the rain. The leaves are then removed at the end of August. Grapes are painstakingly sorted one by one prior to fermentation. Their average production is just 15,000 bottles from a ten hectare vineyard.

According to Gianfranco Soldera, what makes a ‘great’ wine is one that is not replaceable because it has unique characteristics, like any work of art. He states: “a great wine is long-lived, it must improve, at least in the first twenty years, and offer up different sensations over time. It is the only natural product consumed by humans that can outlive man.” The production of Soldera on average is 15,000 bottles a year. But quantities can be drastically reduced if the vintage is not up to scratch due to bad weather.

100% Sangiovese…

Soldera has also been a key advocate for Sangiovese being the only varietal allowed in Brunello. For Gianfranco, along with Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo, Sangiovese is one of “the single varieties that make the greatest wines in the world”. He was one of the strongest voices in the row against allowing other varietals in the blend of Brunello di Montalcino that surfaced in 2005 and secured victory against modernist producers who were hoping to reverse the decision. Following the scandal of ‘Brunellogate’ in 2008/2009 – in which a number of high profile wineries in the region were accused of cutting their Brunellos with other varietals to increase volume and making them darker in colour and more approachable in youth – it must have felt like sweet justice for Soldera, being such a staunch defender of the wines remaining 100% Sangiovese.

 

Controversy…

However disaster struck Gianfranco Soldera when his winery was sabotaged by a disgruntled ex-worker, who emptied vats made up of the 2007 to 2012 vintages, resulting in a loss of up to three quarters of all the wine produced in those vintages. Such devastating news was met with solidarity and support from the Brunello consortium, who offered to replace the lost wine through donations of from other producers. Gianfranco refused such an offer, claiming he could not bottle and label such wine under the Soldera name, considering it a fraud to the consumer. With the consortium claiming it did not expect the donated wine to be sold under the same label, Soldera was expelled from the Consortium for libel. From then on Soldera was labelled as an IGT Toscana.

The latest 2013 release is the first Soldera to be released following the vandalism that took place in 2012, blessedly returning to full production at 16,000 bottles.

 

Research and Education…

Monica states that there are two souls at Soldera, the first is very traditional in its work in the vineyard and in its winemaking processes but the other soul is academic. Soldera has become a beacon of research in the region commissioning in-depth studies from researchers on the soils, clones and climate within the property. Monica states that climate change in the last 10 years has been very noticeable and therefore it has never been more important to understand nature. She says “Nature gives you a lot of signals but you need to know what those signals are telling you.” Without research and a deeper understanding of your environment many farmers might use aggressive methods to combat problems in the vineyard which does more damage. “If you are scared you act aggressively. If you are attentive to nature it gives you confidence and you can work to protect it”.

Soldera remains the epitome of quality when it comes to Sangiovese production and would be the finest Brunello di Montalcino on the planet if it were to be labelled as such. It is a classic example of a wine whose reputation outshines the appellation it originates from.