The news had hit like a bomb in 2016. The takeover of the Italian winemaking icon Biondi-Santi by the French luxury group EPI on 1 January 2017. This was in the same league as the takeover of Champagne Krug by LVMH or Robert Mondavi Winery by Constellation. Not just industry news, but a historic turning point. Apart from the very basic signals about the global wine business, Brunello collectors and enthusiasts naturally asked themselves about the future of the winery. After all, it had created one of the most famous Italian wine appellations almost single-handedly.
The Rarities Edition “La Storia
In June 2022, Tenuta “Greppo”, as the winery’s official name is, invited guests to Berlin’s “Grill Royal” restaurant. As the invitation put it: for a “voyage of discovery to the cradle of Brunello”. In addition to the current portfolio, European sales director Giovanni Lai presented above all two historic Riserve, which the winery has recently relaunched in the “La Storia” series. The inspiration for this – EPI also owns the Champagne houses Piper-Heidsieck and Charles Heidsieck – probably comes from the vinotheque concept from Champagne. The 2011 Riserva, made by Jacopo Biondi Santi*, was a very good vintage, somewhat overshadowed by the great 2010. The 1985 Riserva, one of the best vintages of the 1980s, was still the work of Jacopo’s father, Dr. Franco Biondi Santi, who died in 2013 at the age of 91.
In fact, the Rosso di Montalcino 2018 was the only wine of the evening that had been vinified entirely by the new team at Tenuta “Greppo”: managing director Giampiero Bertolini (ex-Frescobaldi) and Federico Radi (formerly with Isole e Olena, among others), viticulture and winemaking director” since 2017. From a cool (in Tuscany) year, the wine presented itself in the classic style with a bright colour and present acidity. On the nose, cool sour cherry aromas and, at least at the ProWein tasting, even with some funky barnyard notes (92 points).
The 2016 Brunello di Montalcino was a wine of transition in that Jacopo Biondi Santi was still in charge of the harvest, while then Federico Radi and his team had already decided as to which parcels would go into the Rosso and which into the Brunello. Certainly a great success for the house and probably one of the best Annate ever produced at Greppo. The nose is very complex and spicy, with all the Brunello typicity, but with less obvious fruit aromas. Unusual, but highly pleasing, the enormously velvety mouthfeel as a result of first-class tannin management (96 points).
In terms of complexity, the Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2015 goes one better. The bottle was a little more closed than at ProWein (see here), but still 97 points. The Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2011 “La Storica” was much more open, with slight brick reflections and a somewhat animal bouquet. Some Brunellos of this vintage tended to overripe early on, but not the Biondi-Santi (93/94 points). The Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1985 “La Storica” comes from an era in which the winery was also criticised. This bottle, at any rate, had retained its freshness, with a surprisingly stable, dark colour, a delicate texture and a good core. Certainly with reserves for another decade of storage and more (95 points).
Transferring the myth into today
Certainly, the transition from the former owner family to the new proprietor is a delicate matter. Biondi-Santi drew its nimbus not only from its past. But also from a conservative and headstrong winegrowing philosophy that seemed to have fallen out of time – even though some things certainly changed under Jacopo Biondi Santi. EPI’s great task will be to preserve the “myth” and at the same time bring it into the present. It is said that the company is investing considerable sums in the vineyards and the cellar without making any fundamental stylistic changes. But higher prices for the wine reflect this significantly. The moment of truth will come in 2023 with the presentation of the 2017 Brunello vintage. This is first without the participation of the Biondi Santi family. By the way, they now make wine at Castello di Montepò in Maremma. Compared to this stately castle, the Tenuta “Greppo” looks like the dwelling of a steward.
* Note that the family is unlike the winery written without a hyphen.