Sub-zoning Brunello: To Be or Not to Be
While lovers of Brunello di Montalcino may appreciate the wine for its utter harmony, they may find more of debate than of harmony brewing around the discussion to sub-zone Brunello territory.
The argument in support of sub-zoning is framed around increasing consumer understanding of distinctions between Brunello wines relative to where in the current denomination Sangiovese grapes used in Brunello production are grown. At issue is what is viewed by proponents as the varied suitability of certain areas within the Brunello zone for cultivation of Sangiovese.
Supporters include wine critics and authors, loudest among them, perhaps, the well-respected and highly published Ian D’Agata and Kerin O’Keefe (O’Keefe has written a truly excellent book about Brunello), as well as a smallish group of Brunello producers.
No doubt there exists a fascinating measure of micro-terroirs within the Brunello production zone. If sub-zoning is approved to officially delimit the denomination, it seems rather likely that Montalcino’s varied terroirs will exert their influence even among wines from within a particular sub-zone. In addition, one might expect that stylistic differences between producers would continue to contribute to distinctions between Brunello wines, again, even within the same sub-zone. If the consumer wouldn’t be already confused trying to decide which Brunello sub-zone is deserving of his hard earned cash, when he realizes that wines purchased from within the same sub-zone reflect differences, too, he surely will be.
That the market should better understand the diversity of Montalcino terroir and its perceived influences on Brunello wines is not a bad thing. It is, though, an initiative perhaps better left to good market education and consumer outreach initiatives driven by Montalcino’s producers, the governing Consorzio Brunello, wine educators, etc., without involving clunky nomenclature that may confuse consumer buying decisions.
A sub-zoning of Brunello territory, one could imagine, might be similar to today’s delimited Chianti territories (some proponents of sub-zoning Montalcino have noted the commercial success of sub-zoned Chianti) – a Classico designation considered to be the heart of the region with several defined non-classico zones to represent everything else. There may be reason for pause, however. To examine why, you might ask any average wine buyer intending to purchase a bottle of Chianti which Chianti sub-zone he prefers. The blank stare and silence sure to follow will make the point.
One wonders if Brunello di Montalcino, as a brand, doesn’t have more to gain by remaining as a single appellation. As such, Brunello stands to increase consumer awareness by continuing to reinforce market recognition of a single, unique, united brand. Even if sub-zone details are well communicated to consumers, divided consumer attention could erode primary brand awareness. Too, under a single appellation, the collective intelligence of Montalcino’s producers – to be counted among the territory’s greatest resources – seems likely to continue to evolve in a way that benefits the greater Brunello good, instead of devolving into silos of competitive sub-zone-specific knowledge and interests.
When considering the Brunello sub-zone debate, we may do well to take a lesson from the technology sector: in spite of best intentions, if the user interface isn’t intuitive and simple, broad adoption of a technology doesn’t happen. Inasmuch as the DOC / label function as the wine consumer’s user interface to the brand, I should hope the powers in Montalcino think long and hard before moving ahead with a proposal to sub-zone for Brunello di Montalcino.