Franco Biondi Santi, arguably Montalcino's most iconic producer, has died today at the age of 91. The sad news broke on the second day of Italy's most important wine fair, the biggest of its kind in the world, Vinitaly. Biondi Santi had been struck by a particularly vicious flu last January but seemed on the path to complete recovery. Although he was of a great age, his death still comes as a complete shock.
Dubbed by Kerin O'Keefe as the 'Gentleman of Brunello" in her book, Biondi Santi was always a staunch defender of a 100% Sangiovese Brunello di Montalcino, even at times when his wines were considered old-fashioned and out of date. But he had time and public opinion on his side when in 2008 the Brunello scandal surfaced in which notable Brunello producers saw their wines sequestered and blocked for export on suspicion of containing grapes other than Sangiovese, suspicions that were later confirmed.
He was dragged for a brief moment into the ensuing controversy when voices became louder to change the 100% rule to allow for the inclusion of international varieties to create a wine style considered more accessible and round, and easier to sell. Although staunchly refusing any changes to the Brunello recipe, he did support for a brief moment plans to change the production rules of Rosso di Montalcino but publicly changed his mind afterwards – no doubt because he must have realised that this seemingly unimportant step would open the door to the eventual acceptance of a modified Brunello.
Biondi Santi's son Jacopo himself was quite vocal about the fact that he believed his father's wines needed a change, which initially caused a rupture between the two, but was followed by their reconciliation. However, Franco Biondi Santi never gave over the reins of the Il Greppo estate to Jacopo. It is unclear how the inheritance of the estate has been taken care of and who will be in charge in the future, especially since Biondi Santi has been active in all aspects of running the estate to the very end.
With the passing away of Biondi Santi the most important gatekeeper for a pure and transparent Brunello has gone, but with the confidence that his legacy will be the strongest protection supported by an overwhelming majority of producers voting 'no' to any change in Brunello's production code.