Franco Biondi Santi, grandson of one of the great pioneers of Brunello di Montalcino, has died aged 91.
Franco Biondi Santi, right, with Jacopo, photographed for Decanter in 2012
It was Biondi Santi’s grandfather Ferrucio, at Tenuta Greppo, the family estate, who first isolated the Sangiovese Grosso clone known as BBS11 and was credited with laying the foundations for Brunello di Montalcino, and the original appellation.
Franco’s father Tancredi Biondi Santi took over Greppo in due course, and then Franco himself. His wines, as Kerin O’Keefe in Decanter made clear in a recent list of the 50 greatest wines of Italy, ‘are among the most coveted and expensive bottlings in Italy’.
‘While these traditionally styled Brunellos may have fallen out of fashion among many wine critics who, until recently favoured fruit-forward, oak-driven wines, loyal fans of extreme elegance have never stopped clamouring for their share of the 15,000 bottles of Biondi Santi Riserva that are produced only in top vintages…Franco Biondi Santi’s own bottlings, including the exquisite and complex 1975, are just coming into their own and are extraordinarily youthful.’
‘The father of Sangiovose’ himself was well aware of the value of his wines. In 2001, when first growth Bordeaux was still dreaming of such heights, he set the price of his 1997 Riservas at €400 a bottle, or £250.
He wanted to deter buyers, he said. ‘I made less than 17,000 bottles of Riserva and I want to ensure that enough stays in the family wine library to be re-released and enjoyed by future generations.’
Biondi Santi was – and is – revered in Tuscany. The president of the Brunello consorzio, Fabrizio Bindocci, said he was ‘a symbol of quality and excellence of Italian wine in the world… [and] one of the architects of the success of Brunello at the international level.’
‘The death of Franco Biondi Santi is the cause of grieving in Montalcino, in Italy and in the rest of the world,’ Spanish website El Mundo Vino said. ‘Montalcino owes much to this great man who always put the interest of the region first, ensuring its position in the world,’ mayor Silvio Franceschelli said.
Born in 1922, Biondi Santi had been no stranger to controversy during his long career. A Sangiovese purist, he fell out with his son Jacopo, who left Greppo in the early 1990s to launch his own wines, Sassoalloro, Schidione and Rívolo.
The rift healed over the years but its origins remain murky, as Margaret Rand suggested in a 2012 Decanter interview with Jacopo.
‘How much of the break was over tradition versus modernity and how much it stemmed from personalities is an open question,’ she said, positing the theory that father and son were simply too alike in character to get on well together.
He might have been unable to cope with his son’s drive for modernisation, but for all his dedication to pure, elegant Brunello di Montalcino, with its legendary ageability, Franco Biondi Santi was prepared to embrace change.
During the notorious adulteration scandal of 2008, when Biondi Santi, Col d’Orcia and many other great names were accused, and cleared, of adding Merlot to their Brunello, he said that lower-level Rosso di Montalcino at least might benefit from some foreign fruit.
‘Since I know the land of Montalcino very well,’ he emailed Decanter.com in 2011, ‘I can confirm that small additions of other vines (Merlot, etc…) could balance the wine in small percentages.’
Franco Biondi Santi leaves his wife Maria Flora, his son and daughter Jacopo and Alessandra, and grandchildren.
Written by Adam Lechmere