One of Italy's greatest - and more controversial - fine wine producers, Gianfranco Soldera, has died at the age of 82.
Soldera, owner of Case Basse winery, died on the morning of 16 February 2019, following a heart attack while driving near to his vineyards in Montalcino, according to Italian media reports.
While he will be remembered as one of Italy’s most outspoken winemakers, his wines also attained high acclaim and bottles of Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva have become some of the most sought after in the secondary market by collectors all over the world.
From an early stage, Soldera was also a strong believer in organic principles and refused to use chemical fertilisers in the vineyard. He preferred natural yeast in the winery, developing techniques that might find common ground with today’s ‘natural wine’ movement.
Soldera was born in Treviso in 1937 and arrived in Tuscany in the 1970s in a period that saw a new wave of non-indigenous producers, such as Banfi, Gaja and Molinari, enter the region.
He originally worked in Milan as an insurance broker, and continued this career alongside winemaking until 2003.
He founded Case Basse in Tavernelle, a small village south-west of Montalcino and which lies more than 300 metres above sea level. The first Case Basse vines were planted in 1972 and 1973.
In this part of Montalcino the growing season is longer than in other villages of the denomination due to the extreme diurnal temperature variations.
Soldera farmed nine hectares of vines, on a 23 hectare estate, next to his wife’s botanical garden, which the pair believed helped to create a complex ecosystem in which the vines could thrive.
Soldera was also known for his meticulous work in the vineyard; he consistently removed unnecessary growth from the start of the season through to harvest. This involved trimming shoots, leaves and bunches during the entire growing season.
In the winery, he believed in extremely low intervention, although oak barrels were always carefully monitored by Massimo Vincenzini, a microbiologist from the University of Florence.
Sabotage in the winery
In 2012, around 62,600 litres of Soldera’s Brunello di Montalcino vintages from 2007 to 2012 was intentionally destroyed. A former employee, Andrea Di Gisi, was subsequently jailed for sabotage.
Following the attack, the Consorzio del Brunello di Montalcino offered to supply wine for Soldera to sell, but the winemaker refused, arguing that this would not be fair to consumers. He resigned from the Consorzio and continued to make 100% Sangiovese wine as Tuscany IGP.
Soldera was known for having his own ideas, such as his insistence on resting bottles standing upright rather than lying down. He reputedly only went to restaurants with his own glasses and he was believed to have only drunk his own wines and those of just two or three other producers.
However, he produced some of the most elegant wines from Montalcino that will live beyond his years.
Editing by Chris Mercer.