Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Rosso di Montalcino Affair: Marketing Folly or Cynical Expropriation of a Common Good by a Powerful Few

As the Montalcino producers prepare to vote today on the proposal to change the requirements for Rosso di Montalcino, I could not help but view the exercise as either (i) one of the world's greatest marketing follies or (ii) a cynical expropriation of a common good by a powerful few.  Let's examine the evidence.

The Consorzio as well as Brunello producers have spent enormous sums of money positioning Rosso di Montalcino as the early drinking baby brother of Brunello di Montalcino.  And the campaign has worked.  Ask anyone who is even remotely familiar  with Montalcino about Rosso di Montalcino and they will say "Brunello's baby brother."  That is branding, a marketer's delight.  Companies expend a lot of effort and funds to gain that type of association; and once it is attained, they guard it jealously.  Enter the Consorzio.    Let us assume that they found something wrong with Rosso and determined that the fix needed to be a two- or three-wine solution (ignoring for the moment the question of why we are retaining the original Rosso as part of the solution if it has a problem), you would expect that the brand goodwill would be retained by keeping the relationship between the original product and the original name.  Any new nomenclature would be associated with the new instances of the product.  Not so the Consorzio.  They are proposing to throw out all of the investment in branding by having the name Rosso di Montalcino associated with the new product while the existing product gets a new, needlessly confusing name(s); a senseless elaboration of what it already is.  By the standards of even a first-year marketing student, a colossal blunder.

But is it? Or is it a schema for expropriating that goodwill towards another end? Two lines of evidence point towards this latter explanation.  Franco Biondi Santi had previously been reported as being in favor of the proposal to change the requirements but he clarified his position in later statements to the press.  According to, Mr Santi had previously been in favor of adding softening wines to Rosso but certain provisions in this proposal took the motion above and beyond that consideration.  According to, the motion would revisit vineyard requirements for Rosso to include removing restrictions of (i) planting on hills and slopes, (ii) plantings below 600m, and (iii) terrain from specified geologic periods.   With these changes, it is no longer about softening up Rosso di Montalcino; it is about bringing the unsaleable Sant'Antimo grapes into the fold. Under those conditions, Mr Santi could not support the vote.

With all producers having a common Rosso in their portfolio, the branding efforts, and the goodwill that accrued as a result, was a common good.  If only a select few of these producers have international varietals to add to a blend, and if that blend now retains the name that has been established in the marketplace, then that common good has been expropriated by a few, leaving the majority to try to explain to the marketplace what this new Rosso di Montalcino Sangiovese or Sangiovese Superiore is.  The net benefit is a negative to the producers left holding the bag.

We keep our fingers crossed.

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