Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Inside the Rosso di Montalcino "No" Vote

"The assembly of producers congregated in the Consorzio del Brunello di Montalcino met this afternoon and rejected the proposal to modify the regulations of the DOC Rosso di Montalcino." So began the brief, two-paragraph press release issued by the Consorzio on September 7th to inform the world that this initiative had been soundly defeated.  The results are now history but what actually transpired in that meeting where the vote was taken?  I have consulted with reliable sources in order to gain some insight into the setting and proceedings and will share those insights in this post.

But first let us revisit the purpose of the vote.  According to Decanter.com, the proposed motion would, if adopted, allow: (i) the inclusion of up to 15% of non-Sangiovese varietals in Rosso di Montalcino; (ii) permit irrigation in the vineyards; (iii) remove regulations stipulating that vines used to source Rosso wines be planted on hills and slopes; (iv) allow for the inclusion of grapes planted below 600m; and (v) broaden the acceptable terrain on which vines could be planted.

Now back to the vote.  The meeting to vote on the motion was held in the Teatro degli Astrusi, the newly refurbished 18th-century structure overlooking the old town hall.

According to my sources, the meeting was initially convened at 2:30 pm but did not proceed due to insufficient attendees.  A second call-to-order was made at 3:30 pm at which time the meeting formally began.  A total of 638 votes were included in the final tally but as the theater only seats 180, the multiple-vote-per-producer system becomes readily visible.  According to Decanter.com, voting rights are tied to producer size with small and medium-sized producers having three votes each and the largest producers having as much as 60 votes, depending on bottle count.  My sources indicate that there were about 150 producers present with some attendees having the delegated authority to vote for absentees.

This was a very important vote for producers.  In addition to the production impacts they would feel, they had to contend with the fact that major wine critics like Jancis Robinson had expressed an opinion on the matter and that Decanter, an important industry magazine, was following the story closely.  The tension that came with all this pressure was palpable in the lead-up to the vote.  But with all of the weightiness of the day one of the hallmarks of the afternoon's activities was civility.  The producers were civil and professional as they went about the afternoon's business; for example, producers socialized freely prior to the start of the meeting even though some had taken very public stands for or against the motion.

As indicated in the picture, the theater has seating capacity in the central hall as well as in the boxes lining the walls above.  The producers sat in these seats while the Consorzio President, Vice President, Director Stefano Campatelli, and two advisors sat on a podium at the front of the hall.  The agenda was presented by the President -- brief, as there was only one topic -- after which the producers launched into a debate of the motion.  The three-hour-long debate was heated but civil.

At the conclusion of the debate, the vote was held.  Voting was by secret ballot.  Each producer was called by name at which time the representative filled out a voting sheet and placed it into a box provided for that purpose.  At the conclusion of the vote producers employed a number of strategies to pass the time as they waited for the results.  Some, including the President, left shortly after the vote was taken. Others stayed in the theater while some hung around outside.  Others simply went for an aperitivo.

The results became known 4 hours and 15 minutes after the meeting had been called to order.  There was no official announcement in the theater but news of the results came trickling out and, as all of who had remained in the theater were on the "no" side, the news was received with relief and glee.  The final count was 465 against (a full 70%) and 210 in favor; a stunning, stinging setback for the President and his agenda.

In a previous post on the Rosso di Montalcino affair I had asked where were the men and women willing to stand against the forces seeking to change this aspect of Montalcino culture.  I now have my answer.  They were in the hall and the box seats of Teatro degli Astrusi on the afternoon of September 7th.  And they made sure that they were counted.  And they made their votes count.

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