Written by Kerin O'Keefe

Addio Franco Biondi Santi

The Italian wine world lost an icon when Brunello legend Franco Biondi Santi, dubbed “The Gentleman of Brunello,” died over the weekend. He was 91 years old. Franco was the grandson of Ferruccio Biondi Santi who invented Brunello in the late 1800s. Franco learned the craft of Brunello making from his own father, Tancredi, one

The Italian wine world lost an icon when Brunello legend Franco Biondi Santi, dubbed “The Gentleman of Brunello,” died over the weekend. He was 91 years old.

© Paolo Tenti | Franco Biondi Santi

Franco was the grandson of Ferruccio Biondi Santi who invented Brunello in the late 1800s. Franco learned the craft of Brunello making from his own father, Tancredi, one of Italy’s most celebrated enologists. When he took over the family’s Greppo estate in 1970, Franco remained true to his family’s traditions while also improving quality, starting with a lengthy collaboration with the University of Florence that allowed him to isolate the best Sangiovese clones on the estate.

Franco was a defender of traditional Brunello, refusing to use any winemaking techniques that could change the quintessential characteristics of his wines. In the 1990s he was criticized for not throwing out his large casks in exchange for new barriques that had become the fashion throughout Italy. Instead, Franco shunned the small French barrels and often said, “Sangiovese is naturally rich in tannins and doesn’t need the aggressive tannins imparted by new barriques. I use only seasoned casks that allow the grape and terroir to shine through, without the chocolate, vanilla and toast of new wood.” Over the last decade, Franco’s wines have enjoyed a surge of interest and despite their hefty price tag, are among the most sought-out wines from Italy.

During WWII, Franco helped his father wall up the family’s old Riservas just before the Front passed through Montalcino in 1944. Years later, he held a number of now legendary vertical tastings with these Riservas – going back to the late 1800 – that demonstrated Brunello’s marathon aging capacity. Among his many contributions to Montalcino’s Modern Day success story, in 1990 he spearheaded a campaign to successfully block the opening of a massive landfill on the outskirts of Montalcino that would have put Brunello production at risk.

Franco was an institution in Montalcino. As Fabrizio Bindocci, president of the Brunello Consorzio writes on the Consorzio website, Biondi Santi “was one of the most important advocates of the success of Brunello di Montalcino on an international level. It is owing to him that Brunello has become one of the most renowned and appreciated Italian wine brands. The consortium and the entire territory have not only lost a great winemaker, but also an outstanding man of deep sensitivity and humanity”.

He is survived by his wife Maria Flora, their children Jacopo and Alessandra and four grandchildren.

 

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