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Expensive winemakers have always been known to be controversial, but if ever there was a viticulturist who knew what he wanted it was Gianfranco Soldera. Famous for only ever drinking his own wines, for carrying his own glass wherever he went and even delivering his own ingredients to any restaurants where he planned to eat, Soldera did not go unnoticed. When he died in 2019, the wine world lost one of its most imposing figures.
A self-made prophecy
Meticulous, far-sighted and a bit of a legend, Gianfranco Soldera was one of Montalcino's most imposing producers. He established his estate in 1972 in Tavernelle, southwest of Montalcino. Although no vines were growing when the property was purchased, Soldera had the unwavering belief that the gentle, south-facing slops would be perfect for commercial production. As ever, he proved himself right, thanks to the dry microclimate, long hours of sunlight and mineral-rich soil. A champion of organic farming long before it became fashionable, Soldera and his wife planted a bucolic utopia in which the vines could thrive, complete with 1,500 rose varieties, olive trees, an artificial lake and man-made birds’ nests to provide the perfect home for a multitude (non-vine threatening) insects. As contentious as his personality may have been, there is no doubt that his wines sing with eloquence and poetry that is atypical even for Chianti.
The world’s worst wine crime
But as with many polarising personalities, he managed to annoy more than one person and in 2012 a disgruntled former employed opened the taps on the ageing vats of the vintages from 2007-2012, letting over 62,000 litres of wine pour down the drain. The culprit is now doing time for sabotage but to this day, it remains one of winemaking’s most spiteful crimes.
Up 10 places in Italy’s most expensive wine list
Soldera’s conviction that Europe and the US are “over” means that today his largest export market is Asia (although whether this will change under the vineyards new stewardship we don’t know). His long-lived wines are highly acclaimed and his Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva is Italy's second most expensive wine (the first is Tenuta dell'Ornellaia’s Masseto). This alone proves the worth of his wine, as a 2012 table set him in 12th place.