The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

A Visit with Gianfranco Soldera

Posted on | February 25, 2011 | Written by Janice Cable | 5 Comments

There are many moments in a life that come and go, moments that slip away like smoke on the wind, moments ephemeral and mindless. Standing with Brunello great Gianfranco Soldera in the center of a thousand-year-old olive tree that has been split into quarters by lightning, that has holes in its trunk like antique lace, and that yet still shines silvery green with leaves is not one of those whisping moments. It’s solid. And it’s one that I will take with me wherever I go, as long as I live.

If Montalcino is a magical place (and I believe that it is), then Soldera’s estate is at the center of a mystical convergence. Much has been made in print about how the ecosystem of the vineyard works to create an insanely perfect spot to grow grapes. The vineyard has been studied by agriculturalists, microbiologists, botanists and oenologists. The estate itself seems to function as a perfectly balanced organism of water, insects, birds, flowers, trees and, of course, grape vines. It all revolves around one man, Soldera.

It’s almost less important what Soldera said in the few hours that I and Eleanor Shannon (interpreter, sommelier, woman-of-all-trades, and the core of the IWM Italy operation) spent with him. He spoke in streams of Italian uttered in comforting tones and repetitive phrasing. He spoke of opera and how, as in opera, everything in nature must work in concert, and how if there is one discordant note, the entire piece falls flat. He spoke of Italy, the importance of its peninsular shape, the ranges of mountains and how they direct the air currents, and the way that the seas on all sides affect the climate. He spoke of bees and of water and of knowing how many yeast parts per million his wines contain at various stages of development. He spoke about his wine, all wine, wine throughout time, and yet what he said the loudest he didn’t say in words.

It happened twice, actually. Soldera bent down, grabbed a handful of soil, and crumbled it through his fingers. He said something in Italian too, something about how the minerals in the soil is what makes the wine taste the way it does, something about how the vines need to suffer to produce good grapes (when he said this about suffering, I got an image of Degas’ ballerinas, their fatigue and their beauty). But I didn’t find the meaning in the words he was saying—though they had import—rather, I found meaning in his old man’s hands, the almost caressing way he held the soil, and the way that he reluctantly let it dribble through his fingers.

And then it came to me: This is a man who doesn’t just know his estate; this is a man who is his estate.

I had the chance Soldera’s cellars, and I got to smell them in all their grape-cardboard-wet-rock-and-wood glory. I got to drink wine out of his botti, wine a few years old, and wine just a few months, and it was bright and beautiful. I got to do things that most Brunello lovers never get to do, but imagine when they look at books of Montalcino or dreamily sip a bottle of Brunello. I got to ask Soldera questions, and as I did, I got to feel inadequate. How often do we have the opportunity to take up the time of a genius? And how can we do it without feeling the pains of our own ordinariness?

Yet what I’ll remember is that ancient tree, standing inside it, the four trunks of it surrounding us, the ground slightly raised, the magic of Montalcino filling the air, the presence of its greatest magician, and the hush of it all held in this unforgotten moment.


5 Responses to “A Visit with Gianfranco Soldera”

  1. Tweets that mention I spent a morning with Brunello great Gianfranco Soldera and wrote a blog post about it: It was humbling. --
    February 25th, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rob Mosher and DSWE, ItalianWineMerchants. ItalianWineMerchants said: I spent a morning with Brunello great Gianfranco Soldera and wrote a blog post about it: It was humbling. […]

  2. Francesco
    February 25th, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

    Do you know what vintages you got to taste?

  3. Janice Cable
    February 26th, 2011 @ 2:56 am

    The ’05, the ’07 and the ’10, I think. I’ll double check with Eleanor; I’m not certain about the first two. Tasting a new wine was the weirdest, most vertiginous experience.

  4. Katelan
    February 26th, 2011 @ 9:40 am

    Beautifully written. Makes you feel like your right there with you.

  5. Kerry-Jo
    February 28th, 2011 @ 1:10 pm

    You are far from ordinary Janice! You are part of the concert in which everything works together!

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