The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Recollecting Gianfranco Soldera and Case Basse

Posted on | April 20, 2015 | Written by Janice Cable | No Comments

Gianfranco Soldera before his very big botti

Gianfranco Soldera before his very big botti

In 2011, I had the rare chance to live in Italy for about six months, to visit some of Italy’s greatest producers, and to drink some incredible wine. Among all the visits I made, my very first–to Gianfranco Soldera–is perhaps the most indelible. Soldera is not an easy-going man, but he is an unquestionably great winemaker. He holds his estate, his wines, and himself up to nearly impossible standards, and he achieves impossible feats.

If Montalcino is a magical place (and I believe that it is), then Soldera’s Case Basse estate is at the center of its 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.

Gianfranco SolderaIt’s almost less important what Soldera said in the few hours that I and my friend Eleanor Shannon 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.

IMG_1033I 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 the magic of Montalcino filling the air, the presence of its greatest magician, and the hush of it all held in this unforgotten moment.

In today’s eLetter, IWM proudly offered the latest release from Gianfranco Soldera, the Casse Basse Soldera 2008 Rosso IGT, called thus because Soldera left the Brunello Consortium in 2012.

Comments

Leave a Reply





*