Luca Brunelli is steeped in Montalcino wine making experience, and that experience is evident in the wine he and his family produces. I recently enjoyed a conversation, and several of his wines, with him and got to learn the background of this fine Brunello label.
Luca chose to pursue farming at a relatively early age, after being inspired by AGIA, Italy's Association of Young Agricultural Entrepreneurs.
Eventually he became president of AGIA, and took the lead in supporting young agronomists across Italy. Recently, he literally outgrew that position, as he turned 40 years of age (he doesn't look it!), and is now president of CIA, a similar organization for technical and political support of small-scale agricultural concerns.
As I spoke with him about this, and about his wine making, I recalled why I so enjoy interacting with wine makers; they have a love of the work first and foremost, and their desire for financial success is a necessary second concern. Truly, in view of the disasters that nature can sometimes dish out, you would have to love the work of wine making in order to persevere and succeed. In this world where integrity, and quality of character is becoming so scarce, it's refreshing to find heartfelt people, like Luca, who put quality first.
Family - RootsLuca seems to have a connection to most of the producers in Montalcino, one way or another, which is natural considering his lifetime of involvement with the wine making industry in Montalcino. His first pursuits were in the development of new vineyards at various estates around Montalcino. In this work, he interacted with numerous Brunello producers. Listening to him describe it, I got a clear impression of the family like unity among many in the Montalcino agricultural community.
Gianni Brunelli is his uncle and is the namesake of the Gianni Brunelli winery, which produces excellent organic Brunello's. His parents, Mauro and Anna, are the owners of the Brunelli estate, which they founded, and then expanded in 1998. Today, Luca has taken a lead role in the winery, and is an ambassador of the label around the world.
Located just south-west of the village of Montalcino, Tenuta Brunelli cultivates 5 hectares certified to Brunello production, and another 10 for Rosso, IGT, and oil production. The average elevation of the vineyards is 250 meters, with a general south-west facing disposition. These factors, combined with the efforts of the Brunelli wine making team, result in consistently excellent Brunello that is elegant and full of character.
PhilosophyPaolo Vaganini is the consulting oenologist for Brunelli, as he is for many of Montalcino's best producers, and he is highly regarded, even being called "Mr. Sangiovese" by some.Certainly, his influence is a big part of why Brunelli's wines are so solid.
Low yields that are well below the maximum permitted by the DOCG laws, help promote concentration of energy and character in these wines, albeit at the sacrifice of quantity. Luca said this sacrifice must occur in order to produce wines of high quality.
Brunelli has multiple vineyards, with varied dispositions, which help offset the impact of vintage variation. In hot vintages, the western facing slopes off-set the heat, in cooler vintages, the eastern facing slopes collect added heat to support ripening. In perfect vintages, there is an abundance of quality from all the vineyards.
Regarding vineyards, Luca explained, "When I have a little money, I try to purchase more land for vineyards, but it has become very difficult to find good vineyard land that is available"
I asked him if his wines were organic and he told me, "They are organic in practice, but not certified" and added, "I drink my wine", to emphasize his preference for grape growing that is free from unwanted chemicals.
He will not produce a Riserva Brunello unless the vintage is outstanding. One reason for this is to protect the quality of his normale bottling. Unless there is an abundance of perfect grapes to support both, he will only make the normale. In 2010, the Riserva production totaled only 1,400 bottles, in 2007 it was 2,100, both minuscule quantities. The normale is typically around 10,000-15,000 bottles.
In the cellar, a combination of large 80% Slovonian botti, and 20% French barrique, are used for the barrel aging, drawing from the qualities of each approach.
The net result of these elements is consistently solid Sangiovese character that is easy to appreciate. Elegance is a characteristic that comes through repeatedly, along with a style that balances old and new world style elements. Below are my notes on three examples.
|Luca Brunelli's Lovely Bottles, Luca in the Background|
2009 Tenuta Brunelli Brunello Di Montalcino 14% ABV $60The nose is dark and firm, with black cherry skins, mineral Earth, and serious floral notes on top and a suggestion of spearmint. The palate is finessed, with great strength underneath, showing elegant red cherry, and raspberry, with Asian spice, and fine texture. Notes of charred Earth accent the structure, which is complete and balanced, albeit a bit disjointed at this young age. The finish has good length and a fine grained grip. There is a depth to this wine that draws you in to focus your attention. No riserva was made in 2009, so all of the Brunello grape production went into this wine, and it shows. Luca told me that the challenge in 2009 was deciding when to harvest. According to Luca Brunelli,the heat in the summer was substantial, and carried through into September. Harvesting too early in September had to be avoided; he harvested late in the month. 91 Pts
2008 Tenuta Brunelli Brunello Di Montalcino 13% ABV $60Clean and straightforward with red currant, raspberry, anise, dried herbs, and a sprinkle of fragrant incense. There's a pleasant lightness on the palate, elegant in style, with pomegranite, and lean red cherry, shale, and some brambles. It does fall off just a bit on the mid palate, but comes back nicely in the moderately long finish. Well balanced and finessed. 89 Pts
2007 Tenuta Brunelli Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 14% ABV $100
Lovely perfume, dried flowers, clean, red cherry flesh, and a bit of spiced strawberry make up the initial impression on the nose. Also present are notes of underbrush, and forest floor, lending a rustic undertone. The palate is elegant and light weight with lean red cherry, pomegranite, black tea, and dried herbs. Theres solid structure, despite the elegant style, with brisk acidity and firm tannins that are well balanced with the fruit profile. The finish is long, and aromatic. 91Pts
2011 Tenuta Brunelli Rosso di Montalcino 13% ABV $20
The finessed nose shows dried red cherry skins, sweet spice, flinty Earth, grilled meat, and some clay. The palate has a soft texture with subtle cardamom and nutmeg spice added to the firm red cherry, mineral Earth and mouthwatering acidity. Elegant and easy drinking with a judicious touch of grip and nice length on the finish. 89 Pts