Grapevine: The Case of the Mysterious Wine Disappearance

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

In the course of my musings and meanderings the last six years of penning this column, I’ve had the occasion to report on a multitude of subjects.

Many times these subjects have a natural and logical beginning and end; at other times the plot is midstream at the time of my writing. This week, I open my archived columns to bring closure on a previously reported event. Look for similar columns going forward.


In the Montalcino region of Tuscany, Brunello wines are considered by many to be the equal of Barolos. Many reach their prime 10 years after harvest and retain this level for decades longer. The top producers’ wines sell for up to $400 per bottle.

One of the premier–and most outspoken–winemakers in Montalcino is Gianfranco Soldera. Year-in and year-out, his wines are typically the most highly regarded amongst the 250 producers in Montalcino.

A few months ago, in the middle of the night, an intruder vandalized the wine cellars of Mr. Soldera’s Case Basse winery. No wine was stolen, no physical damage was exacted. Instead, the wine barrels in which the Brunellos had been aging were emptied onto the winery floor. All 16,000 gallons, the equivalent of 84,000 bottles, was gone in just a few turns of barrel spigots.

Six entire vintages of wines were lost overnight; six entire vintages that were being painstakingly caressed and cared for, awaiting release in the next one to six years. In the past, Soldera wines have commanded one of the highest prices in all of Italy. I estimate the retail value of these lost wines to be over $25 million. Six years of cash flow to run the winery and sustain the vineyards went down the drain.

At the time, there was much speculation over who the culprits were and what their motivation may have been. Vindictive fellow wine producers? An inside job by disgruntled employees? An act by organized crime?

A few months after the dastardly deed was committed, local police eavesdropped on Andrea Di Gisi, a former employee. (A logical start to an investigation.) He incriminated himself with a tale, to his nephew, of wine-stained jeans suffered on the night he broke into the Soldera cellar. He was arrested, his trial was fast-tracked and Mr. Di Gisi is serving a four-year prison term as of this writing.

Case closed, except Mr. Soldera’s wine business was devastated.

Well, perhaps not.

Fellow Montalcino winemakers, members of the self-regulating Brunello Consortium, empathizing with Mr. Soldera’s financial and emotional plight, approached him with a magnanimous gesture of Brunello brotherhood. They offered to donate a portion of their wine production to Mr. Soldera to alleviate the financial scar left by his loss.

Mr. Soldera’s reaction? Gratitude? A sigh of relief? A warm, fuzzy feeling for his neighbors? Here’s what he had to say, as reported by an Italian newspaper: “[This was] an unacceptable and offensive proposal, a swindling of the consumer.” Apparently he doesn’t warm up to donations, especially if he were to bottle wine from (lesser?) third parties with his esteemed name on it.

Angered, Mr. Soldera issued a press release a few days later that he was resigning from the consortium, which is sacrilegious in such a tight-knit community. This is a classic tale of emotional irrationality, of a proud person unwilling, or unable, to accept assistance.

One other news item was overlooked in all the excitement and intrigue reported over this falling out of wine producers. Included in his press release announcing his resignation, Mr. Soldera issued a statement that he had been able to recover a “considerable” amount of the wine previously reported to be lost; wine sales will resume shortly. (Coincidentally, Case Basse wine prices soared in the marketplace after the reported vandalism.) You can’t make this stuff up.

These post-vandalism events beg to be followed. Stay tuned for the next round of intrigue.

Nick Antonaccio is a 35-year Pleasantville resident. For over 15 years he has conducted  wine tastings and lectures. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.



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