Franco Biondi Santi (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Franco Biondi-Santi, proprietor of his family’s world-renowned Brunello estate, passed away today at the age of 91. Grandson of Ferruccio Biondi Santi, who is credited with “inventing” Brunello di Montalcino in the 1870s, Franco devoted his life to maintaning the traditions of his grandfather and father Tancredi, by producing traditional Brunello in the strictest sense. His wines over the past six decades were sublime, heralded as among the world’s finest.
I met Franco for the first time a little more than ten years ago, as I was with a group of international journalists visiting a number of estates in Montalcino. We were all impressed to be able to tour this “temple” of Brunello and even more excited to briefly meet Franco. He displayed his playful side, as he took a business card from each of us, held them in his hand and then spread them out like a deck of cards. I suppose you had to be there to fully appreciate it, but it was nice to see someone so famous who didn’t take himself too seriously.
I met him again about six years later at a wine fair and how nice that he remembered me; after all, here was a man who rubbed shoulders with many famous people, so for him to take time to say hello and invite me to a tasting later that day was very gracious of him.
But my most memorable meeting with Franco was last May at the Tenuta Greppo estate, situated just outside the town of Montalcino. I sat down with an employee who assisted me with my interview; afterwards the three of us sat down in the cellars to taste the new releases. It’s a pretty special occasion to merely sample Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino, but to be able to do it at the estate with Franco Biondi Santi was a day I’ll never forget. It was especially nice to hear the proud tone of his voice as he told me the story of his family and their wines. It was also quite a treat to see him standing next to some of the botti in the cellars and talking about these casks used to mature the Brunello; a few of these had been in operation for over 100 years!
In my book Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines, I wrote the following about the Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva:
“This is one of the few wines from Montalcino – or anywhere in the world – that I would call ethereal.”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary has several definitions for the word “ethereal,” among them “heavenly,” “intangible,” “marked by unusual delicacy or refinement” and finally, “suggesting the heavens or heaven.” We don’t usually refer to a person as ethereal, but it’s clear that the reference to heaven is fitting for Franco Biondi Santi; surely he is there now, looking down on his beloved estate.