The SOMM Journal

April / May 2015

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Page 45 of 112

{ }  45 "The critics are saying that the 2010 Brunello vintage is the best in some 200 years. And anytime you hear that much hype, you're skeptical because you've heard it all before—but this is the real deal." Those were Master Sommelier Fred Dame's opening remarks to a group of top wine buyers at the Montage in Beverly Hills, back in January. The inimitable Dame played co-host to the consummate Cristina Mariani-May, proprietor of the Castello Banfi vineyard estate in Montalcino and co-CEO of Banfi Vintners. Together, they presented a remark- able lineup of Castello Banfi wines to the likes of Paul Coker of the St. Regis in Dana Point, CA; Paul Sherman, the long-standing Sommelier at Valentino in Santa Monica; Joel Caruso, Wine Director at Pizzeria Ortica in Costa Mesa; Lorena Porras, owner of Pour Haus wine bar in Los Angeles; and many others, including The SOMM Journal's Publisher and Editorial Director, Meridith May, who helped pack the room with such an all-star cast of characters. "When did you know the 2010s were killer?" Dame asked Mariani-May. The vintner implied that the signs were there early on. "There was no extreme rain, no rush to get in the grapes during harvest and a marvel- ously consistent growing season," she said, adding that "production was lower." "So basically we're tasting through the entire allo- cation for Northern California," quipped Dame, to much laughter—and perhaps a bit of truth given that only about 7,000 cases are imported into the entire U.S. and only began arriving in March. Castello Banfi at a Glance To provide context for the buyers present, Mariani-May offered a bird's-eye view of Castello Banfi. The winery as we know it today was founded in 1978, when the number of producers in Montalcino was a far cry from the 224 around at present. With property holdings in Montalcino, Bolgheri, Chianti Classico and Piemonte totaling 7,100 acres, of which 2,500 are under vine, Castello Banfi has proven itself a leader in innovation and a major champion of Brunello. As Mariani-May put it, "Don't inherit others' mistakes—start from scratch," which is exactly why the estate was founded in the southwest corner of Montalcino—on virgin soil— with a focus on "doing things naturally." Their efforts to elevate and improve winemaking in the region have paid off and the winery has received countless awards, including triple ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certification. Mariani-May joked that earning a triple ISO is "a bit like Daming it"—a nod to the title bestowed on Dame's students who pass the MS exam on the first try. A third-generation family member, Cristina Mariani-May has spent much of her time and energy spearheading traceability— employing the use of tracking and monitoring systems that have earned international recognition. "It's important that everyone keeps an eye on quality and authenticity of the wine," she says. "We have one chief winemaker, Rudy Buratti, and a team of two assistants, so we're pretty lean," said Mariani-May and hence accountability really falls on the family. Send In the Clones Two decades of research beginning in 1982, with help from the University of Milan, led Castello Banfi to narrow down some 650 clones of Sangiovese to just 15 that they believe represent "the greater part of the grapes' inherent variables." Further research with the 15 clones will lead to the eventual replanting of all 2,500 acres of vineyards, so that every row and clone will be accounted for and chosen as a site-specific clone. Today, six clones are used interchangeably over the estate's dif- Top buyers from around Southern California react to the inimitable Fred Dame, MS. Unique hybrid stainless steel and barrel stave fermenters showcase technical innovation at Castello Banfi. PHOTO COURTESY OF CASTELLO BANFI

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