Goodbye to a Brunello Giant: Franco Biondi Santi

Franco Biondi Santi, the patriarch of the family credited for having laid the foundations of the prestigious Brunello di Montalcino appellation, died last weekend at the age of 91. A staunch guardian of the tradition started by his grandfather Ferrucio, both by the style of the family estate’s wines and by the defense of the strict criteria for the production of the appellation’s wines, Franco Biondi Santi was known to many as “the gentleman of brunello”.

Biondi Santi brunelli are renowned the world over and have been fetching some of the highest prices for decades. Their reputation for traditional winemaking (old slavonian oak casks, natural yeasts, classic tannin structures) and long aging capacity made them a reference in a region where modernity (and sometimes scandalous use of other varieties in brunello wines) was an important trend in recent years. In an email interview with this author, last fall, Franco Biondi Santi deplored the modern style as producing “Brunellos with a great body and colour, but with a low total acidity, therefore less long-living…”, with longevity clearly being a priority for him.

The future of the Biondi Santi estate and its Tenuta Il Greppo is now in the hands of the next generation, chiefly Franco’s son Jacopo Biondi Santi, who had conflicts with his father, over the years, and was noted for making much more modern wines at his own estate in Maremma. However, in recent months, both men had been busy dispelling the idea of any remaining conflict. In the same interview, last fall, Franco Biondi Santi indicated that: “As all the sons, he wanted to express his wine-producing DNA with modern wines, but not at Il Greppo (he has his own Estate in Scansano, Il Castello di Montepò, where he produces great IGT wines). He is very devoted to the tradition of Il Greppo.” Jacopo himself, also interviewed at the time, wrote that his work at Montepo was indeed in complete contrast to the wines made at Il Greppo, which he described as “the extreme defense of a long tradition”, while insisting that “these two philosophies are not in conflict, they run parallel”.

In addition to his son Jacopo, Franco Biondi Santi leaves his wife Maria Flora, their daughter Alexandra and several grandchildren.