January 8: Wine Tourism in Montepulciano by Shaun Richardson

Moving from Montalcino to Montepulciano was a significant transition.  The former was world renowned for its wines, which were dense, expressive and expensive.  The latter was a counterpoint in two ways.  First, in terms of history, Montepulciano was traditionally the better known and wealthier of the two cities.  Second, in terms of wine quality, Montepulciano was the ‘little sister’ of the area, with less critical acclaim, despite evidence of vineyards as far back as 748 A.D.  However, Montepulciano certainly had greater penetration of the Italian market, and the two wineries we visited came across as more open, more friendly and more tourism-oriented, rather than wine-geek-oriented.

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Help, I’m trapped in a tank

“The wines known as Vino Nobile di Montepulciano should not be confused with the other Montepulciano in Italy, Montepulciano di Abrruzzo, which is a grape variety.”  I have to admit that if I were a tour guide, this would be quite an explanation to have to give every day!  Winery tours certainly have great similarities, and when seeing two wineries from the same region, such as Bindella and Poliziano in Montepulciano, there are certainly strong parallels in what makes each winery unique in the marketplace.  All the small details that make the winery unique are important in building the story of the winery and in imprinting the story on the customer.  Both tour guides, Francesca at Bindella and Margherita at Poliziana, did an excellent job in communicating not only the similarities of the wineries, but also the differences.

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The sign says, “Life is Too Short to Drink Bad Wine”

Of the two, the one I was most intrigued by was how ‘New World’ Poliziano was in concept.  In Californian terms, being founded in 1961 would classify a winery as ‘old guard’ but in Tuscany, the winery almost had the feel of ‘Johnny-come-lately”!  To accentuate this, the wine library only dated back to 1982, the date that the current generation, Federico Carletti, took over production responsibilities.  Not only the new buildings and (marble) crush pad but also the extensive use of small oak barrels, with some 2,000 in the cellar, was a clear departure from tradition in the area.  Most important was direct to consumer sales.  Poliziano were the only winery to be so upfront about their goal of increasing visitor counts.  With the knowledge at the tip of her tongue, Margherita Pallecchi, our tour guide, and owner Federico Carletti’s right-hand, recounted 8,000 guests per year, with direct sales of five to seven percent of total sales.  In terms of every other Italian producer we visited, 5 to 7% was phenomenal.

Margherita at Poliziano was the tour guide and manager I would like to hire away from Italy to work in California.  Her grasp of wine and winemaking was excellent, but it was in how she handled the group and questions that made her more impressive.  She quickly realized the level of understanding of the group, and the level of interest.  Not only that, Margherita had also led the charge in her time at Poliziana to improve tourism.  I understood that in the past six years, she had built the tasting room and wine sales from zero to substantial: an impressive feat.

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About SSU Tuscany Tour

This blog is maintained by the participants of the SSU Tuscany Wine Tour
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