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Brunello Redefines Its U.S. Focus, Expands Into Smaller Markets

February 25, 2013

Brunello di Montalcino winemakers have historically focused on New York and other major markets like California and Florida in their U.S. marketing efforts. But the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino is now targeting new areas of the U.S. This year, says Brunello producer Donatella Cinelli Colombini, the group drew a large crowd to its first-ever showcase in Houston, and next year it will descend on Seattle for the first time, in addition to maintaining its focus on its core U.S. metro markets.

According to Chris Adams, CEO of Sherry-Lehmann, Brunello is emerging as a reasonably-priced option within the luxury wine category. “We’re seeing a lot of strength in Brunello at all price points,” he says. “The wines are becoming more and more approachable, and there’s a sense you can find a really fine wine here without laying out hundreds of dollars a bottle. As many (ultra-premium) wines press the price ceiling, Brunellos are generally more available and more affordable.”

One example of Brunello’s relative accessibility in comparison with other trophy wines is Tenuta di Collosorbo, whose 2006 and 2007 Brunellos di Montalcino were both rated 93 points by Wine Spectator and retail at $48 a bottle (the 2007 ranked 81st among Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2012). Another is Colombini’s namesake 2006 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, which earned 95 points and is priced around $65. Meanwhile, the category continues to burnish its prestige at the ultra-luxury end as well, with highly regarded labels like Biondi-Santi—whose Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Greppo Riserva 2006 ($600) was recently rated 97 points—running from $200 and up.

“Brunello’s presence in the U.S. will continue to increase,” says Colombini, who produces around 150,000 bottles annually under her brand and also serves as vice president of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino. “The economic crisis in Italy means everyone is devoting even greater attention and energy to export markets.”

According to the Consorzio, the region’s winemakers export 65% of Brunello’s 9-million-bottle annual production, and the U.S. is Brunello’s biggest export market. It accounts for roughly 25% of all Brunello exports.

The Consorzio’s director, Stefano Campatelli, tells Shanken News Daily that because a significant amount of Brunello sold domestically is exported later, the true share of foreign-consumed Brunello could be as high as 80%. He adds that the U.S. has already likely overtaken Italy as Brunello di Montalcino’s biggest overall market, “in terms of the end consumer.”

Brunello’s reputation took a hit in 2008 when several prominent producers were suspected of using non-Sangiovese grapes in their wines against regulations. While the investigation caused a stir—and led to 1.3 million liters of Brunello being reclassified under the less strict IGT categorization—Adams says he didn’t see any significant effect on the category’s sales. Still, Colombini acknowledges that as Brunello attempts to counteract domestic weakness with a renewed export push, its image now is “much better than it was a few years ago.”


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