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robert camuto: letter from europe

Peace, Love and Amarone?

After a bitter lawsuit, feuding families in Valpolicella try to come together
Photo by: Courtesy of Azienda Masi
Grapes for Amarone are dried via the appassimento method at Azienda Masi.

Posted: Nov 14, 2017 8:00am ET

Could there be peace in Amarone-land this holiday season?

After years of infighting in the vineyards around Verona, in northeastern Italy, the answer appears to be a resounding "Maybe."

In late October, an Italian court in Venice sided with the Valpolicella wine consortium in its years-long battle to stop a group of prominent producers from using the Amarone name to identify themselves as Amarone Families, or Famiglie Dell'Amarone d'Arte.

The court ruled that the 13 members of Amarone Families—Allegrini, Begali, Brigaldara, Guerrieri Rizzardi, Masi, Musella, Speri, Tedeschi, Tenuta Sant'Antonio, Tommasi, Torre d'Orti, Venturini and Zenato—must stop using "Amarone" to denote the name of a private group. Such usage, the court said, is an appropriation of the trademarked appellation of Amarone della Valpolicella.

The immediate effect is that Amarone Families will remove Amarone from their association name—on their website, on the hologram bottle stickers that identify their wines, and in all promotions. The ruling could also affect other private associations of Italian producers.

"We will change the name and brand that sets us apart," Amarone Families president Sabrina Tedeschi told Wine Spectator, adding that the group may appeal the decision and will stick together under a new, as-yet-unknown name. "We remain a cohesive and compact group with a strong identity and dedicated to the promotion of our Amarone wines worldwide."

But in the weeks since the ruling, both sides seem to be moving toward a rapprochement.

Immediately after the ruling, consortium president Andrea Sartori of Sartori wine estate extended an olive branch to the "Families."

"We have so many opportunities to promote Amarone, including the U.S. where it's under-represented," said Sartori, who in April became president of the consortium, which represents about 200 producers and 2,000 local growers. "But we need to work together on this. We need to have all the producers on board."

Tedeschi, Sartori and lawyers from both sides met Nov. 10 and discussed ways to advance common goals of improving and marketing the region's wines, including Amarone della Valpolicella—the prized, dense, dry red wine made by fermenting partially dried grapes. (Learn more about the appassimento process and how Amarone is made in this video with Marilisa Allegrini.)

"We want to work together for the future," Tedeschi said. "We opened the door for dialogue."

The lawsuit was over the narrow question of a name. But the roots of the conflict go much deeper. It began in 2009, when 12 historic Amarone producers grouped together to create Amarone Families.

The idea was to distinguish traditional Amarone from cheaper mass-market versions sold in supermarkets and discount retailers and to differentiate wines from the Valpolicella hills from those of the higher-yielding flatlands.

The "Families" complained that appellation rules did little to ensure quality and signed a manifesto calling for higher voluntary production standards. In 2015, the Valpolicella consortium sued Amarone Families over use of the Amarone name. Those "Families" that belonged to the consortium quit.

Leaders on both sides say they want better-quality wines and prices that support that image. But Sartori says the consortium—which works with a local university for each vintage to set the average drying time of grapes and the percentage of Amarone that can be made by producerscan't police winemaking or set prices.

"I've seen plenty of cheap Barolos and Brunellos; this happens everywhere. It's something Italy has to face," he said. "France does the same turnover in wine as we do with half the volume. Why is that? They are doing a better job."

Sartori says the consortium represents all aspects of the appellation, from elite producers to large cooperatives to small growers. And he wants the "Families" back in.

"I know all these people, and I have a lot of respect for all of them. Some of them are my good friends," Sartori said. "There are producers dedicated to quality on both sides."

In her talks with Sartori, Tedeschi expressed a desire to reopen discussions on ways to better classify Valpolicella wines, including Amarone. Among her ideas is the possibility of creating a "Gran Selezione," similar to the designation adopted in Chianti Classico in 2013, to identify hillside terroirs.

"We need to change the culture of the people to making more and more quality wine," Tedeschi said. "Amarone is the diamond of Valpolicella."

Ushering in any changes in Valpolicella will fall largely on the shoulders of Sartori, who honed his political skills during six years as president of the national lobbying group for wine producers, Unione Italiana Vini.

"I thought that after all those years working at the national level, the local consortium would be a piece of cake," says Sartori. "Was I wrong!" 

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