he Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wine appellation is the oldest in Italy and the smallest in Tuscany. Located just southeast of Siena, it is busy gearing up for a boom in sales and tourism. You can feel it in the air. You can read about it in the press, including recent reports in both Forbes and Beverage Media Group. Local wineries, large, mid-size, and small, are poised to take advantage of momentum it expects a new generation of youthful and forward-thinking winemakers will soon be generating.
The area along the ancient Via Lauretana is a case in point. This Roman-era route winds gently from the center of Montepulciano towards nearby Cortona for about 20 kilometers across the Val di Chiana and into the microclimate of Valiano di Montepulciano. Eager to turn the page, local wineries along the route are busy inventing new gimmicks, planting new vines, and building tasting rooms and restaurants.
Well-known Avignonesi, for example, has branched out and is offering fans of its lifestyle brand the opportunity to rent the owner’s villa. Borgo Tre Rose, owned by Tenimenti Angelini, recently planted close to 30 hectares (74 acres) of new vines along the road, carving out a hunk of the landscape in an attempt to capitalize on the niche market. Smaller producers, like Palazzo Vecchio and Lunadoro, are constructing wine bars along the road and advertising wherever they can, hoping to introduce their wines to visitors and stand out.
Even the name Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is undergoing a change. Tired of being confused with the lesser grape, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, the governing consortium of producers has taken to promoting its Sangiovese-based wine simply as Vino Nobile. It’s good for brand recognition and makes it easier for (American) drinkers to say the name.
“In the past 10 years, there has been a major generational change in the population,” Silvia Loriga, the events and communications manager for the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, told me. “This has led to a new way of looking at and embracing tourism, which in turn has led to a newfound vigor in the promotion of our wines and our countryside. By working in tandem — town administrators and wine producers — the promotion of Vino Nobile around the world is going in the right direction, embracing the right spirit. People want to come visit us now, and when they do they remain amazed by the excellence of our Nobile and the nobility of our land.”
Older owners are letting younger family members step in, marking a visible age change in the upper echelons of leadership. Wineries are also making environmentally friendly choices. The city of Montepulciano has promised to collaborate with the wineries to bring its carbon footprint down to zero by the year 2020.
Might this area turn into a new kind of Chianti? Growth in tourism could bring down the quality of the wine, as Richard Woodard pointed out in a recent report on Chianti for Decanter magazine. And parts of the center of town are already crowded with hawkers, gadgets, two-for-one special offers, and garish signage.
Let’s hope not. Montepulciano is out of the way enough that large groups from Florence won’t be tempted to travel the distance. And if the signs and stores bother you, just stroll over to the ramparts and gaze off into the vineyards. Or better yet, visit a winery.