Suspicious attack .... the grapes used in the production of the famous Brunello di Montalcino wine.
ROME: Saboteurs broke into the cellars at a Tuscan vineyard and sent an estimated 13 million euros ($16 million) worth of one of Italy's most celebrated red wines gurgling down the drain.
The mystery night raiders turned on the taps of Case Basse winery's giant wooden casks in which the wine was maturing, and let more than 62,000 litres of prized Brunello di Montalcino pour out.
Some 80,000 bottles of wine were lost, each of which can sell for at least 170 euros – a total estimated value of more than 13 million euros. The saboteurs did no other damage to the estate's "cantina", nor did they steal anything, suggesting that it was less a random episode of vandalism and more an act of spite.
Ready to be drunk, but lost ... bottles of Brunello di Montalcino red wine are displayed at a wine shop in the Tuscan town of Montalcino in central Italy.
The raid wiped out the last six vintages of the 6.5-hectare vineyard in the hills of southern Tuscany, from 2007 to 2012. Case Basse is a small but highly acclaimed producer of Brunello di Montalcino, making around 10,000 bottles a year.
The wine, produced from sangiovese grapes, has to be matured in barrels for at least four years before it can be sold under the Brunello di Montalcino name, so the vineyard will have nothing to sell until 2016 at the earliest.
Gianfranco Soldera, the estate owner who worked as an insurance broker in Milan before buying the vineyard in 1972, said he had no idea who might have been behind the raid in the early hours of Monday. His family described it as "a Mafia-style act" but did not identify possible culprits, whether crime organisations or individuals.
"We cannot come to terms with what happened," Mauro Soldera, his son, told the newspaper Corriere della Sera.
"We've never been involved in controversy and we've never received threats. We've suffered a serious blow, not just in economic terms. But we will not give up, the estate will survive."
Brunello di Montalcino has been marred by scandal in recent years after it was found that some producers were "cutting" their wine with other grape varieties, such as merlot.
In 2008 investigators confiscated more than half a million bottles from one prominent vintner, alleging that he could not possibly have made that much wine purely from sangiovese grapes, and the government set up a panel of experts to monitor standards of purity.
The Solderas have said they could quadruple their production if they were less rigorous in their standards, and their criticism of less scrupulous producers may have antagonised rivals. The sabotage is being investigated by police.
Fabrizio Bindocci, the president of the Brunello di Montalcino Consortium, condemned the act of sabotage and said it had shocked all 250 producers of the esteemed red in Tuscany. "They feel personally affected by this unpardonable act," he said.
Donatella Cinelli Colombini, the vice-president of the consortium, said: "I cannot think of a similar incident in this region in living memory. It is a dismaying affair."
Silvio Franceschelli, the mayor of Montalcino, called the raid "ugly and cowardly" and expressed solidarity with the owners of the winery.