12.19.12

Vineyard Vandal Confesses

Police arrested a man in Italy who confessed to destroying millions of dollars worth of Brunello di Montalcino wine.

For years, Andrea Di Grisi resented his boss, Gianfranco Soldera, a legendary winemaker at Case Basse, an Italian winery that produces some of the world’s most coveted Brunello di Montalcino. So when he was fired earlier this year after five years of service, Di Grisi decided to get even with the 75-year-old winemaker, according to Pasquale Aglieco, a commander of the Siena Carabinieri, the Italian military police. On Tuesday Agilieco announced that the police had arrested Di Grisi for sabotage, and that the Rome native had confessed to spilling the equivalent of 85,000 bottles of Soldera’s wine, which was worth at least $6 million dollars. “He was an angry man who knew exactly what he was doing,” Aglieco told The Daily Beast. “It was an act of unthinkable revenge.”

Soldera wasn’t the easiest man to work for by anyone’s account, but the pay was good and Di Grisi needed the money. Plus, no one else was hiring because of the recession, so Di Grisi held on to his job. But when Soldera let another employee move into the estate’s coveted housing, which Di Grisi had his eye on, the younger man snapped. After an angry confrontation with the older man, Di Grisi was sent away and told never to come back. But Di Grisi couldn’t let it go. He had a hot temper and a rap sheet. He had been arrested at least three times for destroying the property of previous employers. “Di Grisi had demonstrated the propensity to destroy another man’s property,” said Aglieco. “We had our eye on him within 48 hours of the crime.”

Di Grisi apparently did not hide his anger, nor was he alone in his hatred for Soldera. In the tiny town of Montalcino where he lived, witnesses who spoke to the police during the investigation say he bragged about seeking revenge against Soldera. The police said they used damning witness testimony and forensic evidence left at the crime scene to convince Di Grisi to confess. Many people apparently knew Di Grisi was planning revenge, but because the winemaker was not well-liked in the village, it appears that no one tried to stop him.

There were whispers in Montalcino for years that Soldera, who was a cult figure among wine enthusiasts and a purist when it came to winemaking, had snitched to local authorities that his competitors were cutting their Brunello with lesser grapes in a 2008 scandal that became known as “Brunello-Gate.” Four of the top producers in Montalcino were sanctioned when the rumors turned out to be true. Simply put, there was no love lost on Soldera. “He is a hated man in Montalcino,” Franco Zillani, who has chronicled the case on his blog Vino al Vino told The Daily Beast. “The case is interesting and complicated, and very, very Italian.”

Still, no one could have imagined what Di Grisi was about to do next. It wouldn’t be enough to take revenge by threatening him or even killing him. In fact, during the investigation Di Grisi was overheard on a wiretap telling his nephew: “Wine isn’t like blood, it washes away.” For Di Grisi, to the horror of wine producers and oenophiles the world over, the sweetest revenge would be to destroy what Soldera loved most—his wine.

The ex-employee confessed to sneaking onto the expansive estate and heading straight for Soldera’s cantina late on Dec. 2, according to the Siena police who investigated the crime. The police say that because Di Grisi had worked for Soldera since 2007, he knew the winemaker would be sound asleep when he broke the cellar window and turned the key to let himself in. Then he walked past the vats of Soldera’s lesser wines heading straight to his most valuable inventory—six vintages of aging Brunello in giant vats, all produced during the time Di Grisi worked for the winemaker.

Soldera was insured for his wine, but because of the strict rules on aging wine, it will be at least 2018 before any of his special Brunello will be back on the market.

One by one, he opened the spigots and the 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 vintages gushed onto the floor and down the drain. Police found forensic evidence at the scene and a pair of wine-soaked pants in Di Grisi’s house. “He left the lesser wines and went straight to the most valuable,” Aglieco said. “He knew exactly what damage he was causing.”

Soldera was insured, but because of the strict rules on aging wine, it will be at least 2018 before any of his special Brunello will be back on the market. In the meantime, the damage to Montalcino’s reputation has left a stain. In fact, the news reports in the days after the destruction of Soldera’s wine painted a picture of a dysfunctional little village where some of Italy’s greatest winemakers lived in disharmony, and more importantly, where it was plausible that someone could do something so unthinkable as destroy six vintages of wine. “The light shown on this little village exposed an ugly side of life,” said Ziliani. “But it’s the real truth and that’s what it is really like in Montalcino.”