I read terrible news today on Franco Ziliani’s Blog Vino al Vino about Gianni Brunelli’s death. I met Gianni and his wife Laura Vacca through their New York importer Dancing Bear Cellars at Vinitaly 2007. I stayed with them last summer and have since developed a friendship with Laura and Gianni. I knew Gianni was sick but was caught off guard with this awful news. I just spoke to Laura and can only say that I have immense admiration for her and the work that the two of them have done together for the last 31 years. This is a modified piece I wrote about Gianni last year.
Gianni Brunelli, one of those larger than life figures, was a friend to artists, writers, musicians and Ambassadors, Brunelli shared his table with them all. His customers include Sting, who comes over to pick up crates of wine from his home and the late Italian poet and writer Mario Luzi who once wrote an ode to his Sienese restaurant Osterie Le Logge. Gianni, Laura and Gianni’s mother founded the restaurant in 1977. It is located just off the central piazza in Siena, Italy where the Palio race has been held for centuries. On a recent evening at the restaurant, a parade of musicians, politicians and bank directors made their way past our table. Gianni said hello to everyone. So much so, he almost seemed to be the local mayor. In fact, an American couple leaned over to ask who he was and why everyone kept stopping to say hello. In addition to his restaurant, Brunelli used to own a café in Siena with the world renowned artist Sandro Chia, right in the Piazza del Campo, the main square in Siena. Chia created a gorgeous mosaic in the bar which can still be seen. Chia went on to create his murals all over the world including the famous one in the restaurant Palio in New York City. While Brunelli’s restaurant is world famous, his wines are legendary. They are hard to attain and having one is considered a privilege. Gianni, though, was very down to earth. He had a shock of white hair and looked like an amused genius. His half smile was both charming and disarming at the same time. He had bear paw-like fingers and a warm touch. This warmth is transmitted in every encounter with Brunelli and along with the food and wines he produces, keeps drawing in new customers. Brunelli produces just 30,000 bottles of wine a year, a mix of Brunello Riserva, Brunello, Rosso di Montalcino and Amor Costante. Drinking Brunelli wines is an incredibly memorable experience. They are concentrated, layered and nuanced at the same time. Gianni and his wife Laura will tell you that most of the work that goes into making a fantastic wine is done in the vineyard. They work together with a well established team in the vineyard on a daily basis, pruning, trimming and watching over the vines so that each grape is healthy and picked at perfect ripeness and maturity.
Laura and Gianni have been working together for 30 years to create sumptuous food and impeccable service at Osterie Le Logge in Siena and have taken their commitment to excellence to new heights with the wines. A native son of Montalcino, Gianni was attached to his town, his country and his land. He believed in organic viticulture and planted all of his vines and every cypress tree on his property.
Laura takes care of the beautiful roses that head each vine row. Roses are often planted in vineyards for aesthetic reasons but more importantly they serve as a monitor for the health of the vine. Parasites attack the roses before they would attack a grape vine and thus give ample warning if any measures need be taken. Laura’s roses were shining beautifully on a recent visit.
Gianni explained to me that by tasting his Rosso di Montalcino wines-sometimes referred to as baby brunellos-you can get a real sense of what Brunello will be like in the coming year. He used the classic Sangiovese grape to make both his Brunello and his Rosso di Montalcino and also experiments successfully with merlot in his Amor Costante. All of his hard work has also garnered the acclaim of the wine magazines. Brunelli’s dedication was total. He was always toiling away in his vineyard or tirelessly working in the restaurant. Gianni put in long hours to make sure each detail is just perfect. Laura, his wife, was always at his side in all of his endeavors – a true amor costante…
Laura will continue to carry on both the Osteria and the winery with the help of Gianni and Laura’s numerous friends, colleagues and fans. The spirit of this son of Montalcino and Siena will live on and he will be sorely missed.