by Stefania Del Monte -That of Brunello di Montalcino is a centuries-old history. Among the oldest wineries in the Sienese hills is Fattoria del Colle, where the lives of heretics,
jurists, churchmen and winemakers were intertwined. Great characters, great
passions and great wines in one of the most beautiful areas of the world,
which keeps its traditions alive.
The underground cave of Fattoria del Colle is described in the "Decimari" of the XII and XIV century as "Ermitorium S.Egidii de Querciola. Today, that cave contains a very precious collection: the antique Brunello di Montalcino bottles by Donatella Cinelli Colombini.
Born in 1953, Donatella graduated in History of Medieval Art. In 1993 she
founded the Wine Tourism Movement" and invented "Open Cellars", the day that in a few years brought wine tourism to Italy. Today she teaches wine tourism in the post-graduate Masters of three universities. In 1998 she
created her own company, consisting of Fattoria del Colle in Trequanda and
Casato Prime Donne in Montalcino.
In 2003 she won the Oscar for best Italian producer awarded by AIS Bibenda and published the Wine Tourism Manual followed, in 2007, by the book Marketing of wine tourism. From 2001 to 2011 she was Tourism Councilor of the Municipality of Siena.
Among her achievements the ;urban trekking, a new type of sports tourism that, from
Siena, was exported throughout Italy. In 2012, she received the Vinitaly
International Award and the following year was elected President of the Orcia
Wine Consortium. In 2014 she was named a Knight of the Italian Republic
and in 2016 she was elected National President of Women of Wine.
In short, the name of Donatella Cinelli Colombini is synonymous with
excellence in the production of one of the finest wines in the world: not
surprisingly, she is considered "La Signora del Brunello". So let's try to find out more about her story by talking to her directly.
Born from a family of Brunello producers, Montalcino has always been
your home. What makes this wine, and these places, so appreciated in
Montalcino was the last "city state" with an independent government until
1559. It has a noble and courageous history and we are proud of being from
Montalcino. It is the place in the world where the Sangiovese grape is best
expressed and – a unique and extraordinary characteristic – it is able to give
young, satisfying and harmonious wines, and wines of great aging, of
Who drinks Brunello di Montalcino and in which countries?
The first market is the United States but the highest per capita consumption in
the world is in Switzerland. More than half of the wine goes abroad and a 20%
slice is bought and consumed on the spot by predominantly foreign wine
In 1993 you founded the Wine Tourism Movement and the Open
Cellars, making a decisive contribution to the success of wine tourism
in Italy. How important is this resource for the Italian economy?
Very very much! Tourism is a fundamental driving force of the Italian economy
also in terms of currency revenues. Food and wine tourism contributes to the
GDP for about 12 billion euros of annual business, and wine tourism alone for
around 3 billion. It must be remembered that the agri-food delicacies are the
first magnet of foreign tourists and even beat the artistic heritage in terms of
destination Italy attractiveness. Moreover, for years they have been leading
the list of things most appreciated by foreign visitors returning from our
country. At this point we must ask ourselves how much the food & wine
combination can give to the Italian tourism economy, and stop wondering
what tourism can bring to our cellars.
In your opinion, what are the steps still to be taken to further develop
national food and wine tourism?
I would talk about wine tourism, which is the sector I know best. There are
three things to do. First of all, diversify the tourist offer in the cellars: those
who continue to offer only guided tours, with an explanation of their name,
bore. There are about 25 thousand wineries open to the public, 8 thousand of
which are appreciated for their hospitality. In this panorama, it is essential that
each company works to offer something unique and exciting. Second, the
communication of the Italian wine tourism offer must be organized with a
portal and national marketing actions, as for example France does. Third, it is
necessary to have trained staff for wine hospitality, which must come from
hospitality and tourism institutes: currently, wineries are paying for staff
preparation, but that’s not good.
In 1998 you founded – in addition to Fattoria del Colle in Trequanda
–Casato Prime Donne in Montalcino, the first Italian winery with women-
only staff. How was the idea born?
When, in 1998, I left the family business, my parents gave me two estates to
renovate and a small amount of Brunello, still in the barrel, to help me pay the
first investments and start creating a commercial network. I needed a
cantiniere to follow the maturation of this wine and I asked to the Siena
oenology school, where the vice-principal told me: it takes years of booking,
they are very much in demand". When, on the other hand, I asked for a
woman winemaker, the answer was different: we have a whole list, they are
excellent students but the good cellars don’t want them. I became aware of
the existence of such profound discrimination as to be invisible and decided to
do something to show that great wines need talent and passion, not muscles.
From here, the Prime Donne project began with a winery managed by a staff
of women only.
The project was successful because, in 20 years, after
replanting the vineyards and building two cellars, we now export to 39
countries around the world and the judgments of the international press about
our wines are excellent.
Is it true that you have also launched a Brunello "barricaded for ladies".
Is the production of Casato addressed to a purely female market?
Actually, the Brunello Prime Donne does not mature in barrique, indeed it is a
decidedly traditional Brunello, which often ages in large oak barrels or in 5-7
hectoliters tonneaux. It almost always comes from the same vineyard that is
called Ardita and is at the highest point of the Casato Prime Donne.
Duringthe five years it spends in the cellar, there is a panel of 4 tasters who decide
the barrel in which to make it mature and, finally, the blend between the
various barrels. It consists of about 6 thousand bottles, produced only in the
best years. The tasting panel is international and is composed of the Master
of Wine Rosemary George, the German wine expert Astrid Schwarz, one of
the best Italian sommeliers, Daniela Scrobogna, and the Master of Wine
Madeleine Stenwreth, who has joined the group only lately. Brunello Prime
Donne is very popular with female consumers, for its harmonious character
and its silky tannins, but it has above all male admirers.
For over twenty years there has also been the Casato Prime Donne
International Award. Who is it for?
The prize is divided into two parts. There are journalistic and photographic
sections that aim to enhance those who divulge, with commitment, the
territory of Montalcino and its wines. In addition, the award each year
designates a first woman" who is an example or a help to the female world.
In recent editions, Sara Gama, captain of the women’s national football team,
has won, and also Alessandra Ghisleri, a political scientist and pollster in a
country like Italy, where politics gives little room to women. In short, these are
women who break the mold and show the advantage of giving more space to
What was the best wine produced in your cellars over the years?
I believe that the last harvest, the 2019, is superior to any other previous one,
but it will take five years to have this Brunello in the glass. Among the wines
already on the market, my heart beats for 2010.
What food would you combine it with?
A chianino beef steak: a beautiful fiorentina cooked on the grill.
What do you like most about your job and what drives you to throw
yourself headlong into ever new challenges?
I like the wine people, the courage with which they challenge the adversity of
the climate, the creativity with which they invent new styles, the passion that
they transmit to those who knock on the doors of the cellars … They are
characteristics that I find in producers all over the world and that create
Are you working on any new ideas or projects?
Challenges are the spice of life and the engine of entrepreneurship. In a
couple of days, construction will begin on the enlargement of the Fattoria del
Colle cellars: 500 square meters in which to refine the bottles of still and
sparkling wines, new vats in bare cement with fulling, to make the
Cenerentola Doc Orcia as we vinify the Brunello. In addition, an "immersive"
tasting room that will be a real surprise.
What interests do you cultivate in your spare time?
I studied History of Medieval Art and I have an irresistible attraction for the
works of the 13 th and 14 th centuries. But my dream is to create a new type of
religious, indeed spiritual, tourism where men and women of whatever creed can live participated experiences, which help them find serenity and a desire
to build a better world. We are ahead in the study of the prototype and I hope
that it will have the same success as my other achievements: open cellars
and urban trekking.
Read the Italian version on Ciao Magazine
(Images courtesy of Donatella Cinelli Colombini)