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April 27, 2022

Montepulciano vs. Montepulciano w/ Max de Zarobe, Avignonesi

Montepulciano vs. Montepulciano w/ Max de Zarobe, Avignonesi

The challenge Vino Nobile di Montepulciano faces against its bigger neighbor Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.


Sharing a name causes confusion. Trademark and appellation laws are there to protect them. However, it can be harder to resolve when this confusion is within the same country. That’s the challenge Montepulciano (both the town and and the wine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano) faces against its bigger neighbor Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Max de Zarobe of Avignonesi describes the history, challenges, and steps taken to clarify the names and the wines.

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Detailed Show Notes: 

Max’s background - in shipping, ended up in wine by mistake

Avignonesi background

  • Originally a noble family from Montepulciano
  • Based in the SE part of Tuscany, close to Umbria
  • Best known for Vin Santo
  • Top 5 producers in the region (~175ha planted; ~100/~1,300ha of Vino Nobile)

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (“VN”)

  • From the town of Montepulciano, Tuscany
  • Historically controlled by Florence
  • Min 70-80% Sangiovese, trend for all local varietals
  • Three years to produce
  • ~10M bottles annually
  • ~3x the price of MA
  • Named “Nobile” due to nobility consuming the wine in history - only two places in Italy were known for noble wine vs. wine for food, Barolo and Montepulciano
  • Once famed as the best wine in Tuscany - it was imported by Thomas Jefferson to the US (~$250/year)

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (“MA”)

  • From the province of Umbria (East Italy)
  • It uses the Montepulciano grape variety
  • One year to produce
  • ~120M bottles annually

Other naming confusions resolved by the EU: Champagne/Cava, Tokaji/Tocai, Prosecco/Glera. Internationall, cross border conflicts get good support from their governments

Naming conflict a domestic dispute - VN did not get gov’t support as it is small (Montepulciano has ~18k people/~15k voters; Abruzzo is ~2.2M people/~2M voters)

VN is challenged by the squeeze between Brunello (confusion w/ Montalcino, leads the American market due to investment of Banfi) and MA (shared name)

VN promotion challenges & actions

  • No one spoke English (even the President and GM of Consorzio do not speak English); Avignonesi has organized local English classes for children
  • Consorzio tried to get support from politicians but unsuccessful
  • As of last year, put “Vino di Toscana” on the label - limited impact as many don’t know Abruzzo is a province
  • Want to highlight “Nobile” vs. full VN name
  • Issue: can’t use an adjective to name a wine (EU law), “Nobile” is both an adjective and a noun; thus the full VN name was adopted
  • Alliance Vinum, a band of 6 producers, uses “Nobile” by printing it on the “back” label, which is functionally the front label

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