Getting to Know Il Palazzone

An Overview and Interview with Richard Parsons

 


In conversations about better Brunello producers, it's usually not long before the name Il Palazzone comes around. This is a winery that produces consistently excellent Brunello Di Montalcino, and a wonderful non-vintage Rosso of great value.
 
So what is behind the consistency and quality for which  Il Palazzone has come to be known? To answer that question I've taken the opportunity, over the last few months, to get better acquainted with the wines and people behind the label.
In conversations about better Brunello producers, it's usually not long before the name Il Palazzone comes around. This is a winery that produces consistently excellent Brunello Di Montalcino, and a wonderful non-vintage Rosso of great value.
 
So what is behind the consistency and quality for which  Il Palazzone has come to be known? To answer that question I've taken the opportunity, over the last few months, to get better acquainted with the wines and people behind the label.
 
I'm happy to say that I developed my first impression of this winery well before I learned that it was owned by a major American businessman, Richard "Dick" Parsons. Therefore, I didn't have the opportunity to develop any presuppositions about it possibly being a casual hobby for one of the rich and famous (although I like to think that I still would not have done so). Still, there is some concern at Il Palazzone that some might dismiss the winery off-hand based on the owner's storied career. That would be a mistake.
 
The story of Il Palazzone is one of rebuilding, team work, family, and, most importantly, a passion for well made Brunello.
 
The winery is located just southwest of the village of Montalcino, in Tuscany, high on the slopes that fall away from this historic hilltop. Its elevation, more than 500 meters above sea level, places it among the highest of Brunello producers. The grapes are sourced from their three vineyards, one located at the winery, and two others near Castelnuovo dell'Abate, at approximately 200 meters elevation.
 
For this article, I interviewed three members of the Il Palazzone team, Richard "Dick" Parsons (owner), Laura Gray (she and her husband Marco run the winery), and Mandy Presser (Head of  U.S. sales, distribution and marketing). Speaking with each of them, certain consistent impressions kept coming through; they approach wine making, and the wine business, as a team process and everyone on that team views traditional quality as a top priority. The team is close and loves the work that they do. There seems to be a sort of balance in the way they run the enterprise, a balance between practicality and passion.
 
Apparently, when they first took over the estate, Dick and his team had some work to do in order to bring things up to the standard of quality found today in a bottle of Il Palazzone. It seems the vineyards had been overworked and needed a lot of attention to bring them into harmony with the philosophies of the new owner. It's clear, from conversations with the team, that the vineyards are today handled with tender loving care and are cultivated using practices that favor quality over quantity.
 
Overseeing the day-to-day operations, are Marco Sassetti and Laura Gray.
 
Laura jokes, "Marco and I have nothing in common, thatís why we make such a good couple. He doesnít have e mail, and I donít know where the keys to the tractor are." "He does the vineyard and cellar management, and I do people and paper."
 
Listening to Laura describe Marco, her husband and General Manager of the property, I get the impression that he is a denizen of the vineyard, constantly checking the status of things, verifying the tasks of the workers, and basically getting as complete an awareness of the vines as he can.
 
She says, ìHeís a kind of wild man, forager, hunter/gatherer. Very much a man of his contextî ìItís difficult to get him out of Montalcino for very long. That's what makes him such a key element here...this is his life."
 
Marco is a native of the Montalcino zone, born in San Angelo in Colle.
 
Mandy Presser said of him, "Marco is such a part of the fabric of Montalcino, whether he's trying to get the butterfly population to come back, or to get our new bottling machine up and running, he knows where to go and what to do to make it happen. It was his idea to use willow ties, instead of plastic, to be even more traditional, and more natural. He just wants to make the best wine that he can."
 
Laura is Scottish, a graduate of Oxford University, and a trained Sommelier. She has lived in Montalcino for 18 years. At Il Palazzone, she cares for the finances, world sales (outside the U.S.), marketing, and general administration.

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