ROME Lovers of exquisite wine wherever you are, if you have tears, prepare to shed them now.
Vandals have destroyed more than 62,000 bottles worth of choice Brunello di Montalcino of the exclusive Soldera label at the Case Basse vineyard and estate in Tuscany.
In what the owners have branded as an act of Mafia-style intimidation, the vandals opened the spigots of 10 huge barrels of the produce of the last six years and let the wine go down the drain - literally.
They broke into the estate on Sunday night and when workers walked into the cantina on Monday morning they found nothing left of six years work but puddles of red liquid on the floor.
The total amount lost, according to a Soldera family statement, was 62,600 liters (16,400 gallons)
And this was no surplus supermarket stuff either - a bottle of Soldera starts about 110 euros ($140) and all of them, of course, are numbered as if they were gold bars.
The whole episode has left the Soldera family scratching their heads over a vintage whodunnit.
"I have never received any threats. I have absolutely no idea why this happened or who could have done it," winery founder Gianfranco Soldera, 75, told Reuters by telephone from the hilly estate on Wednesday morning.
"This is beyond me. I can't get into the minds of the people who did this but I guess if someone plans to intimidate me it has to start somehow," he said.
The 23-hectare (56-acre) estate at Montalcino uses Sangiovese Grosso vines to produce the famous wine.
Soldera, a former insurance broker from Milan, and his wife Graziella, started the estate in 1972 when they bought land Tuscan sharecroppers had abandoned.
Soldera runs the estate with his wife, his two children, his grandchildren and about 15 full-time employees. About half the produce is sent abroad, about 10 percent to the United States.
"We will carry on," Soldera said. "We have passion for this land and its produce and no amount of intimidation can stop us."
The family said in a statement that the gesture would "reverberate beyond the boundaries of our winery".
Indeed, the residents of the normally tranquil area dotted with small, centuries-old, hilltop towns were shocked.
Montalcino's mayor Silvio Franceschelli called the crime "infamous and cowardly".
Fabrizio Bindocci, President of the trade consortium that groups some 250 Brunello producers, said the attack "hits all of us".
($1 = 0.7642 euros)
(Reporting By Philip Pullella, editing by Paul Casciato)