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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Nicolas Belfrage MW & Franco Ziliani

An earthquake has erupted in the world of Italian wines. The UIV, or Union of Italian Wines - the country's most important organisation of wine producers and bottlers, grouping everyone who's anyone from Antinori to Zonin - has been thrown into chaos following its meeting on 21 September. Just two months after the re-election of the officers of UIV's Council of Administration, the most important ones have staged a mass walkout, led by President Ezio Rivella. Nor has Rivella resigned just the presidency but also his membership, and he has been followed by such big guns as Piero Antinori, Michele Chiarlo, Ambrogio Folonari of Ruffino and Sandro Boscaini of Masi. Rivella has immediately been replaced as president, by the narrow margin of 17 votes out of 33, by the youthful Andrea Sartori, head of Casa Vinicola Sartori in Negrar di Valpolicella. The eminence grise behind Sartori's ascension seems to have been another prominent Veneto wine man, Gianni Zonin, himself a past president, who it seems had not spared his criticism of the departing Rivella, in particular regarding Rivella's strong backing for Milan's MiWine fair and his perceived attacks against the Veneto's Vinitaly. Interviewed by Harpers, Rivella spoke openly of a premeditated blitz' by Zonin, obviously determined to work a change at the top of the UIV, having been less than appreciative of that organisation's withdrawal of his (Zonin's) presidency of Simei, the important international oenological equipment fair, organised by UIV. It appears that a technicality in voting procedure was used to annul the earlier vote reconfirming Rivella as president, enabling the Veneto wing' to prevail in their politicking over the Tuscany wing' represented by Rivella, Antinori and Folonari, and supported by independents like Masi, Chiarlo and Bersano of Piedmont. Sartori has not yet issued an official declaration, but has taken time out to elaborate programmes and a team' before presenting the broad lines of his presidency. In any case, the UIV has come out of the affair rather badly, image-wise, with a virtual down-the-middle split of loyalties - not to mention the danger that the departing wise men, together with their various supporters, might pass their allegiance to the rival organisation Federvini, thus creating the conditions for a nice little wine-war - just what Italy doesn't need in this hour of crisis.