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Sting forced to pen ‘sorry’ note to the family of a dead Italian vineyard duke


This is the sort of dispute that might well have been settled with a duel at dawn in a bygone era.

Holding the ‘pistol’ on one side stands Simone Velluti Zati, the Italian-born Duke of San Clemente. 

The honour of his late father, he claims, has been impugned by a ‘poisonous slander’ that sees him accused of using underhand tactics to dupe an unsuspecting Englishman into buying his Tuscan estate.

Standing on the other side is his father’s maligner, his pistol now shamefully lowered. He is a milkman’s son from Newcastle called Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner. 

Or Sting as the frontman of The Police is better known.

The duke contends that since purchasing the property, Sting, the new ‘Lord of the Manor’, has spoken ill of his family’s wine while turning the historic property into a ‘Palm Beach-style resort’ — complete with a yoga studio and pizza restaurant.

Sting has issued an unequivocal private apology to Simone Velluti Zati, the Italian-born Duke of San Clemente who claimed the honour of his late father was impugned by a ‘poisonous slander’ after the musician accused him of using underhand tactics to dupe him buying his Tuscan estate. Above: Sting with his wife Trudy Styler

‘More than anything else, it’s important to me to defend the legacy of my father,’ the 46-year-old duke said in an impassioned conversation with the Daily Mail last night. ‘My father did not deserve this. 

He has been a very important man in many ways and touched many lives of people who still remember him today.’

Now the Mail can reveal that Sting has issued an unequivocal private apology for the ‘great distress’ caused to the former owners of his villa by his ‘ironic’ comments, after sparking a storm that shows no sign of abating.

A grovelling letter, signed simply ‘Sting’, on headed paper bearing the same name, says: ‘You are right, I owe you an apology. The story as reported was disrespectful to the memory of your distinguished father and, for that, I offer my sincere and unequivocal apologies…

‘I recognise and accept that this has caused you and your family great distress for which I am truly sorry. Please rest assured that this will not happen again.’

Yet the duke remains unsatisfied. He is demanding the apology be publicly placed on the villa’s website and elsewhere.

But what on Earth did the singer do to raise the Italian aristocrat’s hackles?

The story goes back to 1997 when Sting and his actress and TV producer wife Trudie Styler purchased the Villa Il Palagio from the current duke’s father, who had the same name as his son, for a reported £3 million.

‘We bought it for a song, maybe two songs, I’m not sure!’ the 69-year-old singer once joked.

Since then, they have spent millions more expanding the estate and turning it into one of the region’s most desirable boltholes. 

Sting apologised for causing 'great distress  to the former owners of his villa by his 'ironic' comments, after sparking a storm that shows no sign of abating

Sting apologised for causing ‘great distress  to the former owners of his villa by his ‘ironic’ comments, after sparking a storm that shows no sign of abating

Today, the villa boasts nine bedrooms and eight bathrooms attended by a staff of 15. 

Guests of the couple have included Band Aid supremo Sir Bob Geldof and U.S. actor Dustin Hoffman.

The addition of further annexes and guest houses mean that 50 people can now be accommodated — ideal for those rich enough to rent out the property for weddings.

Landscaped grounds provide plenty of ways to keep everyone occupied. 

The estate boasts a life-size chessboard, a treehouse overlooking a lake, a chapel and a statue of Buddha, a fountain that once belonged to actress Sophia Loren, a tennis court and swimming pool.

Eco-friendly honey, virgin olive oil and, of course, wine are all produced on the 900-acre estate.

Having replanted the old vineyards, the estate now produces four of its own wines. A case of 2016 vintage ‘Message in a Bottle’ red costs £175.

‘Il Palagio is more than a vacation home for Trudie and Sting,’ the property’s website reads. ‘It is a passion. 

And a sanctuary. It is where they have gone for years to find peace and return to a simpler way of life.’

Yet the contents of an interview Sting gave earlier this month to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera’s magazine Sette disturbed that peace quite spectacularly.

In the article, the singer spoke about the wines he now produces and the guest houses he rents out. ‘We had been looking for a house in Tuscany for years,’ he said.

The story goes back to 1997 when Sting and his actress and TV producer wife Trudie Styler purchased the Villa Il Palagio from the current duke's father, who had the same name as his son, for a reported £3 million

The story goes back to 1997 when Sting and his actress and TV producer wife Trudie Styler purchased the Villa Il Palagio from the current duke’s father, who had the same name as his son, for a reported £3 million

Sting claimed that Duke Simone gave him a glass of wine that wasn't local when he ans his wife went to view the property. Above: Sting's own brand of wine

Sting claimed that Duke Simone gave him a glass of wine that wasn’t local when he ans his wife went to view the property. Above: Sting’s own brand of wine

‘We had seen places that were full of marble like mausoleums. Then we arrived at Il Palagio. It was run-down, but full of charm. It was 1997. 

‘From that moment, our new life in the countryside began.’

The singer described how they had renovated the villa. ‘It was in bad condition,’ he said. ‘There was a lot to do. We even brought in electricity. Basically, the house had been neglected for a long time.’

Having completed the villa, the couple’s attention turned to the grounds, with old vines uprooted and replanted.

Sting explained how he had been persuaded to buy the vineyard in the first place. 

‘The former owner, Duke Simone Vincenzo Velluti Zati di San Clemente, offered us a glass of red from a carafe during a visit to Il Palagio,’ Sting recalled.

‘We were negotiating the purchase — we liked the property very much even though it was almost in ruins.

‘The duke asked me if I would like to taste some wine from the estate and I said ‘yes’. It was an excellent wine, so he convinced me to buy the vineyards as well. 

‘Then we realised that the duke had served us a Barolo and not a local wine.’

It was this allegation of duplicity that lies at the heart of the current dispute. 

Namely, instead of serving him a glass of locally-grown Chianti, the old duke had swapped it for a glass of much superior wine grown in the north of Italy.

Asked how Sting had worked out what had happened, he said: ‘After a while, when we served our guests the estate wine, I saw that someone had emptied their glass into the flower beds. 

‘So we decided to ‘take revenge’ and to demonstrate that it was possible to produce excellent wine even from the Palagio vineyards.’

He added with a smile: ‘Our whole Tuscan adventure is actually a way of getting our own back.’

Which did not go down at all well with the current duke’s family. He has now insisted that Sting stop using his family’s crest on his wine bottles.

‘He bought the property, not the family,’ he said.

‘What is most surprising is that, given my father passed away in 2012, Sting had 15 years to make these accusations. Instead, he decided to speak ill of the dead.’

With representatives of the singer declining to comment further on the matter, it seemed that the perceived slight was set to fester further — despite the fact that, until recently, relations between the old and new owners of Il Palagio had been amicable.

Sting and his wife Trudie Styler Sting and wife Trudy Styler Celebrate their Sister Moon Red Wine, Il Palagio, in the Tuscan Hills

Sting and his wife Trudie Styler Sting and wife Trudy Styler Celebrate their Sister Moon Red Wine, Il Palagio, in the Tuscan Hills

‘My father sold the property in 1997 because the costs of maintaining it had become too high,’ said the duke, who works as a wine consultant and now lives near Barcelona.

‘Of course, he was not happy about it but it had to be done and I believe the price paid by Sting was fair.

‘I was 21 at the time but did not meet him or speak to him but some family members did and had nothing negative to say.

‘My father and mother were invited once to Palagio after the sale to have lunch with Sting and his wife and, again, had no negative comments about them.’

The claims contained within the interview were read by horrified friends and family of the old duke.

‘My initial reaction was of shock and then of anger,’ his son said. 

‘To see my father’s name in an Italian paper linked to a story which spoke of a personal vendetta by Sting for having been cheated on buying the property and vineyards made me feel a deep sense of injustice.

‘Also, the fact that he says that he brought electricity to the property makes no sense at all. Palagio was in need of renovations without any doubts but, I assure you, it was a lovely functioning property.’

Having contacted the newspaper to complain, the duke composed a letter of his own, which was last week published in a different Italian newspaper.

In it, he spelt out his wide-ranging objections to the claims which he described as ‘highly damaging’ to the memory of his father. 

‘Ultimately, the interview that Sting gave to Corriere della Sera seems primarily designed to promote his wine and pizzas in what is nothing more than a tacky marketing strategy,’ he wrote.

Sting claimed he and wife Trudie Styler got stung when they were tricked into buying a vineyard in Tuscany in 1997 when the owner - the Duke Simone Vincenzo Velluti Zati di San Clemente - gave them a glass of wine to try

Sting claimed he and wife Trudie Styler got stung when they were tricked into buying a vineyard in Tuscany in 1997 when the owner – the Duke Simone Vincenzo Velluti Zati di San Clemente – gave them a glass of wine to try

‘Il Palagio has been transformed into a Palm Beach-style resort. 

‘An average cultured Tuscan knows that, in this part of our region villas, gardens and the countryside are all connected to each other and part of a single landscape.

‘By contrast, Sting’s renovation of villa and garden is violently out of context, lacking any connection to that countryside which Sting says he feels part of.’

As for the wine, he criticised Sting for uprooting the old vines despite the estate producing what he described as an ‘excellent Chianti’. 

But his most vehement criticisms are reserved for the claims about his father — which he describes as a ‘poisonous and completely false slander’.

He said: ‘My father, Simone di San Clemente, was said to have passed off Barolo as a wine produced on the farm with a tavern-style trick. 

‘Nothing could be more alien to the character, habits, behaviour — in a word, the spirit — of my father [than] to swindle a guest. 

‘And it would be a little stupid to think that a well-travelled man like Sting, who was 46 at the time, would confuse Barolo with Chianti.’

He added: ‘Throughout this story it is hard to recognise the refined taste that Sting says he has acquired over the years. 

‘Nor does it appear a decision in good taste to use my family crest on the labels of his wines without any authorisation.

‘I hope that the karma that Sting holds so dear does not turn against him and I suggest he reflects on the truth while he meditates.

‘In the meantime, I am waiting for Mr Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner to apologise to me.’

And, sure enough, on August 24 — four days after the publication of that letter — Sting did contact the duke, sending him a letter in English, with an Italian translation, shown to the Mail by his London representative.

It reads: ‘You are right, I owe you an apology. The story as reported was disrespectful to the memory of your distinguished father, and for that I offer my sincere and unequivocal apologies.

Sting and his wife Trudie Styler Sting and wife Trudy Styler Celebrate their Sister Moon Red Wine, Il Palagio, in the Tuscan Hills

Sting and his wife Trudie Styler Sting and wife Trudy Styler Celebrate their Sister Moon Red Wine, Il Palagio, in the Tuscan Hills

‘Your father was an honourable man who never misled me. The intention of this anecdote was to provide an ironic commentary on my naive assumptions, my inexperience and the embarrassing fact that, 25 years ago, I would have been unable to distinguish a Barolo from a bar of soap.

‘I ought to be aware by now that irony is only rarely communicated in print but, nonetheless, I recognise and accept that this has caused you and your family great distress for which I am truly sorry. Please rest assured that this will not happen again.’

It ends with a handwritten signature in the name of Sting.

While clearly the letter was designed to draw a line under the matter, the count believes the apology needs to be made more publicly known.

He believes it should be published on the villa’s website and sent to all the media outlets that published the ‘original insulting story’. 

So far, other than The Daily Mail, the letter has only been shared with the Italian newspaper which published the original interview with Sting.

‘You cannot simply wake up one morning and insult someone by creating a story of controversial remarks so that it then becomes viral in English language magazines and papers,’ he said.

‘I am also in the wine business and I perfectly understand it’s not an easy market and it’s not enough to be a very famous artist to sell.

‘However, this does not excuse this bad taste marketing strategy which clearly insulted me and my family’s name.’

Not quite pistols at dawn, perhaps. But a reminder, if nothing else, of how thick blood runs in Italy. Thicker than water — and wine. 



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