Among my very favorite things to do while in bella Italia is to visit the wineries. As one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world, some of the very best come from Italy. Italy supplies nearly one-third of the global wine production. In fact, Italy is now the world’s largest wine producer by volume, closely followed by France. With more than one million vineyards under cultivation, Italian vintners know a thing or two when it comes to making delicious wine. Read more
Buried underground and nearly invisible to the eye, the Marchesi Antinori Chianti Classico Cellar just north of Florence is introducing a new wave of architecture by using a design that merges delicately with nature. Every act in the building process of this state-of-the-art winery has considered the surrounding natural environment as a sacred responsibility to nurture and embrace. The results, the accomplishment of an eight year long project, is dynamic. This Hobbit-style complex embraces sustainability and green thinking on a grand scale, making it very unique in a world of mindless progress. Read more
Marchesi Antinori has put his foot down at last. No more reckless development of his beloved Italy. Instead, he is fanning a new wave of sustainability and preservation, one that is in perfect harmony with nature. His new Antinori Cantina, located in the heart of Chianti Classico near Florence, is solid proof of his commitment to the development of superior wine planted and nurtured in organically enriched soil and processed in a facility built entirely using sustainable methods.
“Invisibility” was the goal from the planning stages, made possible largely by the innovative work of Archea Associati architectural studio, engineered by Hydea. It took seven years of work. Today, the Cantina sits in complete harmony with its surroundings, covered entirely with vineyards.
As I drove by on the freeway which runs in front of it, I almost missed it. What I saw appeared to be two long horizontal incisions in a hillside with vines growing up and over it. The cantina is literally dug into the hillside. Whatever was removed to build the cantina was put back into place afterwards. To make it even harder to see, the construction of terracotta, wood, corten steel, and glass created a reddish-brown color matching that of the earth. It reminded me of a huge Hobbit house. The cellars were designed to impact the environment minimally while attaining a significant savings in energy.
The new vines that have been planted on the roof of the Cantina are in fairly shallow dirt, so it is experimental at this point. Grape roots can grow very deep into the soil, but they may not need it to produce a crop of great wine. Only time will tell.
Grape varieties planted around the Cantina are Sangiovese (the predominate grape in Chianti Classico wine), Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo, Colorino, Malvasia Nera, Mammolo, and a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
State-of-the-art architecture greatly impressed me. Everywhere I looked I saw a clean streamlined earthiness. No frill, fluff or fancy, yet beautifully laid out.
After driving up a long winding driveway to the guard station, I was instructed to park inside the underground garage. Taking an elevator upward, I stepped off onto the reception floor. Outside huge glass doors is a large patio with a corkscrew stairway leading up to the roof. From there you can walk over green lawn and see the young vineyards planted all around. Simply unbelievable. I had never seen anything like it.
There is no need for mechanical pumping to move the grapes and must through fermentation. The building was designed to allow them to be moved by gravity flow. As a result of this naturally delicate process, the wine tastes much more balanced and elegant.
Antinori has achieved the ability to maintain ideal temperatures for aging the wine in barrels by means of completely natural processes, like using local terracotta to enclose the cellars. No refrigeration plants here.
Vinsanto, a wine that the Antinoris have always produced, is a very old wine that has held a highly prestigious position since the Middle Ages. Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia del Chianti bunches are picked and laid out on reed mats to slowly dry. During this time, the grapes dehydrate (like raisins). This creates a higher sugar content resulting in a sweeter wine. It takes three kilograms of grapes to obtain one kilogram of dried grapes. They are then pressed into must and put into small oak barrels to ferment slowly. To achieve the best flavor and fragrance, the Vinsanto ages for at least three years.
Olive oil is another product that is made here at the Cantina. This area where olive oil is produced is called the orciaia. Traditionally, terracotta is used to store olive oil. If you look behind the pots, you can see stainless steel containers which today is preferred over the terracotta. Both are still used. The Antinori’s Peppoli Estate, from which three different olive varieties are harvested, provide the olives for some of the stored olive oil here.
At the end of the tour we were all taken into the tasting room to experience some Antinori wines. The taste and quality were all there. Delicacy, superb care and crispness is what I recall. We were quietly absorbed as we first sniffed, than tasted our wine.
The restaurant, named after the founder of the 26 generation dynasty, Rinuccio degli Antinori, is on the rooftop of the cellars. Glass panels run along the entire length of it, giving an astounding panoramic view of the Chianti countryside.
The Antinori Cantina also includes a museum, showcasing the 26 generations of family history which began in 1385 Florence, as well as an auditorium and shop.
Twenty-six generations of wine production has created an outstanding family of vintners. But, I discovered that the Antinori estates are more than that. They have created an idea, a goal to give back to the environment as well as bring people together to savor the earths bounty of wine responsibly and lovingly produced. It is an act of goodwill through an innovative process that challenges others to be better stewards of the land.
Italian winemaker Piero Antinori never expected his three daughters to pick up the reins and run the family wine business. Without sons of his own, he had no idea what would happen to his 627 year old Antinori Wine Estate. But the ladies have taken on the challenge by storm and are fully grasping the abilities and techniques needed to operate the business in top-notch fashion. Each of them has brought their marketing and public relations skills to keep the winery well diversified within Italy as well as their other estates in California and Washington in the United States, Hungary, Romania, Chile, and Malta. While their primary customer base is still Europe and North America, the Antinori’s have successfully opened markets for their wines in India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Qatar, and Oman.
Not a small empire to juggle, they have developed the same attitude and expertise as their father. Savy with bankers who entice him with options, the Marquis is polite but generally disagrees. “You should hear the tantalizing proposals they give me,” he says. “It’s always,’The market will never be like this again.’ ‘You’ll never get a better price.’ Now, the latest rage is private equity. Honestly, I’ve never been tempted.” Also, like past generations, he has resisted the idea of expecting his children to take on permanent operation of the winery. Perhaps this is the magic ingredient that has kept the family involved.
A steady hand and hesitancy to hire management from without has paid off well. Preferring to nurture someone from within and to instill the same values and vision have helped to build a company that makes some of the most highly appraised wine in Italy. The result of all this is that the Antinori’s have done quite well, with an annual growth rate of around 7% over the past decade. They have more than doubled the margin of most other major wine producers in Italy.
The Antinori sisters have much to be proud of as the 26th generation to run the business. Not only has the family succeeded in passing the winery on from one generation to the next, but since the medieval ages the Antinori family have survived the Bubonic plague, the invasion of Napoleon, two world wars, the arrival of globalization and the birth and death of the wine cooler.
The Marquis Piero lives with his wife and youngest daughter, Alessia, in the upper two flats of the 15th century Palazzo Antinori, by the Florence cathedral, where the family has lived generation after generation for the past five centuries. The walls are covered with paintings by Renaissance masters, such as Tintoretto. The first two floors are the family business, run by the sisters who operate as the top executives.
Judging by the looks of their state-of-the-art wineries, which include three estates within Italy alone plus a new visitors center and museum in Chianti, the Antinori sisters have been hard at work adding the finesse and elegance that earns its reputation. Each brings their own knowledge with educational degrees and hands-on experience in the field. But demanding competition in the wine business will continue in a rapidly changing marketplace. New areas, from China to Russia, are looking for high-quality wine. With production soaring from regions such as Australia, New Zealand and Chile, new market shares are gained. Making wine available to the younger generation have inspired the Antinori’s to open their own restaurants in Zürich, Vienna and Moscow.
So how does being female bring a different angle to the business? “Women choose the wines more often than men, and they are often more intuitive about food pairings and far more experimental. Having a woman involved in every aspect from winemaking to marketing has made a major difference in the company’s growth,” states Allegra. “Wine is emotional, not rational. It has a lot of personality, and people who are not wine experts are starting to understand subtle differences. Women especially embody that.”
“The elegance,” Allesia Antinori states, “The wine has to be elegant. And so you say, ‘how do you describe elegance?’ You can’t. It’s like an elegant woman. How do you describe her? It’s personal.”
If strength runs in families, than the sisters should have plenty of reserves. Beginning in 1513, Camillo Antinori was exiled from Florence after feuding with the Medici’s. Then again, in 1572, the Holy See granted Filippo Antinori concession to sell wine to the Church for religious celebrations. But in Rome, the wine merchants maintained a tight grip on the trade and relentlessly fought him until he went bankrupt. More recently, the Marquis, who began running the estate in 1966, suffered a split between his brother which almost resulted into a tailspin of family destruction.
Is it easy for three sisters to run an empire? It’s not that the girls are without their spats. “It’s easy to fall into the,’I work more, she’s working less.’ That’s normal,” says Albiera Antinori, continuing with “there is no biz-school-inspired strategy for this. We just all grew up with the same values. And somehow, we all know when it’s time to make a decision together.”
In Italy, more than a third of those working in wine are women. A new wave of feminine vintners is taking the boot by storm. From all regions across Italy’s domain, women are making their mark in the previously male dominated world of winemaking. These women are bringing a fresh new way of looking at wine, their land and the produce it brings by growing and developing organic, natural grapes with no chemicals.
The Antinori sisters from Florence are spearheading their 627 year old winery, being the first women in 26 generations of the Antinori lineage to have any significant role in the family’s winery. All three sisters are involved in public relations in addition to running their winery with their father, Piero Antinori.
The Antinori legend began in 1385, when Giovanni di Piero Antinori first entered the Winemakers Guild of Florence. Today, the wine industry has become an ultracompetitive global business, where they distribute their wine across the world.
A cutting edge cantina deep in the heart of Chianti is the Antinori’s newest project. This polished underground cellar made of terra-cotta and local stones, is hidden under olive groves and rows of grapevines.
Albiera sums up nicely her family’s winemaking priority. “The liquid in the bottle has to embody the soul of the people who make it. Nothing is more important than that.”
Elisabetta, a single parent of four, makes wine from the Teroldego grape. Her winery is beautifully nestled in the Trentino Valley, shadowed by the Dolomite Mountains of northern Italy. Her top Teroldego is called Granato, a stunning red said to be polished and refined. Elisabetta uses old terracotta pots to ferment her wine and has a fascinating way of wrapping her grapevines.
Nicoletta’s wines come from sustainable organic and biodynamic agriculture. Originally from Milan, she bought vineyards in the Turin area from elderly neighbors who could no longer take care of them, and from whom she learned much of her winemaking techniques and skills.
Poderi Sanguineto I & II, Dora’s winery, makes Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Rosso di Montepulciano. Her brothers had no interest in working in the wine business, so Dora took it on and loves it. A natural comedian, she enjoys telling the story of how she had a run in with a wild boar and has many scenes butchering things….one tough lady!
A non conformist in many ways, Arianna grows the Nero d’Avola and Frappato grapes. Her wines are considered earthy, mysterious and intriguing much like her. Her vines are uniquely trellised, growing up and around in a circular motion. She is known to produce an excellent olive oil as well.
These women of the vine are bringing a unique freshness to the winemaking world. Confident, independent, and wise, they continue to show originality and capability in producing top-notch world-class wine. They are intensely in love with their land and lovingly, passionately grow and cultivate their grapes into the magnificent wines for which they are known.
As Allegra Antinori puts it, “women choose the wines more often than men, and they are often more intuitive about food pairings and far more experimental. Having a woman involved in every aspect from winemaking to marketing has made a major difference in the company’s growth. Wine is emotional, not rational. It has a lot of personality, and people who are not wine experts are starting to understand subtle differences. Women especially embody that.”
Do you happen to know of a woman vintner who is making incredible wine? I’d love to hear about it. Please share in a comment below.