Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A conversation with Albiera Antinori

Albiera Antinori enjoys biscotti and Vin Santo (who doesn't?)
As international companies go, Antinori is quite unusual. It's family run, and has been since the 1200s. It invests all over the world, but doesn't seem to do so with an eye toward the largest profits.

And it's mostly run by women: the three daughters of family patriarch Piero Antinori.

I had lunch with Albiera Antinori at the company's restaurant in Firenze, and over superb plates of roasted octopus and potatoes, followed by shrimp and squid with Tuscan white beans, we talked about her company's unusual choices of investment.

Beyond their 1800 hectares in Italy, they also have ventures in Napa Valley (Antica, as well as a partnership with Chateau Ste Michelle in running Stag's Leap Wine Cellars), Washington (Col Solare, also a joint venture with Chateau Ste Michelle) and Chile (Albis, a joint venture with local entrerpreneur Eduardo Matte). But that's not all.

"We have 80 hectares in Hungary, but it's not in the Tokaji area," she says. "We have 20 hectares in Romania. Romania has a long history of wine. But these wines are just for the local markets."

Me: But why do it? There aren't many family members to go around. Wouldn't you be better off concentrating where you know the area?

Albiera: "It comes from passion or instinct to try the local variety, and the feeling to make wine with people you come in contact with.

Tuscan white beans and seafood at Cantinetta Antinori
Wine isn't their only venture. In addition to the Cantinetta Antinori restaurant in Firenze, they have branches in Vienna, Zurich and Moscow, and gastronomy shops in Vienna and Singapore.

Me; How can you manage such far-flung ventures?

Albiera: "Some of these things are small. We have partners. Chile's easier because it's in a different season. For us, introducing wines to people is easier and better if it is involved with food."

Me: Where will you expand next?

Albiera: "For the moment it's better that we look into what we have. Whatever has taken us outside the borders of Tuscany has always been the sense of curiosity. Twenty hectares in Romania is never going to change anything. In Napa Valley Antinori started out in 1984. You're always learning something."

Me: What have you learned from California?

Albiera: "We were kind of stuck with tradition. The spirit of California, the Robert Mondavi and Tschelitscheff, was the spirit of innovation. Taking things from zero without the burden of tradition. From the red wines, going for more concentration. And also for the white wines.

"From Chile we have learned a bit of the spirit of the New World mixed with the Old World. Chile is not Argentina. From Hungary we have learned drawing out the character of the white wines.

"Managing the tradition is something difficult. You must maintain tradition with the spirit of innovation. If we had only the tradition we would make wines like we made 500 years ago. It is not thinkable in our case.

"Something that we always look for around the world is wines that can give elegance and not only power. And they have to be beautiful places because we have to enjoy what we are looking at."

"When we were buying our vineyard in Alba, we had done the soil analysis on the site, and checked everything, but my father had not visited the site. I called my father and he said, 'Walk through the vineyard. If it's a beautiful place, it should be a good vineyard.' Hardly ever do you find great vineyards in ugly places. Beautiful places, they do have something to it."

No comments: