Takeaway

Wine in her veins

elizabeth mathew | Updated on April 18, 2014 Published on March 24, 2014

Estate of affairs The farm at Fiorano isreturning to its organic roots

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Inheritor of a 600-year-old wine-making legacy, Alessia Antinori is also restoring a farm on the outskirts of Rome

Speak of wine and women, and many rather sexist ideas would probably come to mind (feminism has a lot of work left). But it’s not your fault — the world of wine has always been predominantly male, whether it is sommeliers or vintners, oenology has been a boys’ club. Shaking things up on this front are Alessia and her sisters from the Antinori family. From being one of two women in her viticulture course at university in Milan, to running her own estate in Fiorano, Alessia has come a long way.

With a surname that has graced many an expensive wine bottle for over six centuries, Alessia Antinori carries with her the heritage of great Italian wine-making. Growing up in a vineyard within the city limits of Rome sounds extremely romantic but it is also a lot of work, she says. “You cannot simply switch off on weekends, a vineyard is a full-time job, and every detail needs looking after. It took 600 years to establish, but it can all be ruined in a careless minute.” But it is fun, Alessia adds, recounting stories of how wines were tested at the family dinner table, with everyone pitching in with their opinions.

The whole nine yards

Admitting that inheriting a wine legacy like Antinori is an honour that comes with a lot of responsibility, she insists that taking it up full time was a personal decision “We were never obliged to take up the family business, I left Florence at 18 to study viticulture on my own. Twenty years ago when I was studying, there were just two women in a class of 20! So starting off as the only women in the male-dominated wine business in Italy was challenging, but we were determined so we made it happen.”

After studying at the university in Milan, Alessia came back to Rome to focus on the sales and marketing side of the family business, focusing on exports to the US and other key international locations.

The Antinori family comes from a 600-year-old tradition of winemaking, but Alessia stresses that they have a modern outlook, with an eye on the future. Innovation is no stranger to the family as they are well known for having brought about, what Alessia refers to as the “Rennaisance of Italian red wines”.

“The focus used to be on quantity, we went against the rules only for the sake of quality — and we had some great results,” she says, referring to the ‘Super Tuscan’ revolution of the Sixties, pioneered by her father Marchesi Pierro Antinori. The resulting Tiganello — a 1971 Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend — is credited with starting off this red wine revolution.

Antinori remains a family-run business to date and Alessia says that this is the way they want to maintain it. “The continuity we have had from generation to generation has given us our biggest advantage. In fact, our CEO is like my second father. Being family-run means that we don’t have to take any drastic decisions, like a multi-national company would have to otherwise.”

‘Weather’ you like it or not

“The thing about viticulture is that it depends entirely on the weather, not on you, regardless of how much effort you put in. Bad years like 1992 or 2002 for us, when we didn’t bottle 70 per cent of our production, are just bad vintages and you have to learn to deal with them. Obviously it is a huge loss when this happens, but we made a conscious decision to not produce that year because it would be damaging for us to release a wine that isn’t consistent with our quality. When it is a family-owned business, these decisions are up to your sensibilities and sometimes, these are quite emotional decisions. You can’t do this if you are owned by a larger company or you have obligations to produce a certain amount.”

While the wine business is inherited from her father’s side, Alessia’s pet project is restoring a farm on the outskirts of Rome, in Fiorano. Originally owned by her maternal grandfather, who Alessia says was like a prince with a tractor, the farm and vineyard was abandoned for a while until four years ago when she decided to restore it. “My grandfather, he believed in the land, and in the organic way of doing things. He was a fanatic about not using chemical additives, and he stayed organic even through the phase when chemicals were being used liberally across farms and vineyards.” She adds that at its peak, the Fiorano estate grew everything from wheat to vegetables, even making their own honey and cheese.

The estate is now going back to its organic roots under Alessia, and works on the basic concept that all ingredients are grown on the farm. “We have a small restaurant that we run on weekends, and our menu changes every day based on what’s in season. We’ve started milking our own cows to make our cheese, and even make a small batch of wine that we sell to private customers.”

Indophile

Andamans, Hampi, Coorg, Jaipur, Delhi, Mumbai — the list of Indian destinations where Alessia has set foot is impressive enough to make a local blush. “I first came to India when I was 18. I used to come for pleasure, but soon it turned into business, and now it’s a combination of both,” she admits.

Back in India four years after her last trip, Alessia is quick to stress that India is an important potential market for wine, and that giving her wines top positioning in hotels and star restaurants is vital. Between her fascination for the Indian subcontinent and the growing market for wine in India, we’re sure to be seeing a lot more of her.



Published on March 24, 2014
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