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It sounds like a fairy tale: The wine king of Chianti Classico, Marchese Piero Antinori, has three daughters who fairly divide the vinological realm of the noble family among themselves. How skilfully and sensitively they continue the legacy of the Tuscan winemaking pioneer was revealed by Albiera and Allegra Antinori in a Wein-Plus interview with Eva Dülligen.

Allegra and Albiera Antinori (Photo: E. Dülligen)

Wein-PlusMrs Antinori, your first name is Albiera, your sisters Allegra and Alessia. Did your parents have the "Triple A", which is awarded by rating companies as the highest credit rating for companies, in mind when naming you?

Albiera Antinori: A nice thought: AAA. But no, there are ten years between my youngest sister Alessia and me. My parents would have had to think about our names far in advance. A triple A would make more sense with triplets. (laughs)

Wein-Plus: What is it like for your father to have a world-renowned winery but no direct male heir?

Albiera Antinori: The times when my father could complain about not having a male successor are passé. He hoped for it, but didn't expect it. Basically, he can consider himself lucky that his three daughters have taken over key positions in the company. There were also not so many children as to have had a choice. But all joking aside, my father still has the final say in many areas because he simply has the most experience.

Vineyards of the Tenuta Tignanello (Photo: Antinori)

Wein-PlusNevertheless, the handover of power to the female gender is sealed. You are vice-president of Antinori, Allegra oversees the wine house's gastronomic initiatives, and Alessia runs the family's sparkling wine house Franciacorta. Is it luck or coincidence that each of you has found your dream resort?

Allegra Antinori: Definitely luck. We all have our preferences. I love marketing and travelling. Not to forget Italian cuisine. All of this comes together, for example, in the "La Cantinetta Antinori" concept that I manage. These are four osterias in Florence, Zurich, Vienna and Moscow that bring together simple Italian specialities with the mid-range of our wines.

Wein-PlusWhich wines are suitable for this gastronomic concept?

Allegra Antinori: For example, the Pèppoli 2010. With its slightly acidic style, it represents the fruity version of Chianti Classico. A 90-percent Sangiovese (ten percent Merlot) whose freshness and fruit go perfectly with Italy's lean, simple cuisine. Too much colour, too many aromas would be completely out of place. And I think the price-performance ratio is also right, at around 16 euros at the end of consumption.

Villa Fonte de Medici in San Casciano Val di Pesa (Photo: Antinori)

Wein-PlusWhat is the difference between working with, let's say, popular restaurateurs and working with the upscale gastronomic scene?

Allegra Antinori: You have more freedom. In the world of high-end gastronomy, there are very individual kitchen maîtres. Certain things are expected on their wine lists, even if the premium wines for several hundred or thousand euros are more of a waste and are rarely ordered. In Michelin-starred restaurants, too, diners are increasingly turning to the mid-range when it comes to wine selection. Our Osteria concept is down-to-earth and attractive for those who want affordable Tuscan regionality on their plate and in their glass.

Wein-PlusNow the situation in Italy is not necessarily the most relaxed politically and economically. In this difficult climate, how do you still push Antinori wines forward alongside such concepts?

Albiera Antinori: First of all, the political situation: we are indeed in an enormous economic and structural crisis. Prodi and Berlusconi have never acted in the country's interest. The entire team in the government palace is outdated. The ministers only have to be in office for a few months and get a fat pension for the rest of their lives. We need a breath of fresh air, a radical change. A hopeful candidate would be, for example, the moderate leftist Mattheo Renzo, acting mayor of Florence. Our country has so much potential, a distinct culture. We need vision. And the next generation must do a good job if these visions are to be realised.

Barrique cellar (Photo: E. Dülligen)

Wein-PlusA vision that has already become reality is not far from here in San Casciano Val di Pesa, in short: near Florence.

Albiera Antinori: Or more precisely: in our Nuova Cantina Antinori. It was inaugurated a year ago, after seven years of architectural masterpieces. It is made of materials such as tiles, wood, corten steel and glass, with a focus on maximum respect for the environment and the Tuscan landscape.

Wein-PlusThe new winery is already considered unique in Italy. Apart from its visual appeal and ecological aspects, what else makes it unique for Italy?

Albiera Antinori: You could call the whole thing an oenogastronomic experience. We show visitors at first hand what is behind the Antinori wines - from the auditorium, where films about our wine production are shown, among other things, to the winery's own restaurant, where the results can be enjoyed with regional cuisine in the middle of the Tuscan countryside, indoors or outdoors. In between, there is a museum with avant-garde and antique art, tasting rooms, barrique cellars and a wine shop.

Auditorium in the new winery (Photo: Antinori)

Wein-Plus: With all the successes of your more than 600-year history in the current 26th generation of winemakers, are there also defeats? How is Sangiovese doing in your Californian vineyards?

Albiera Antinori: You'll have to ask our vineyard manager at Tenuta Tignanello. He so aptly summed up the comparison of the vineyards in Chianti with those in Napa Valley the other day.

Wein-PlusMr Carpaneto, take over.

Stefano Carpaneto: California is difficult. Sangiovese was not a great success there. It simply doesn't have the same conditions there as here, it gets very dark, but ultimately lacks character, becomes too sweet. Our Californian Sangiovese lacks balance.

Stefano Carpaneto (Photo: E. Dülligen)

Wein-PlusWhat exactly is the reason for that?

Stefano Carpaneto: First of all, it's because California has too rich soils. Sangiovese is a kind of diva like Nebbiolo, needs poor, dry soil. The climate also has to be dry, and it needs noticeable day-night temperature differences. Napa Valley has that too, but - and here lies a decisive criterion - there is a different light. The intensity is different. Here we have a very high UV level, especially in July and August. In Californian soil, Cabernet Sauvignon works better. In Chianti, on the other hand, Cabernet "sangioves", that is, it takes on traits of Sangiovese due to the climate and soil.

Wein-PlusWhat else benefits the classic Chianti Classico grape variety here?

Stefano Carpaneto: In the vineyard of the "Tenuta Tignanello" winery, for example, the Sangiovese benefits from special white stones that we bulldozed under the soil to conserve heat in the cooler spring, anticipate ripeness and thus bring it to full maturity. Then there's the excellent exposure to the south. And the cellar work - to name just one aspect - includes manual destemming. So we see when the grapes are still green inside and we sort them out. The result is an incredible grape skin balance, the grapes are neither too woody nor too tannic, instead they have a beautiful minerality.

Autumnal wine landscape in Tuscany (Photo: E. Dülligen)

Wein-PlusMs Antinori, away from California and Chianti - China is on everyone's lips as a desirable export market. Has your company already discovered it for itself?

Albiera Antinori: China is a big market and at the same time a black hole. Everything that goes there disappears into it. It is not a traditional wine-producing country. The habits and practices of importing and the way of drinking wine are completely different compared to the rest of the world. The market for wine consumption is far from transparent. Although the rate at which consumption is growing in China is currently the highest in the world, the ways in which wine is sold there often remain murky. Apart from the traditional channels of specialised retailers, the internet, hotels or restaurants, a lot of wine goes to the people's party and to big corporations.

Wein-Plus: Do you already deliver to China?

Albiera Antinori: We were at the Expo in Hong Kong this year. Among other things, we won a Chinese customer there, an entrepreneur who thought his company of 60,000 employees was small. He initially wanted 10,000 bottles. We told him that we could not deliver 10,000 bottles because of the allotted quotas. He said, "I will pay in advance." We told him that it would not make any difference. Of course, China, with millions of consumers, is an exciting trading place for Antinori. We will participate in the Expo there again in 2014.

Exterior view of the Nuova Cantina Antinori (Photo: Antinori)

Wein-PlusBut before that, it's off to ProWein. At the Düsseldorf wine fair, you will have a stand together with Primum Familiae Vini, an interest group of twelve wineries that includes Torres, Vega Sicilia, Egon Müller-Scharzhof and Pol Roger, among others. What are the prospects?

Albiera Antinori: Small correction: We are eleven members at the moment, "Ocean's Eleven", so to speak. (laughs) Mondavi has not been a member since 2004, i.e. since the takeover by Constellation Brands, because the PFV only allows for family-run businesses. The signs for ProWein are good. We already had a super response in Hong Kong with this marketing concept.

Wein-PlusWhat makes the concept attractive?

Albiera Antinori: The mix. World-renowned family wineries that produce different styles of wine from the best wine-growing regions in the world present themselves on one stand. The whole thing has grown, not just conjured up out of a hat. For years, we have always met at another PFV member's house and then discussed wine topics in a very relaxed way. We all have more or less the same problems and are strongly connected to each other, have the same distributors around the world. Of course, ideas also come up at such meetings, such as appearing together at trade fairs.

Barrel cellar (Photo: Antinori)

Wein-Plus: How does the businesswoman Albiera Antinori recover from the stress of everyday life?

Albiera Antinori: You can hardly separate my job from my pleasure. It's hard not to fall in love with viticulture. But sometimes you don't realise how intoxicated you are. And the danger of taking the work home with you, with the family, is great. To recharge my batteries, I go to my second house in Bulgaria as often as I can. There I have a "phone doctor" who takes the calls and has my back.

Wein-Plus: You are also a passionate rider and horse breeder. That can also be very contemplative...

Albiera Antinori: Yes, Allegra and I are horse lovers. However, I have given up breeding hot-blooded horses, it has simply become too expensive. Instead, I now breed a special breed of pig. For a very special ham. Cooking is also something that brings a lot of relaxation into life.

Wein-Plus: Thank you for the interview.

Albiera% Piero% Allegra and Alessia Antinori in the new barrique cellar (Photo: Antinori)

Facts about Antinori

The wine trading house, which is around 600 years old, is one of the most renowned in Tuscany, if not in Italy. Since taking over in 1966, Marchese Piero Antinori has contributed massively to the image change of Tuscan wines. He brought the best oenologists and French vines to his estates, recultivated fallow vineyards, initiated new cellar procedures and instrumentalised his sophisticated marketing talent. For example, he dusted off the bulbous, raffia-wrapped Chianti bottle that was typical until the 1970s by marketing the first Super Tuscans. Against the current Italian wine law, he used grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah for his red wine Tignanello and vinified it - also against the prevailing tradition - in French oak. With projects such as the state-of-the-art winery "Nuova Cantina Antinori" or the Osteria concept, his daughters continue the pioneering spirit of the old master.

The Antinori Marchesi Winery in the Wine Guide

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