Currently led by sisters Albiera, Alessia and Allegra, the nearly 700-year-old Florentine winemaking company has a future as bright as its past is golden
he Antinori family legacy would be a weighty one for any son or daughter growing up in its shadow. Stretching back 26 generations to 1385, when Giovanni di Piero Antinori first joined the Winemakers’ Guild of the city of Florence, Italy, the family quickly became a leader in the wine industry in terms of both quality and business acumen. And until recently, there has always been a male heir to lead the next generation of winemakers.
Flash forward to the 1960s. Italian wine offered little to compete with France’s excellent Bordeaux. The rules of Italy’s Chianti Classico Wine Consortium dictated that Chianti Classico must consist only of Italian grapes, including mandatory white grapes, and could not be aged in barriques, the oak barrels that French wine is aged in. But Marquis Piero Antinori, then the head of his family’s eponymous winemaking company, knew there was a better way. After he became president of the company in 1966, Piero began experimenting with international varietals, like cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. He left the consortium in 1975 to produce unrestricted wines, such as Tignanello and Solaia, that are now known as Super Tuscans. Those two wines remain unmatched in reputation, except by Sassicaia and Ornellaia, which are also Super Tuscan wines originally created by Antinori relatives.
It is against this backdrop of wine revolution that Piero’s daughters, Albiera, Allegra and Alessia Antinori, grew up, first in the Italian countryside in Bolgheri, where the family has its Guado al Tasso estate, and then in the stately Palazzo Antinori in the heart of Florence, where for a little more than five centuries, the family residence has sat atop the business’s headquarters. But despite his daughters’ proximity to and love of the business, Piero was faced with an unusual situation: In an industry dominated by men, he had no sons to take up the mantle of patriarch. In keeping with his young legacy, he bucked tradition once again and named his daughters as his successors.
“In our case, it was a forced decision, because there was no male heir,” says eldest daughter Albiera, 46. “But the world is changing, although it has been a slower process in [some] countries. It was seen as something very different when we joined the company.” Still, running the family business was always their destiny.
“There are good sides and heavier sides at the same time [to being an Antinori],” says Piero’s middle daughter, Allegra, 42. “But we are so lucky, and my father has built so much from what was given to him. What is given to us today is much bigger and more innovative.”
“[Growing up,] we were treated the exact same way as if we were boys,” says Allegra, who, like Albiera, went to work for the company as a teenager, while Alessia, 37, studied enology. “It was quite typical of these old Florentine families to have their personal houses and offices in the same place in the center of Florence, and we are a very old family,” she continues. “We always had the offices under the house, and I think it was very important to grow up living at the headquarters of the company, seeing the people [who worked there] and living with them. It obviously gives you a lot of pride and a sense of responsibility.”
Albiera worked in nearly every business unit before settling into her current role as vice president of Antinori. She oversees strategic marketing, brand image and communications, as well as some real estate endeavors. And in this role, she is carving out a new direction for the family brand.
“My father’s generation showed the world that Italian and Tuscan wines can be international,” she says. “Our generation is opening up Antinori to tourism. We are focused on bringing that whole world of wine to new audiences.”
This is where Allegra fits in. She manages the family’s hospitality business, which is composed of a fast-growing empire of restaurants, wine bars and a hotel, in addition to the family’s first dining establishment, Cantinetta Antinori, which opened in Florence in 1957.
“Antinori’s [hospitality] initiatives are a way to have the wine understood,” Allegra explains. “We Italians have a kind of lifestyle. We receive people in our homes, and we drink with food, so the restaurant is perfect, because you can decorate it as if it’s in your house. In a way, [we are] passing on our culture, our tradition, our good taste.”
Also part of these hospitality initiatives is the newly opened Marchesi Antinori Chianti Classico Cellar, which is located just outside Florence. The property is of exceptional importance to the business, as it is the family’s first vineyard that is open to the general public and the company’s new headquarters. Encapsulating Antinori’s mission to educate, the cellar offers tours, wine tastings, a restaurant and a museum dedicated to the family’s history.
Although presently these initiatives are concentrated in Italy, the sisters’ ambitions have no geographical bounds. Youngest sister Alessia has a love of travel that makes her essential to the company’s emerging markets, especially those in Asia.
“Restaurants and retail [stores] will be a strong way to promote wine in countries that are relatively new to wine drinking and Italian food,” says Albiera. “If you go to China or Ukraine or Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan, there’s not much knowledge of wine at this point. There is knowledge about what is expensive but not about quality wine and food and good Italian living.”
Albiera is quick to state that Antinori’s greatest strength lies in its deep roots as a family business. “If an opportunity is not good for the quality of the wines or the image of the company, we don’t do it,” she says. “We are not focused on quick profit but on passing Antinori down from generation to generation.”
SUZANNE WEINSTOCK KLEIN is the executive editor of Caviar Affair. Her work has also appeared in Departures, BlackBook and Avenue, among others, and on Elle.com.