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Marchesi Antinori Srl Business Information, Profile, and History

company wine family wines

Piazza Antinori, 3
50123 Florence
Italy

Company Perspectives:

Over the past 20 years Antinori has contributed significantly to the "Renaissance" of Italian wines, producing high quality wines of elegance and complexity which attract the attention and acclaim of wine connoisseurs throughout the world.

This innovative spirit remains at the core of Antinori philosophy. Our aim is to maximize the undiscovered potential in winemaking while insuring we safeguard the wealth of tradition, culture and taste which give our wines their unique identity.

History of Marchesi Antinori Srl

Italy's Marchesi Antinori SRL is one of that country's top wineries. The Florence-based company produces more than 12 million bottles per year, most of which is pressed from the company's own grape production. Antinori owns vineyards across much of Italy's Tuscany region—home of the country's Chianti wine variety—with holdings throughout the Umbria region as well. The company also has begun to invest further south, in Puglia. Outside of Italy, Antinori has acquired vineyards in Hungary; the company also owns the Atlas Peak vineyard in California's Napa Valley, although the company will not control production there until 2005 at the earliest. Antinori also has a production partnership with Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in Washington state to produce the Col Solare label. Owned entirely by the Antinori family, the company can claim a winemaking history dating back more than 600 years and spanning 26 generations. It is, however, the 25th generation—in the person of Piero Antinori—that is credited with transforming the company into an internationally known and respected winemaker. Piero Antinori is widely viewed as a worldwide ambassador of Italian wine who has helped rebuild the reputation of Italian wines with a renewed commitment to quality and a willingness to experiment with grape varieties and growing and production methods. As such, the company launched the so-called "super Tuscan" wine class and a new wine type, Tignanello. In addition to wine production, the company owns restaurants in Italy, Austria, and Switzerland. Joining Piero Antinori are his three daughters, Albiera, Allegra, and Alessia.

Spanning Centuries of Italian Winemaking

The Antinori family traces its involvement in Tuscan-region winemaking to 1385, although most likely the company's involvement in winemaking was already more than two centuries old. In that year, however, Giovanni di Piero Antinori, a member of a wealthy Florentine merchant family, was accepted into that city's Vintner's Guild. The Antinori family went on to play an important role in the economic and political development of Florence, with primary activities in the silk trade and in banking. Like many aristocratic families, the Antinoris' wine production was maintained for the most part for the family's own table.

By the beginning of the 16th century, the Antinori family had established international activities in such major cities of the period as Bruges, Belgium, and Lyons, France, where the company was known both for its banking operations and for its silks. In 1506, Niccolo Antinori bought a palace in the center of Florence—that palace, later known as the Antinori Palace and one of the most famous in Florence—remained the site of the family's home and headquarters into the 21st century.

By the 18th century, the Antinori family's wine was well known among the Italian royal families, and even at the Vatican, where an uncle of the Antinoris, Clement XII, reigned as pope. Another direct family member became part of the royal court of King Ferdinand I of Austria; this Antinori, named Niccolo, acquired an estate outside Florence, renamed Villa Antinori, during the middle of the 18th century. By then, Tuscan wine production had moved to a more serious level with the inauguration of the Accademia dei Georgofili, the world's first wine academy, in 1753. The growing reputation of Tuscan wines helped build the Antinori family's reputation as well. By the end of the century, the family's wines were being shipped internationally, with special popularity in England.

The Antinoris' role in the battle for independence and the subsequent unification of Italy in the mid-19th century led to the family being given the title of "marquesi" (marquis). In 1861, the new Marquesi Niccolo Antinori adopted a new motto, "Te Duce Proficio" (the pursuit of excellence). By then the family owned four wine estates in Tuscany; in 1873, the family's wine was awarded a diploma of distinction at the Vienna World Exhibition.

Modern Tuscany Wine Production in the 20th Century

The modern era of Antinori wine production began with the next generation of Antinoris, Piero and his brother Ludovico, along with their brother-in-law Guglielmo Guerrini. Together the three partners formed a new company, Marchesi L&P Antinori, with the mission of "establishing a bit of order among the various viti-vinicultural activities developed by preceding generations of Antinoris since the 14th century." The new company modernized the family's four vineyards, and introduced a new label for their wines, featuring a drawing of the Villa Antinori.

In 1898, the company constructed a new cellar, called San Casciano, in Val di Pesa. The company also stepped up its wine exports, now shipping to New York, Buenos Aires, and Sao Paulo, Brazil, as well as London. Antinori began buying new estates as the new century began, including vineyards in Paterno, Santa Maria, and Poggio Niccolino, all of which produced grapes for the Chianti Classico wine variety. The Antinoris also bought another estate, called Tignanello, adding 116 acres to the company's growing land estate.

In 1905, Antinori brought in the noted champagne maker, Lucien Charlemagne, to lead development of the company's own sparkling wine. This activity gained further momentum in 1908 when Charlemagne was succeeded by Georges Grandvalet, who came to the company from famed French champagne house Mumm. Although the Antinoris' champagne was greeted warmly, wine remained the company's primary product.

In 1922, the company leased vineyards in Italy's Umbria region to produce its first Orvieto white wine. By then, the company had been joined by the next generation of Antinoris—Piero's son Niccolo, born in 1891. The latest Niccolo Antinori brought a new spirit to the family's winemaking activities, which remained, nonetheless, only a side business to the family's main fortune. In 1924, Niccolo Antinori created a scandal in the closed world of Chianti wine growers when he introduced Bordeaux grape varieties into his own Chianti blend. The next year, Niccolo took over as head of the family's wine operations.

By 1928, Niccolo had succeeded in producing a wine that could be considered worthy of aging, the Villa Antinori Chianti Classico. Niccolo was to continue experimenting with different varieties of grapes, particularly those of the Bordeaux region, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Medoc, blending them with the traditional varieties of the Tuscany region. In the 1930s, Antinori also began adopting more modern production and marketing techniques.

The company introduced a new white wine in 1931, called the Villa Antinori Blanco and featuring grapes from Tuscany. That region, however, remained firmly focused on its traditional red Chianti wines. In 1940, therefore, Antinori returned to the Orvieto region, buying up the Castello della Sala estate and its nearly 1,400 acres. Antinori quickly replanted the estate's vineyard, while restoring its 14th-century castle.

Post-World War II Development

The Villa Antinori estate and other Antinori family holdings were destroyed by bombs during World War II. With Italy's capitulation and liberation, the Antinori wine operations returned to business, and by 1946 the family had rebuilt its cellars and introduced a new label, Santa Cristina, a Chianti Classico. In the 1950s and 1960s, Niccolo Antinori's attention was turned more and more toward politics, particularly in his position as mayor of a Florence suburb. The Antinori wine operation remained small, selling no more than 100,000 cases of wine per year.

A new generation, however, was prepared to lead the tiny wine producer. Niccolo's son Piero was born in 1938 and took over the company's operations in 1966. Aiding him was famed Italian oenologist Giacomo Tachis, who had joined the company in 1960, and who was to play a prominent role in rebuilding the Tuscany region's international wine reputation.

Piero immediately distinguished himself from his forebears by taking an active role in the company, devoting his whole attention to building its operations. Antinori had his work cut out for him. Disastrous postwar policies had encouraged Tuscany's growers to adopt a series of poor planting practices—using inferior quality grape varieties, turning toward mass production on densely planted plains and alternating with other crops, further diminishing the quality of the grapes. The DOC classification of Chianti, which set standards for production, also hurt the wine, allowing for aging in huge casks, and blends featuring high concentrations of white grape. These factors and others conspired to give Chianti wines a reputation as a quintessentially inferior wine. Businesses such as Antinori, seeking to produce wines on an international quality level, suffered from industry disdain for Chianti wines.

Piero Antinori and chief winemaker Tachis began experiments toward producing a first-class wine from the Tuscany region. The company replanted with higher quality vines in dedicated vineyards. The company also added new production methods, such as temperature control, small casks made from various wood types, including the famed French white oak, new blends of grape varieties, and bottle aging. The company also turned to malolactic fermentation for its red wines, producing a less acidic wine than the region's traditional governo technique. By the end of the 1960s, Antinori had succeeded in raising sales to more than 500,000 cases.

By 1971, the company released its first new wine. For this wine, the company adopted a new name—Tignanello—turning its back on the now disreputable Chianti Classico. At any rate, Tignanello's use of nontraditional grape varieties, near absence of white grapes, and aging in small casks, made it ineligible for the Chianti Classico appellation, according to former DOC specifications. The Tignanello proved a highly successful wine, sparking the rise of a new, informal wine type, the "Super Tuscan," while Antinori himself became more and more of an ambassador for the Tuscany region's wine producers, promoting his company's wine not only through Europe but in the United States as well.

By 1984, Antinori had won a new battle, when the Italian government agreed to revise the Chianti Classico's DOC specifications and added the even more stringent DOCG specification, moves that were formalized in 1992. For the white grapes now no longer used in Chianti production, Antinori and four other producers introduced a new wine type, Galestro, a lighter wine with lower alcohol content than Chianti, using the now leftover white Trebbiano grapes.

Celebrating its 600th anniversary in winemaking, Antinori bought the Peppoli wine estate, releasing a limited special blend dubbed Secentenario ("600th anniversary") in 1985. In that year, also, Antinori joined wine and spirits distributor Whitbread Plc in acquiring the Atlas Peak vineyard and winery in California's Napa Valley. Other acquisitions during this period included that of the Badia, a Passignano monastery and its 64 acres of vineyards (the company donated the monastery back to its monks) in 1987; the purchase of wine producer Prunotto, bringing the company into the Piedmont region in 1990; the signing of a long-term lease of another 235 acres in Monteloro, near Florence; and the lease of the La Craccesca estate in DOCG-rated Montepulciano.

New Generation for a New Century

By then, Piero Antinori was faced with a difficult decision. In 1988, Antinori had sold 49 percent of the company to Whitbread Plc. Part of Antinori's motivation for the sale had been to ensure the future of the Antinori wine name—with three daughters and no sons, Antinori had thought that he would have no successors in a wine industry traditionally operated only by men. In 1991, however, Whitbread was negotiating the sale of many of its holdings to liquor distributor Allied Lyons (later Allied Domecq). At the same time, Whitbread began to look into selling the Italian producer—which, by then, had established an international reputation for the high quality of its wines, while also becoming one of Italy's largest wine producers—to another company with more direct interests in fine wines.

To sell Antinori, however, Whitbread sought full control of the company. Yet Antinori refused to sell out; instead, he surprised Whitbread by insisting on buying back his family's company. As Antinori explained to Wine Spectator: "I came to the conclusion that I wanted to buy back the company. I realized that my daughters were interested in the wine business, but I also realised that I had to be more emotionally involved in the company." To finance the purchase (estimated to have cost around $40 million), Antinori secured a loan from Italy's Mediabanco, using his personal assets—including the Antinori Palace—as backing. "[Whitbread] didn't think that I had the courage to buy all the shares back," Antinori continued. "In such circumstances, you have to take your decision and never diverge from it. It gave me the chance to start again. It was a gamble, a calculated risk."

Antinori's risk paid off, as the company's sales rose to $60 million per year by the mid-1990s, before nearing an estimated EUR 80 million by the end of the century. Celebrating the arrival of all three of his daughters into the family company, Antinori introduced a new element to its coat of arms, the notation "26 generazioni." Albiera took charge of marketing, Allegra turned to the handling of public relations, and the youngest daughter, Alessia, entered the technical side, studying viticulture and joining the company's production arm.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the company continued to expand its operations, developing holdings of more than 3,000 acres of vineyards. New estates included the purchase of Pian delle Vigne in Montalcino, adding 449 acres in 1995, and the Fattoria Aldobrandesca estate in Sovana, adding 235 acres that same year. Outside of Italy, Antinori was building new interests. The collapse of communism had opened entry into the Eastern European market, which had seen its wine industries ruined by years of Soviet domination. In 1993, Antinori took a stake in Hungary's Bátaapáti, strengthening its position later in the decade.

At the close of the 20th century, Antinori's role in revolutionizing—some would say rescuing—Italy's wine industry was recognized as he received the 1999 Distinguished Service Award from Wine Spectator. Even as Antinori prepared to turn over the reigns of the company to his family's 26th generation, the company continued to seek new growth opportunities. In 1998, the company entered a production agreement with Chateau Ste. Michelle, based in Washington state in the United States, to produce a new wine, called Col Solare, with the first vintage released in 1999. At the beginning of 2001, the company reached a distribution agreement with Hawesko Holding to distribute its wines in Germany. Meanwhile, the company continued to seek new areas in which to ply its gift for creating fine wines. In January 2001, the company entered the Puglia region in the south of Italy, acquiring some 300 hectares there.

Principal Competitors: Banfi Vintners; Cantine Giorgio Lungarotti S.r.l.; Diageo plc; E. & J. Gallo Winery; Industrie Zignago Santa Margherita S.p.A.; Robert Mondavi Corporation; Viña Concha y Toro S.A.

Chronology

  • Key Dates:
  • 1385: Giovanni di Piero Antinori becomes member of Florence Vintner's guild.
  • 1506: Niccolo Antinori buys Antinori Palace in Florence.
  • 1753: The Accademia dei Georgofili is inaugurated.
  • 1893: Marchesi L&P Antinori is formed.
  • 1898: San Casciano wine cellar is constructed.
  • 1908: Antinori sparkling wine debuts.
  • 1922: Orvieto white wine is produced.
  • 1925: Niccolo Antinori takes over the family company.
  • 1940: The company buys Castello della Sala.
  • 1966: Piero Antinori takes over company direction.
  • 1971: Tignanello is released.
  • 1987: The company acquires Prunotto.
  • 1988: Antinori sells 49 percent share to Whitbread Plc.
  • 1991: Antinori buys back full control of the company.
  • 1999: Piero Antinori is awarded Distinguished Service Award.
  • 2001: The company acquires an estate in the Puglia region.
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