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After A Year Of Change, Frescobaldi’s Luce Della Vite Forges Ahead

April 20, 2018

Last year, Frescobaldi’s Tuscany-based Luce della Vite unveiled a new state-of-the-art winery and a new head winemaker, Stefano Ruini. Then, on January 1, the brand transitioned to a new U.S. importer, New York-based Vintus, along with Frescobaldi portfoliomates Ornellaia, Masseto, and Attems.

Vintus, which replaced longtime importer Folio Fine Wine Partners, sees Luce della Vite’s second wine, Lucente ($30), as the entryway to the brand in both the on- and off-premise. “Lucente has long been an on-premise, by-the-glass wine that acts as an introduction to the world of Luce, in terms of both price and overall style,” says Vintus vice president and director of marketing Michael Gitter. “It’s also developed a huge following at the retail level, due to growing consumer awareness of the overall brand.” A blend of 65% Merlot and 35% Sangiovese, Lucente is the highest-volume label in the Luce lineup, with around 8,000 cases imported to the U.S. annually. Imports of the flagship namesake brand, meanwhile, hover just under 1,000 cases, and Luce Brunello—made from 100% Sangiovese sourced from a single plot on the estate—is the smallest of the three with less than 400 cases imported. All three wines are available nationwide.

Looking ahead, Luce will look to expand its reach across the U.S. market. “There are parts of the country where Luce hasn’t been fully integrated yet, and we’re looking for broader distribution moving forward,” Gitter says. “Additionally, the Brunello is another layer of the Luce narrative that we’re eager to share more assertively, as it’s only just beginning to be understood in the U.S.”

Amid major changes for the winery—which was founded in 1995 by the Frescobaldi family and Robert Mondavi—Luce della Vite’s original mission of showcasing the Montalcino region’s terroir remains intact. “We’re still making terroir-driven wine at Luce, not technological wine,” Ruini says. “I’m adapting myself to the new grapes at my disposal: Sangiovese and Merlot. My role here is in evolution, not revolution.” Prior to joining Luce della Vite, Ruini was director of Pauillac’s Château Haut-Bages Libéral for 13 years, and also served as an estate director in Corbieres and Cahors regions.

The idea of blending Sangiovese and Merlot is an important part of the Luce philosophy, Ruini explains. Before Luce’s inception, Merlot was not widely used in Montalcino. Under the direction of Mondavi and Vittorio Frescobaldi, however, old Merlot vines found at the estate were replanted in the 1990s, and the idea of Luce as a 50/50 split of Sangiovese and Merlot took off.—Julia Higgins

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