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Interview: The Frescobaldi Family On Italian Wine And Their Role In The Category

January 24, 2012

Tuscany-based Frescobaldi, one of the oldest families in winemaking, owns 5,000 hectares of estate property and more than 1,000 hectares of vineyards. Its properties include Castello di Nipozzano, Castello di Pomino, CastelGiocondo, Tenuta di Castiglioni, Tenuta dell’Ammiraglia, Santa Maria and Costa di Nugola, Conti Attems and Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, which was formerly held in partnership with Robert Mondavi. (Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Tenuta di CastelGiocondo and Luce della Vite are grouped under Tenute di Toscana S.r.l., controlled by Frescobaldi in partnership with the SPI Group and MIP, a firm owned by Michael Mondavi.)

Shanken News Daily recently spoke with Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi president Leonardo Frescobaldi and vice president Lamberto Frescobaldi about the company and its current role within the Italian wine category.

SND: What’s your management approach to such a broad and diverse collection of wines and vineyards?

LAMBERTO: We like to keep our estates totally independent from one other. Each expresses the uniqueness of its area. Pomino, in the mountains, produces amazing Chardonnay and elegant Pinot Noir. Nipozzano offers the aroma, complexity and longevity of Sangiovese. CastelGiocondo (in Montalcino) expresses the soul of Sangiovese, while Castiglioni showcases the fruit and power of Merlot and Cabernet.

LEONARDO: Castiglioni is our original estate, which the family has owned since the 11th century. It’s located in the Colli Fiorentini in Val di Pesa, 12 miles south of Florence, and has 148 hectares (366 acres) under vine. There we produce Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglioni and Giramonte, an exclusive blend of Merlot and Sangiovese. Nipozzano, meanwhile, is one of Tuscany’s most historic and well-known estates, just 15 minutes away from Florence in the heart of Chianti Rufina. Our newest estate is Ammiraglia, located in Magliano in the heart of Maremma, 100 miles south of Florence near the Tuscan coast. The new winery there was completed in August 2006.

SND: How does a 700-year-old company like Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi balance a reverence for tradition with the demands of modern winemaking?

LEONARDO: We’ve selected promising areas like Maremma for Ammiraglia and Morellino for Santa Maria. But even in traditional areas like Chianti, Chianti Rufina, Brunello di Montalcino and Pomino, our estates are in a constant process of innovation. Properties like CastelGiocondo in Montalcino, Castello di Nipozzano in Chianti Rufina and Tenuta di Castiglioni are all extremely modern and dynamic.

SND: Which estates do you see as having the most global notoriety?

LAMBERTO: Nipozzano is becoming globally known because of its focus on Mormoreto, a Cabernet Sauvignon blend (with Merlot and Cabernet Franc). Mormoreto, whose first vintage was in 1983, remains Castello di Nipozzano’s most prestigious wine. Overall, Nipozzano produces great quality and, at 420 hectares, it also provides good quantity. These days that’s important. People don’t really get to know a wine when the numbers are small.

SND: Will you continue to invest in Italy?

LAMBERTO: We’ll keep our eyes open, because there are opportunities. Up to now our strategy has been to focus on Tuscany. We have one other estate in the north of Italy, Conti Attems (in Collio, Friuli-Venezia Giulia). This past summer we took full control, increasing our stake from 70% to 100%.

SND: What’s the current market scenario, both for your prestige wines and for larger volume wines?

LEONARDO: The engine of our company is running well—particularly the prestige wines from estates like Nipozzano, CastelGiocondo and Tenuta di Castiglioni. We’ve also developed sales of entry-level wines, although it’s very important to focus on the top estates. Our distribution is mainly traditional—upscale restaurants, hotels and wine shops. But we’ve started to become more open to supermarkets and similar distribution, with a limited and selected range of products. We must be realistic, and that channel nowadays is much more sensitive to brand development than it once was.

SND: The United States has been a solid growth market for Italian wine for many years, although the economic downturn sapped some of its vitality. What’s your current outlook for the U.S. market?

LEONARDO: The recession has hurt everyone. We have to be proactive, and we need very strong organization, relying on the energy and capacity of a good importer and good distributors. American consumers are now more aware of the concept of value, but they’re still seeking quality. People are ready to spend, provided the brand is prestigious.

SND: Are you satisfied with the positioning of Italian wine, and with your wines in particular, in the U.S. market?

LAMBERTO: I love the idea that Italians can produce lovely wines at all price levels. Sometimes I wish the category could raise its average quality a bit faster. As for Frescobaldi, we’re becoming much better known in the market, although a lot still needs to be done. Even though our positioning varies by price and distribution channel, all our labels are known for their quality and the expression of their origins.


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