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Tribute to Piero Antinori from the Grandi Cru d’Italia Committee: he made the history of enology

Evening event in Verona dedicated to one of the leading figures of Italian wine in the world: “I have been a custodian of the winery”

The Marquis of wine, one of the architects of the “Renaissance” of Italian wine, “Piero The Magnificent”: words never seem to be enough to describe Piero Antinori, honorary president of Marchesi Antinori, the most admired Italian wine brand in the world, a figure of reference who made the history of world enology, revolutionizing it while respecting traditions and always looking to the future, with icon-wines such as Tignanello, which celebrates 50 years since its first vintage and, to celebrate which, the Marquis wanted to contribute no less than to the first restoration in the history of Ponte Vecchio, symbol of Florence, to which his family has been linked since the 14th century. Last night at the Ristori Theater in Verona, all the most representative producers of Italian wine excellence, united in the Grandi Cru d’Italia Committee, of which he was the first president, dedicated a tribute of praise and gratitude to him for what he has achieved for the entire sector. “I began to take charge of the company in 1966”, said Piero Antinori, “certainly it was a responsibility, but not a burden: considering such a long history of the family (700 years and 26 generations, ed.) I did not consider myself an owner, but a janitor, with the responsibility to bring a contribution and to pass the company on to the next generation in better conditions”.
He was welcomed by nearly three hundred guests - including journalists, national and international operators and institutions - along with Valentina Argiolas and Paolo Panerai, president and executive vice-president of the Grandi Cru d’Italia Committee, which brings together the most representative producers of the country’s wine excellence, i.e., those wineries that for at least 20 years have been producing wines with the highest ratings resulting from the intersection of the main and most authoritative Italian and foreign guides and magazines. It was they who presented Antinori, on behalf of all members, with the Grandi Cru d’Italia Award, as a sign of esteem and gratitude for the inspiration and example set for the entire Italian wine sector.
Piero Antinori has revolutionized the international wine scene while respecting traditions and always looking to the future: guided by questions from Luciano Ferraro (deputy editor Corriere della Sera), Jeannie Cho Lee (founder Asian Palate) and Jancis Robinson (founder JancisRobinson.com and wine correspondent Financial Times) he explored his history, from the winery’s birth in the Renaissance to the revolution caused and faced in the last decades of the 20th century, the landing in America and future challenges. “Of these almost 56 years of work”, said Marchese Piero Antinori, “the thing I am most proud of is the transformation of our winery. Today we have become a 100 percent winery. All our wines are made from grapes from our own vineyards. It has been a very challenging transformation, not only from a financial point of view, but also on a personal level, and one that has involved all our collaborators, especially Renzo Cotarella, whom I must thank”. Asked what advice he would give his younger self, he said, “I would give the advice that my father gave me, who was a great teacher of mine. To become a good entrepreneur you need competence, courage and modesty. I would add a great passion for what you do and for the product you produce”. Asked about experiences outside Italy, Antinori said, “For a long time I have been convinced that being able to have direct experience, outside Italy, gives added value to the company, a competitive advantage, and allows one to better understand the international reality and markets. We started operating in Napa Valley in 1985, acquiring it in its entirety over the years. We are the only Italian winery in that area, now considered among the best in the world to produce great wines. This gives us a responsibility, but it is also a reason for us to be very proud”.
But what is a great wine, for Piero Antinori? “It is a wine that first of all has personality, then it must be able to give hedonistic pleasure to those who drink it, but also intellectual pleasure, because wine is a matter of culture. Moreover, a great wine must also be able to age, improving over time”.
Talking about his story, Piero Antinori said, “I have always had a passion for flying and I still do, a little bit to check our vineyards, but also to see what our competitors are doing, with the helicopter it is easy... but it has never been my ambition to become a professional aviator, also because since I was a child, when they asked me what I would do when I grew up, I always answered that I would be a wine producer. I started, from a point of view of responsibility in the company, in 1966, at the age of 28, when my father unexpectedly told me, “Now it’s your turn”. I did not expect it, it impressed me a little, but I gladly accepted it. Certainly it was a responsibility, but not a burden: considering such a long history of the family, I did not consider myself an owner, but a janitor, with the responsibility of bringing a contribution and passing the company on to the next generation in better conditions”.
“My first vintage, 1967, was very good, I was lucky”, continues Piero Antinori, “because of Mother Nature I made a very good wine, and this encouraged me. Tuscan agriculture was going through a moment of great economic, financial and product quality crisis, also due to a hasty and somewhat superficial transformation of the vineyards, following the elimination of sharecropping, and this had led to a decrease in quality. The first thing I wanted to do was to work on the quality of our products. In this I was helped by a very great wine personality: Émile Peynaud, a professor at the University of Bordeaux. He came to see us and understood our problem, but also the potential for improvement, and he helped our winemaker at the time, Giacomo Tachis, who in a way was his student. It was also thanks to his contribution that Tignanello was born. At first it was a somewhat controversial wine, because it came out as a table wine, at a time when appellations of origin were making their way. It was then the subject of some criticism and observation, but both nationally and internationally it aroused the interest of wine lovers and journalists: and in the end it represented the beginning of the new Italian wine era”.
Speaking of succession, Piero Antinori says that “when my daughters, who are three girls, were very young, I had some doubts that there could be family continuity, so obviously some concern. However, when Albiera, my eldest daughter, was 17-18 years old, I remember that she accompanied me on a trip to promote Italian wines in Canada, and I at a certain moment had to return quickly to Italy, because I was president of Federvini at the time, and it was the time of the methanol scandal in Italy, so it was called back because we had to make some decisions. And so I left Albiera alone in Canada. She did a beautiful job, perhaps better than I would have done, and I realized that, instead, contrary to what I had suspected and feared, there was an interest, an ability and even a willingness to take care of the company. The other two sisters followed the example of the eldest and and gradually got more and more footing and responsibility. Now they are the ones who, together of course with the management of the company, Renzo Cotarella in particular, keep it going. I try to do only the things I enjoy and all the headaches I try to leave to them. We share the same values, the same passions and above all the same love for the company. And this is a really important thing for me, because my love for the company is a visceral, almost morbid love. So much so that sometimes, because of this, they ask me if I need a psychiatrist. Instead, my daughters’ love for the company is normal, so they don’t need a psychiatrist”, joked Antinori.
Finally, in remembering that the dinner to celebrate the extraordinary achievement of Solaia - the first Italian label to arrive, in 1997, at No. 1 in the “Top 100” of Wine Spectator, the most prestigious international wine magazine - was organized, with a gesture of great elegance, by Bona Frescobaldi (another great dynasty of Tuscan enology and world-famous brand ed.), Piero Antinori emphasizes that “one of the characteristics of our profession, within the wine community, is that we are all friends, and that you meet extraordinary people”.

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