It's a Florentine family affair

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Marchese Piero Antinori, Palazzo Antinori, Piazza degli Antinori, Florence.

Marchese Piero Antinori, Palazzo Antinori, Piazza degli Antinori, Florence. It's a pretty impressive address, but the postman hardly needs help finding the 50-room Renaissance palace with its own family crest and wine bar-cum-restaurant, the Cantinetta Antinori, in the heart of Florence. A letter addressed simply to Piero Antinori, Tuscany, should find its mark, because in wine terms, Antinori is Tuscany. When you drink an Antinori chianti, you're absorbing a drop of Florentine history and tasting Tuscany's landscape of rolling wooded hills, olive groves, vineyards and medieval stone buildings.

Red wine has oozed from the family vines for as long as Florentine blood has been coursing through the Antinori veins. The 66-year-old capo, Piero Antinori, is perfectly comfortable talking about heritage, as you are if you can trace your lineage back to 1385, but the modern Antinori era dates from precisely half a millennium later. To avoid being at the mercy of demanding growers, in 1985 Antinori acquired his own vineyards to guarantee the right quality grapes. Long before the New World gave us the brand, he also recognised that the future lay in producing a reputable wine range - from distinguished top to affordable bottom - bearing the name Antinori. Now his average bottle price is the highest of any Italian company.

Unusually for the head of a major wine firm, the managing director is both winemaker and agronomist. Renzo Cottarella has been MD since 1993, and heads a team of 30 winemakers and vineyard managers. He believes that the integration of vineyards and winemaking, as instigated by Antinori, has helped produce a quantum leap in quality. At the same time they've made substantial progress in the vineyard and cellar in understanding what makes sangiovese, the chianti grape, tick. "Sangiovese needs very gentle handling," he says. "The result is wines that are much fresher and fruitier than they were 15 years ago."

Today, with Tuscany the main focus of the Antinori empire, the combined estates produce over a million cases. Among them, Antinori owns Santa Cristina (home of the iconic reds Tignanello and Solaia), San Casciano, Peppoli, Badia a Passignano, Pian delle Vigne in Montalcino and La Braccesca in Montepulciano, not to mention the Bolgheri estate on the Mediterranean coast, which produces the fine Bordeaux-style blend, Guado al Tasso. Beyond the Tuscan borders, the Castello della Sala estate in Umbria and Prunotto in Piemonte belong to Antinori, along with a sparkling wine cellar in La Franciacorta. Meanwhile, with the price of a hectare of chianti classico six times that of vineyard land in the south, Antinori, with typical commercial acumen, has shrewdly invested at Tormaresca in Puglia. Then there's Hungary, oh, and California ...

Within earshot of two of Piero's three daughters, Cottarella tells me that he sees the future of Italian winemaking in women's hands: "I think women in Italy are more committed and they are more anxious to succeed than men." The three sisters, Albiera, Allegra and Alessia, show every sign of doing just that, as they take on more responsibilities. Piero Antinori himself shows little sign of slowing down, but he's shrewd enough to realise that the future lies in the seamless transfer of the business to his able and personable daughters. Since both Albiera and Allegra, the two older sisters, have already provided sons and heirs, the Marchese must feel confident that the continuation of both dynastic line and Tuscan wine are assured.

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