Twin brothers Salvino and Antonio Benanti, 42, have spent their lives side by side: growing up in Sicily, studying at business school, working banking jobs in London and then returning to Sicily to take over the family winery.
In 2012, their father, Giuseppe, handed them Benanti, one of the most important precursors for quality wineries in the now-fashionable region of Mount Etna, on the slopes of the island’s volcano. At the time, Benanti had lost some of its identity, producing too many wines of varying quality.
The brothers knew what they wanted to do and wasted no time.
Friends, I’ve got a drinking problem. I am not drinking enough wine to keep my wine cellar current.
You see, almost 16 years ago, when I moved to Europe, I began collecting wine. Not really collecting wine so much as amassing.
Collecting implies a strategy. I’ve been much more random than that. For years, as I traveled through France, Italy and beyond, I bought wines—the more obscure the better.
Three weeks ago, a swath of the Italian wine business assembled in Verona to take stock of the state of vino and exchange ideas about the future.
At the third-annual edition of Vinitaly International's Wine2Wine business forum, some 1,600 participants—wine producers, marketing and sales professionals, importers and others—conferred on topics ranging from the latest in viticulture techniques to digital trends and what brain science tells us about consumers in the new frontier of "neuromarketing."
Because this is Italy—a country where individualism is an art form—there is rarely what you'd call "consensus," especially when it comes to Italy's complicated and often wacky rules for wines bearing one of its more than 500 DOC, DOCG and IGT designations.
The Keber family makes provocative white blends in Italy’s Collio region and a stone’s throw away in Slovenia
The hills of Collio in northeastern Italy are an awe-inspiring patchwork of steep, terraced vineyards, forests and fruit orchards that wind through 25 ancient towns along the Slovenian border.
The area is a dizzying blend of microclimates, grape varieties and culture at the dividing line between Italy’s Friuli region and central Europe.
At the end of this summer, a weakened Stanislao “Stanko” Radikon reflected with his son, Saša, about their family estate and the long, controversial run of his edgy, dark-hued wines made from white grapes.
In the cellar of the family’s hilltop house in Oslavia, Italy, a town of 600 nestled on the Slovenian border, the men talked about how after struggling for years, “The wines are selling. We have no problems. Everything is OK,” recalls Saša, 34.
Then, on Sept. 11, just days before harvest, Stanko Radikon died after a long battle with cancer.
“We never talked about my taking over,” explains Saša, an enologist who worked side by side with his self-taught father for a decade. “In the cellar, it was just me and him. We did everything together, and we spoke about wine all the time.”
There are three kinds of wine films these days: documentaries on the wine world, dramas set amid the vines and Charlie movies.
Charlie Arturaola, a charismatic Miami-based sommelier, is starring in his second feature film by Argentinean filmmaker Nicolás Carreras. The Duel of Wine, now making the rounds of international film festivals, was shot in some of Italy’s most evocative cities and wine regions, from Piedmont and the Veneto to Umbria and Sardinia.
Leonildo Pieropan is finishing his 50th harvest, hoping to fade into the background as his two sons take over the family’s famous Soave estate.
“He lives upstairs from the winery—so he can not not be involved,” quips eldest son, Andrea, 39, the family agronomist who looks after the vineyards, while brother Dario, 37, runs the cellar.
Both sons, like their father, are also enologists: “Three in one small winery is probably too much,” says Andrea with a laugh.
What's a guy do with 10 acres of Valpolicella grapes and zero wine knowhow?
Growing up in northeastern Italy, Mariano Buglioni never dreamed of becoming a winemaker. As a young man, he worked in his father’s garment business, which produced sportswear for the family’s 50 boutiques in Italy.
Then, in 1993, his father bought the old farmhouse of his dreams, in the heart of Valpolicella Classico. With the property came a 10-acre vineyard planted to the local red varieties Corvina, Corvinone, Molinara and Rondinella, which are used to make fruity Valpolicella as well as denser Amarone, from raisined grapes.
At long last: Donnafugata steps onto Etna
Decades ago, Giacomo Rallo became fascinated with the volcanic vineyards of Mount Etna, long before they became fashionable.
The pioneering founder of western Sicily’s Donnafugata winery “fell in love with the place,” his son, Antonio Rallo, recalls. “He thought he should produce wine on those volcanic soils at high altitude.”
Davide Rosso drags on a cigarette in his newly acquired vineyards on Sicily’s Mount Etna and gushes, “It’s magic here. … The first time I came, I discovered this energy here.”
It is a near-cloudless day on Etna’s northern slopes, and that energy is palpable: White plumes of smoke rise from the volcano’s peak more than a mile-and-a-half above us; a crystalline morning light shines on vineyard plateaus that have been carved into a rugged landscape sculpted by eruptions.
“In Italy, now, this is the most exciting place for the future,” says Rosso, who in July finalized the purchase of a small estate with more than 13 acres of decades-old vines. He will bring in his first Etna harvest next month. “The frontier is here.”