WEEK FIFTY WINE: A woman's touch

Castello della Sala Bramito, Chardonnay, Antinori 2018


The Antinori Family Legacy continues with Women at the Helm

Today after 636 years, the 26th generation of Antinori’s is finally run by 3 women. The 3 Antinori daughters.

Albiera Antinori is company president, while Allegra and Alessia Antinori are vice Presidents. Albiera is based in Florence overseeing all. Allegra is integral in winemaking and hospitality while Alessia is focused on the export market.

The Antinori family has been involved in the production of wine since 1385, when Giovanni di Piero Antinori entered into the Winemaker’s Guild of Florence. Through 26 generations, the family has directly managed the Antinori estates with a fine balance of innovative decisions, and a fundamental respect for tradition.

One of the oldest family owned wine businesses in the world, it is refreshing to see how tradition is respected while innovation is embraced. 

“The woman’s role in our business, especially in Italy in the past, was something that was considered unattainable,” says Alessia Antinori, who, with her sisters Albiera and Allegra, are the heirs to Marchesi Antinori, one of the oldest wineries in the world, and its first female management team in the company’s storied history.

And it might have remained out of reach for this generation of Antinori women, except for a twist of fate and a father who saw possibilities for his young daughters, even though he was reluctant to impose his hopes for continuity upon them. Since its founding in 1385 (yes, in the 1300s), the ownership of the Tuscan-based winery passed smoothly, like an English title, from father to son for 25 generations. That in itself is a mind-boggling feat, considering the Antinori winery, which started in the Middle Ages, has survived in a country that has endured countless invasions and two devastating World Wars. Historically, most businesses, even those launched during robust peacetime economies, never make it beyond the first decade.

Despite the travails, Marchesi Antinori not only endured but thrived. In the past 50 years, Piero, the Antinori sisters’ father, had brought the famed winery even greater renown, reviving Chianti Classico and introducing a new category of wine, the Bordeaux-like Super Tuscans in the 1970s. Yet for all his success, Piero was faced with a challenge his ancestors, over the course of six centuries, never had: There were no sons to carry on the business. While primogeniture isn’t a factor in Italy—no distant cousin stood in the wings to inherit the estates—the country’s wine sector had always been a tight-knit male club, unlike the fashion world where women had long played prominent roles (e.g., Rosita Missoni, Wanda Ferragamo, Mariuccia Manelli at Krizia).

And while women had begun to make great professional strides in the U.S. and the UK, progress moved at a slower pace in southern European countries.

Initially the sisters’ involvement was gradual—Piero never wanted to push them into a commitment—but as they grew in their jobs, they saw how their positions not only provided meaningful careers but also the chance to retain a connection to a revered way of life, to the land generations of their forbearers had overseen. It was an opportunity that no corporate position or other business could ever provide. “At heart we are farmers,” Albiera says.

As such, the three sisters began their work, including in the fields, helping to cull grapes for the annual vendemmias, then moved into management roles. Alessia studied vitculture and enology at the University of Milan’s agriculture school (and was one of only two women in her class). To better understand the American market, Antinori’s most important outside Italy, Alessia moved to New York for a number of years. In 2016, when their father announced he would soon retire (Piero is honorary president, but he remains involved in the business), Albiera, who holds the title of president, and Alessia and Allegra, both of whom are vice presidents, along with the company’s CEO, Renzo Cotarella, began running the day-to-day operations of the company, which produces more than 11 million bottles of wine a year.

Now immersed in their careers at the winery, Alessia says that female leadership has had a meaningful impact on the company’s 21st-century strategies. “We brought fresh points of view to marketing and sales,” she says, something all legacy companies need, but particularly those in the wine business, where women now make more wine purchases than men (according to the Wine Institute, approximately 57 percent of sales in the U.S.). Alessia notes that the female perspective is playing out in other areas of the business too, including the critical area of tasting. When judging the viability of a vintage, “the female palate can be incredibly precise,” she says.

Alessia and her sisters know that while their heritage is the backbone of the company, its future success depends on their continued ability to evolve and innovate, something their father excelled at and gave him international renown. During his five-decade tenure at the helm, Piero raised the visibility and prestige of Italian wines worldwide put his mark on the company through the game-changing development of the Super Tuscans and superior Chianti Classico’s, along with buying wine estates outside Tuscany in Piedmont, Puglia, Napa, Hungary, and other locales and building a 21st-century winery in Bargino.

By being the first female management team at Antinori, Alessia and her sisters are writing their own rules, too, but are also proud of the fact that “it’s no longer unique to be a woman in the wine world.” (Today, some 40 percent of Antinori employees are women.) Still they know they are pioneers whose work will be closely watched and followed, just as the work of their father and ancestors has been watched and followed for hundreds of years. The Antinori sisters are still young, but they know that an important part of their job will be not only to innovate and develop new wines but also to hand over a well-run, financially sound company to the 27th generation, which no doubt will have many women eager to take the reins in its mix.