Classic Heritage

Alessia Antinori, vice president of the storied Italian wine house, greets me at the door of her West Village home bearing a tray holding a bottle of Tormaresca Calafuria rosé, wine glasses, and a dish of Iranian pistachios. She’s just back from the harvest in Tuscany.

She, along with her sisters Albiera and Allegra, are the 26th generation to lead Antinori in the family’s more than six centuries in the wine business. “That tradition and history is extremely important and it’s our strength, because it’s what has built us,” she tells me as we sip the rosé. “The most important thing now is to maintain it. I always say that it took 600 years to build what we have created, but it takes one minute to destroy everything. So that’s a huge responsibility we are always aware of.”

Albiera, Allegra, and Alessia Antinori.

Her father, Piero, revolutionized the Italian wine market in the 1970s by creating the category of “super Tuscan,” high-quality wines from Tuscany that include non-indigenous grape varietals or use blends not allowed under DOC standards; he also purchased wine estates outside the Chianti Classico region, such as in Montepulciano, Montalcino, and Bolgheri. Their grandfather’s generation, between the two world wars, had focused on producing Chianti Classico, and the sisters have returned their attention to that region. It’s important, Alessia says, because “We come from there. Our roots are there. We are Florentines.” She considers Sangiovese to be one of the most interesting grape varietals in the world, and the family wants to highlight its different expressions and keep bringing it to the next level of quality.

Not only are the sisters the first women to lead the house of Antinori, they each have diverse interests that they’re working into the business as well. Alessia’s passion is art. She’s on the board of MoMA, and she’s started commissioning site-specific works by up-and-coming modern artists at the family’s wineries. “To us this is a very important aspect of our family, because we grew up surrounded by beautiful art,” she says. The family has commissioned and collected pieces from the Renaissance period up through the present time. “Our family’s approach has always been to look ahead. Whatever we’re doing now will one day be the past, so we have to continue it.”

Antinori’s Bargino property.

And so the Antinori Art Project was born. Alessia commissions a work from one artist a year, who visits the winery and selects a theme—nature, history, tradition, time—for a site-specific work. Sometimes the artist chooses to live on the property while creating the piece. There have been seven or eight so far; Alessia has lost count. Among the first works commissioned was a conceptual piece by the Italian artist Rosa Barba, a sun dial of sorts, reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci’s meridianas. The most recent is by Sam Falls, the first American artist tapped for the project. Falls chose nature as his theme, laying an enormous canvas on the ground at the Tignanello property and letting the elements work their effects on pigments on the canvas. One might say it’s as close as an artist can get to transmitting terroir directly onto a piece. “It’s a reflection of the earth, of Tignanello,” Alessia says.

Another sister, Allegra, has a passion for food. The family’s six-decade-old restaurant in Florence, Cantinetta Antinori, has just been renovated. “It’s renewed. I finally see younger Florentines coming in to have drinks,” Alessia says. “It’s a little bit trendy.” Now an international brand, with locations in Moscow, Vienna, Monte Carlo, and Zurich, it’s not merely a passion project but also a shrewd way to promote the family’s wines, exposing them to a wider audience. “I think it’s the best way to market wine,” she says, “because with Tuscan food, in our style, you showcase the wines in the best way.”

The recently renovated Cantinetta Antinori in Florence.

Eldest sister Albiera has recently taken the reins as the company’s president, and is getting into art as well—which, naturally, thrills Alessia. Albiera has long been responsible for the company’s marketing efforts, including all the wine labels, and recently she joined her sister in helping commission and purchase Falls’ work, then donating it to the company.

And now, the 27th generation, Albiera’s son, has recently joined the family business. The sisters agree they want their children to follow them into the business only if they choose. “They have to have passion,” Alessia says. “Which, in our business especially, I think is essential.” The most vital thing, she says, is transmitting the family’s heritage and values—curiosity, a long-term view, an appreciation of what has been inherited—to her children. “Especially as a woman and a mother, it’s the most important aspect we’re thinking of, this transition to the next generation.”

A bottle of Tignanello, the super Tuscan wine that launched Antinori to global fame in the 1970s.