Alejandro Bulgheroni, 72, came to wine late in life. But he’s making up for lost time. Beginning with a partnership in a winery in his native Argentina in 2009, he now owns ventures on four continents.
“Some projects we’re starting from scratch,” he told me. “Others have centuries behind them. But my total aim is to make the best product possible.”
We spoke during Vinitaly, the annual wine fair in Verona, on the private upper level of the large, well-furnished stand of Dievole, a Chianti Classico estate he purchased in 2012. A slight, dapper man, he wore a conservative suit, but a gold tie clasp hinted at a hedonistic side.
In the 1960s, Bulgheroni's family owned cattle ranches in Argentina, then moved into oil and gas production. According to Forbes, his family is worth $4.7 billion.
In the 1990s, Bulgheroni bought a large property in Uruguay. He planted olive trees and built a wind farm. Then he called Carlos Pulenta, a friend with a long background in Argentina's wine business. In turn, Pulenta called his wine consultant, Alberto Antonini, an Italian with a string of successful estates as clients, who also owns Altos Las Hormigas in Argentina. Antonini agreed to work with the Uruguay estate. He is now a key partner with Bulgheroni.
The partnership seemed to galvanize Bulgheroni; in a short span, he made multiple investments in the world of wine. Argentina's Bodegas Vistalba, in partnership with Pulenta. In California, an eponymous estate in Napa Valley and Renwood in the Sierra Foothills, purchased in 2011. Château Suau in France's Côtes de Bordeaux. In Italy, besides Dievole, two Brunello properties (Podere Brizio and Poggio Landi) and vineyards in Bolgheri. A vineyard in Australia’s Barossa Valley. He’s currently hunting in Spain.
I asked if this rapid expansion is driven by passion or business.
“If you look at the numbers, it’s a passion project,” Bulgheroni conceded. “But I believe that one day, it will be a profitable business.”
Antonini joined the conversation, and I asked which man was driving the decision-making.
“We share a commitment,” Antonini said. “Instead of making wines for the market, we are trying to find a market for our wines: authentic, pure and driven by their terroir. We are fortunate because the owner,” nodding at Bulgheroni, “wants quality, quality, quality.”
The property in Uruguay, called Bodega Garzón, is the ultimate expression of this vision. So far, the wines have shown more promise than glory, with Wine Spectator ratings in the mid-80s (very good). But vineyards are only a part of the $85 million Agroland S.A. operation.
Garzón is the second-largest olive producer in Uruguay, according to Bulgheroni. The property features a 120-seat restaurant overseen by Francis Mallmann, Argentina’s most celebrated chef. There is a club where members can make and bottle their own wine, as well as play golf on a course designed by Angel Cabrera, Argentina’s top golfer.
“I’ve never been a wine drinker,” Bulgheroni reflected. “Oh, I used to drink, but when I remarried 20 years ago, I stopped. Now, I’ve started tasting. I can tell when a wine pleases me. But mainly, I want to enjoy the experiences of the life of wine and vineyards. And I have seven children. I want to leave them something beautiful.”