Piero Antinori’s seemingly forgotten Napa Valley wine venture, Antica, is a work-in-progress that's slowly taking shape. This week he's in town to chart the next phase, and yesterday we discussed a wide range of subjects.
It’s been 20-plus years since Antinori became involved as a minority partner (5 percent) in a vineyard on Atlas Peak, an appellation in Napa Valley. His original partners have long since bowed out, and 10 years ago, he described the buyout as “the most complicated deal of the century.” He is now the sole owner of the entire property.
Antinori owns some 570 acres, planted to a variety of grapes ranging from Cabernet and Chardonnay to Sangiovese and Refosco. So far, the quality of wines made from Antinori's vines have been mixed, and certainly nothing that has inspired him. Hence he is still in what he considers an experimental phase—he's replanting half the vineyard over the next five years. While he thinks that the property will prove its worth over time, he is eager to see substantive progress.
On the plus side, the property is paid for and has mature vines and a winery. Antica is short for Antinori California, and within the next year, 2004 and 2005 wines bearing the Antica label should appear in the market. At this stage, Antinori says he is most pleased with the quality of the Chardonnay.
Yet he is still seeking a winemaker that suits his needs, knows Napa wines and shares his stylistic goals. Given the growth of the California wine industry in the past 10 years, launching a new label may prove more challenging than Antinori expects.
He still takes a long-term view of wine, saying “we’re always at the beginning,” a reference that applies to most winegrowing operations.
“It takes time to learn the nuances of the vineyard,” Antinori explains, adding that he hopes that one day one of his children (or grandchildren) will move to Napa, attend Davis and live on the property.
But that is still years away if it ever happens, he admits, and while the waiting game for Antinori and Antica slowly unfolds, it is clearly a project that would have more than tested the patience of most vintners.
Antinori isn’t pushing any panic buttons. But I sense he is anxious to have Antica pick up the tempo. A lot has changed in the past 20 years, and while he can look back on a family wine heritage that spans centuries, the wine scene in California moves at a much quicker pace.