Rome-born Pierpaolo Barzan, 35, founded Altay Scientific, which manufactures high-tech scientific teaching equipment, in 1997. As his company grew, his travels introduced him to museums and galleries around the world and he developed a passion for collecting contemporary art, establishing the Depart Foundation in 2009 to highlight and support emerging artists. Eight years ago, Barzan and his wife bought Poggio Golo, a winery in Tuscany's Montepulciano region. Recently, they commissioned the Los Angeles–based architectural firm Johnston Marklee to build a new structure to house winemaking activities and artists' residences. Barzan spoke with Wine Spectator about the tension in balancing tradition and modernity in Italy, and speculated on what comes next for Italian winemakers.
Wine Spectator: Why did you get into the wine business?
Pierpaolo Barzan: I always enjoyed drinking good wines. My wife and I had this dream of making wine and I’m very happy I did it. It’s very challenging. We are striving to produce a good-quality wine as well as a wine that fits within the scenery of the winery. Montepulciano is a fantastic place for wine production.
WS: You are building a modern winery at your estate?
PB: It’s a very contemporary building. It’s a work of art in itself, but it blends well with the landscape. Being modern doesn’t mean that it’s out of the context. You can have good or bad architecture no matter if it’s modern or old.
Rome, where I live, is a place where tourists come to see the old. We feel sometimes, as Italians, that being contemporary, not only in art but in architecture, does not belong to us, but I think it’s a key element for the success of the country. Contemporary art is a very engaging, vibrant scene. It’s an important platform for the development of creativity, innovation, so it has a very important social role.
WS: Are you making more of a traditional style of wine or a modern style?
PB: At the moment, we make a classic Vino Nobile de Montepulciano but then we also have a blend of Merlot, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s an IGT. … If I could think of a wine as a benchmark for the Nobile, it would be Casanova di Neri, a Brunello. Concerning the IGT, my ambition is to have a Château Latour type of wine. I consider it one of the best blends of Merlot and Cabernet. … It’s not like I want to make a French wine in Italy; I just want to make an excellent wine. I think the terroir is so strong that no matter what, even if you make a very modern type of wine you can keep the character of the place.
I’m not a traditional person. What I do is risky: I collect very contemporary artists. If you collect a more established artist, you are safe in your bet. With wine, if you do a classic Montepulciano wine, you will not go wrong, but you will not excel.
WS: What kind of wines do you drink?
PB: Mostly Italian wines. We love Brunello di Montalcino; we love Amarone. I like French white wine and even wine from the New World. We love Chablis [and] Pinot Noir from Burgundy. I cannot have a collection; I end up drinking it.
WS: Was there a winery you looked at for inspiration?
PB: I have a big admiration for what Gaja did for Italy. He did an outstanding job making top-quality wines in Italy and bringing a different methodology.
WS: What do you see for the future of wine in Italy?
PB: I think that we have to move into the future without losing our heritage. The wine business is already very competitive and will become more so as technology evolves. It will be easier to make good-quality wines almost anywhere in the world. We have to sell and present a vision, not only a wine. Either we are able to do this and really concentrate on quality or we will lose ground.
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