Cesare Turini loves driving. He pushes his MV Agusta F4 motorcycle to 180 miles per hour on the Mugello racetrack near Florence, and keeps his BMW turbo diesel station wagon in the fast lane on the Italian freeways. Curiously, he owes his current position as one of Italy's leading wine merchants to a brief stint driving American wine writer Burton Anderson through the vineyards about 10 years ago.
"I was always fascinated by wine and the people who worked in wine," says the 33-year-old bachelor, who was a childhood friend of Anderson's daughter Gaja. Visiting her home, he often encountered her father tasting and writing about Italian wines. "After that job with Burton, I knew I had to work in wine."
Turini's company, Heres Spa, is one of the most prestigious wine merchants in Italy today. But his first job in sales was hardly illustrious. In the early 1990s, he sold bottles of mediocre Chianti Classico from a nearby cooperative to restaurants and wine shops around Tuscany. He says that it was a "horrible job" but he learned how to sell wine. He quickly understood that the future of wine was tied to quality and that he had to represent only top quality producers.
Luckily, he had met two key winemakers during his trip with Anderson a few years before. They were Sergio Manetti of Tuscany's Montevertine and Mario Schiopetto of Collio in Friuli. He asked them if he could sell their wines in Tuscany, and after some negotiation, both agreed.
"I remember trying to get Sergio to agree to let me sell his wines," Turini says with a laugh. "I had to ask him over and over for a four-month period. Finally, he said, "I am not convinced, but we will try.' It was like chasing a beautiful woman for four months and then finally she agrees to go out with you!"
Turini found it easy to sell the wines. He recalls that at the time, many of the top producers in Italy were selling most of their wine abroad and spending little effort on the domestic market. Quality-oriented restaurateurs and wine shop owners in Tuscany were more than happy to receive a call from Turini, who offered good wines from all over Italy. Since then, he hasn't looked back and now works with about 50 salespeople across Italy. His portfolio includes many of Italy's top producers, such as Isole e Olena, Querciabella, Petrolo, Argiano, Foradori, Pieropan and Sandrone. He is also the exclusive representative in Tuscany for wineries such as Fonterutoli, Brancaia, Schiopetto, Montevertine and Le Pupille.
As he was building his business, he spent a year in the mid-'90s studying at the Bocconi, a university of economics in Milan that has a special program for managing wineries and vineyards. That led him to add wine consulting to his list of endeavors at Heres. Foradori and Sandrone are among his current clients.
"It was a logical thing to do," Turini says. "I didn't want to only sell people's wine. I wanted to help them manage their estates and distribute their wines properly."
He believes that many wine producers today, particularly high quality ones, have more of a problem with distribution than with sales; they need to be more aware of where they sell than of how much they sell. "It's the post-sales work that is really important," he says. "It's brand building and good distribution. That is what counts."
The market has slowed this year, with the downturn in the global economy and the strength of the euro. Many of his clients are finding markets such as Germany and Switzerland, among others, especially difficult. The United States is also on a downward trend. But Turini remains bullish.
"The next few years are going to be very interesting because the international market will be in great difficulty," he says. "People are looking for new markets such as China or Russia, but not that many people really know those markets well. We are now investing more in the national market. In any case, wherever fine Italian wines are sold, there is still great potential for them."
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