At 9 o'clock on a midsummer evening, the blood-red sun slowly melts into the horizon, and a refreshing breeze begins to cool the hot, humid air. Men and women mingle around a swimming pool, their clothes as chic as the contemporary sculpture that surrounds them. The partygoers sip Champagne and sample canapés of raw fish and vegetables, laughing and conversing.
It could be New York's Hamptons, the French Riviera, or anywhere stylish people gather for fun. But this party takes place in the ancient hillsides of Tuscany during a small dinner for some of Italy's top young wine producers.
"This is like a beautiful dream," says Cesare Turini, 33, the Tuscan wine merchant and international marketing consultant who organized the intimate dinner at his Zen-like house in the hills above Castelfranco di Sopra. The guests include some of the biggest names in Italian wine, such as Antinori and Frescobaldi, and nearly all of them are in their 30s. "If this is the new generation of Italian wine, then Italy is really going to go far," Turini declares.
It's hard to think of another wine-producing country where people in their 20s, 30s and 40s are working more diligently to improve on what their forefathers have given them. Vineyards, wineries, restaurants and wine shops in Italy are full of young people striving to provide the world with high quality wines. The men and women of this new generation are not only enhancing a winemaking tradition that goes back millennia, they are creating their own history in the world of Italian wine. They are responsible for new and exciting wines from just about every part of the country, from Piedmont in the north to Sicily in the south.
The following pages profile 10 of these accomplished young Italian wine professionals. It was difficult to select just 10 representatives of this ongoing renaissance, or rinascimento, in Italian wine, considering the hundreds of deserving candidates. But this select group illustrates what really is happening in the vineyards and wineries of Italy today.
Six are from Tuscany, the Italian wine region most popular among Americans and the one in which the greatest innovations in winemaking have occurred over the past two decades. Two come from the north, representing relatively small, traditional wine producers, one in Piedmont, the other in Trentino. The remaining two are Sicilians, highlighting the great potential for making world-class wines in southern Italy, particularly on the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. Southern Italy will inevitably be a source of fine wine for a new generation of wine lovers.
"We have a great opportunity to make a difference," says Albiera Antinori, 36-year-old daughter of Piero Antinori, the man most credited with pulling Italian wine into the 20th century. Their family's Florence-based firm has been making wine for more than seven centuries, but it's in the past decade that the Antinoris have made their best bottles. "The generation of my father was coming out in a devastated country after the war. We [the younger generation] didn't have to deal with that at all."
Indeed, the Italian winemaking generation of today is an educated, affluent group that has traveled the world to learn about quality viticulture and winemaking. Florentine Lamberto Frescobaldi graduated from the viticulture and enology program at the University of California, Davis, far from the thousands of acres of vineyards his family owns in Tuscany with its centuries-old traditions. "We are only beginning to make the great wines that are possible here in Tuscany and Italy at large," says Frescobaldi.
Many are working closely with their parents in writing the next chapter of the winemaking history books of their respective areas. For instance, Francesca Planeta, alongside her father, Diego, and two cousins, has created a spectacular winery in Sicily, producing international-style wines (such as blockbuster Chardonnays) and silky, indigenous reds (such as Nero d'Avola) from pristinely kept vineyards in a handful of different areas on the island. "It was never a case of the father giving it all to the children," she says. "It was really the case of two generations working together. We really did it together. My father had the courage to do it with the new generation."
Others, such as Piedmont's Luca Currado Vietti and Trentino's Elisabetta Foradori, found entering the wine world more of an ordeal. After disagreeing with his father's tradition-bound approach to wine, Vietti left Italy for a few years in his early 20s to work in wineries in France and California and experience a new world of winemaking. Foradori, who had aspirations as a writer and musician, stepped into winemaking at 19 to help her mother, who was managing the small family winery after the tragic death of Elisabetta's father years before. In the end, it was family that brought them both into wine. "They didn't say that I had to do this," says Foradori, who makes stylish reds from a little-known grape called Teroldego in the shadows of the Dolomite Mountains in Trentino. "I had a moral obligation. I was born in the vineyards. I always remembered that."
The calling to make fine wine is equally strong in the other four vintners profiled in this issue: Alberto Tasca d'Almerita, scion of Sicily's venerable Regaleali estate; Tuscany's Luca d'Attoma, a consulting enologist; Swiss-born Barbara Kronenberg-Widmer of Brancaia, and Fattoria Petrolo's Luca Sanjust, a celebrated artist who returned to the family estate.
"Once I dedicated myself to making wine, I knew that I could do nothing else," says Sanjust, who turned his small winery in the Tuscan hills into a super Tuscan powerhouse in less than a decade.
Very few of Italy's leading young vintners have done it all on their own; most have instead taken over from family or worked closely with the previous generation. "It's normal that it has worked that way," says Albiera Antinori. "Italy is still a country where the family is very important."
There are exceptions, however. Turini said his father was against him entering the wine trade and hoped he would work in the family's food distribution business. But the wine industry was just too exciting for him, and he began a small wine distribution company in Terranuova Bracciolini in the early 1990s that has evolved into the best in Tuscany. "I just loved wine," he says. "I loved the people and the product. I had to work in that world."
For the dinner at Turini's house, everyone has brought magnums of different wines to drink with the meal. The lineup is impressive, boasting everything from great 1999 super Tuscans to 1996 Barolo riservas. Most of the guests are already friends, or at least acquaintances, having met one another while selling wine in Italy or abroad. There's a friendly competition among them.
"Beautiful Chardonnay," says one about the 2001 Planeta. "Fantastic Brunello," says another of the 1997 Castelgiocondo Riserva, which is served later in the meal.
Everyone is clearly having a great time, enjoying the wine, food and conversation. As they share their wines, they radiate a real sense of pride, accomplishment and excitement. It's this positive attitude, this passion for wine, that defines the future of Italian winemaking.
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