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Ruffino's Family Owners Split Tuscan Holdings

Michèle Shah, James Suckling
Posted: June 23, 2000

One of Tuscany's most important wine families, the Folonaris, (owners of Tuscan wine giant Ruffino), decided on June 16 to officially split up its wine holdings following disputes among family members over the management of the company.

"The reorganization wasn't easy, but we reached an amicable agreement," said Ambrogio Folonari, 70, the former president of Ruffino. "Like all family enterprises, one reaches a point when the company structure is unmanageable, authority and the hierarchy become confusing, and one needs to rationalize for more effective operations. It is not for financial or tax reasons."

A source indicated that Ambrogio and his brother Alberto, 63, the former financial administrator of Ruffino, received from $50 million to $60 million, plus hundred of acres of prime vineyard land in Tuscany, to leave Ruffino. Their other brothers, Marco and Paolo, along with the latter two's sons, will own Ruffino, which sells close to 2 million cases of wine annually.

In addition, Marco and Paolo will hold the estates of Poggio Casciano, Santedame, Pianamici, Poderi di Gretole, Tuopina and Montemasso, in the Chianti Classico area; Casavecchia and Vescovado di Murlo, in the Siena area; Lodola Nuova, in Montepulciano; and Il Greppone Mazzi, in Montalcino.

Ambrogio and Alberto have created a new holding company with their respective sons, Giovanni, 36, a viticulturist, and Guido, 33. The company includes the family's already-established estates of Nozzole, Zano and Cabreo, in the Chianti Classico area; Gracciano, in Montepulciano; Conti Spalletti, in Rufina; and 50 percent of Monte Rossa, in the Franciacorta area of northeast Italy. Once current labeled inventory is exhausted, the wines from these estates will no longer carry the Ruffino name, and they will be distributed in the United States by Kobrand.

The new holding company also encompasses the Folonaris' recent $5 million investment in 100 acres of land in Bolgheri, from which they plan to produce a high-end Merlot and a Syrah blend.

As part of the deal, Ambrogio and his partners received Premiovini, which had been under the Ruffino umbrella; the company markets premium wines from northern Italy. In addition, they also hold Previ, a company that markets imported premium wines, Champagne and spirits, as well as luxury foods such as caviar.

"The decision to split the company and leave a more traditional winery behind opens new opportunities as well as the freedom to create something more innovative and modern," said Ambrogio Folonari. "We want to create a collection of premium crus." He and Alberto have already embarked on a plan of vineyard and winery investments throughout Italy that could total more than $35 million over the next few years.

Since the acquisition of Campo al Mare in Bolgheri last fall, Ambrogio, Alberto and their sons have acquired a property in Friuli's Colli Orientali area, known for its white wines. Last month, they agreed to pay $3 million for Colli di Novacuzzo, a 170-acre estate. "There are about 74 acres of existing Sauvignon Blanc vines," said Ambrogio Folonari. "However, we hope to increase this by planting new vines such as Pinot Grigio, Picolit and maybe some Merlot. ... By the time we build a new modern winery and go ahead with new plantings, it will be more like a $6 million investment."

Folonari also has his eye on Apulia, an emerging wine-producing area in southern Italy that is best known for Primitivo (the Italian name of Zinfandel). He has almost concluded a deal to buy a 250-acre estate in Castel del Monte, in the province of Bari. "I am aiming at a good single-variety wine, perhaps an Uva di Troia," said Folonari. Uva di Troia, which is used to produce red and rosi wines, is a low-yielding variety indigenous to Apulia.

"Up until now, most wines produced in southern Italy have concentrated on high yields and low quality," said Folonari. "We may have to take out the old vines and start from scratch; however, we won't be making any decisions until September, when we experiment with this year's harvest."

Michel Roland, the respected Bordeaux-based enologist, will be assisting the Folonaris with the wine estates in their new venture.

# # # Check out recent ratings of Ruffino wines.

Learn more about the Folonaris' venture:

  • April 25, 2000
    Owners of Ruffino Buy Estate in Tuscany's Bolgheri Region

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