Italian women cultivate a life in winemaking
the world's oldest family-owned wine company. The text tells the story of how the world's oldest family-owned wine company was founded.
In 1385, Giovanni di Piero Antinori was admitted to the city's winemaking guild in Florence, laying the foundation for what is today one of the oldest and largest family-owned wine companies in Italy. The city was emerging as a Renaissance center of banking, commerce, and art at the time.
For 25 generations, Antinori's winemaking operations have been passed down from father to son in the family's heartland in Tuscany—the terrain of the Sangiovese grape that produces Chianti Classico, one of Italy's most famous wines.
The Antinori family business, which includes more than 3,000 hectares of vineyards on 26 estates in Italy and abroad, is now led by the three Antinori sisters, with the eldest, Albera, at the head of the company. This is a departure from the traditional male leadership of the family business.
She is one of many women in leadership positions in Italy's 13 billion wine industry. "My dad didn't have a son, which made things a lot easier," says Antinori, who started working at the winery after graduating from school in 1986. It's unusual to think of a girl or woman who works in the company and, possibly, in the future leads the company. But that's life.
In the 1990s, women began to make inroads into the traditionally male preserve of Italian winemaking, as young men from rural land-owning families chose to pursue careers in the cities.
"The priority for the first-born sons was not the countryside; they were sent to work in finance or other occupations," says Antinori. "The countryside was given to the daughters who showed an interest. Nobody else wants to take care of it."
Now, Le Donne del Vino, or Women of Wine, which was founded in 1988 by a handful of women who were working in the wine industry at the time, has more than 1,000 members. They range from heirs to established family estates to critics, sommeliers, and entrepreneurs who have established their own wineries.
Piero Antinori is the head of one of the oldest and most famous wine families in Italy. The Antinori family has been making wine for over six centuries, and they are best known for their Chianti Classico wines. The Three Sisters is a special vineyard that has been in the family for generations. It is named for the three cypress trees that grow in the vineyard. The Three Sisters is one of the most important vineyards in Chianti Classico, and the Antinori family makes some of the best wines in the world.Piero Antinori, hailing from one of the oldest and most renowned wine families in Italy, has been making wine for over six centuries. The Antinori family is especially known for their high-quality Chianti Classico wines. The Three Sisters vineyard has been passed down through generations of the family and gets its name from the three cypress trees growing within it. As one of the most significant vineyards in Chianti Classico, the Antinori family produces some of the best wines in the world.
The wine industry is grappling with the impact of climate change, demands for more sustainable practices, and concerns about the next generation's willingness to take charge of family-owned wineries. As a result, women are exerting more influence.
"It's a poetic work, but a difficult one," says Antinori. Yet she is of the opinion that women bring a greater sense of "agency" to the world of wine.
Antinori currently produces 20 million bottles of wine a year, just under 100 labels. But Antinori, whose 84-year-old father Piero is still active as honorary president, says: 'The priority is not to have maximum turnover, or maximum profits, but instead to ensure sustainability whether that means planting trees, or control wear or avoid overproduction.
"Our priority is to pass on the land we care for in a better condition to the next generation," she says.
In 1999, at the age of 27, Chiara Lungarotti became the CEO of Lungarotti, a winery in Umbria that has been in her family for generations. She took over the business after her father's death.
She felt great pressure to ensure the survival of an estate that her father had converted from a traditional multi-cropping farm into a custom winery. The pressure she felt was twofold. First, she needed to maintain the quality of the wine produced on the estate. Second, she needed to find a way to make the farm profitable.
"The responsibility shifted from his shoulders to mine," she says. "My first fear was for all the people who work for us, to enable them to carry on with their jobs and their lives."
Lungarotti, despite having a degree in viticulture, met resistance when she tried to introduce modern agricultural methods to a farm that still followed traditional practices.
She recalls that her insistence that some bunches of grapes be removed from the vines to allow the best to grow larger and healthier caused an uproar among the older men's workforce. 'They used to say "She's crazy, she's throwing the fruit away. This estate can't have a future."'
Lungarotti is exploring more sustainable ways of growing her family's 250 hectares of vineyard which produces around 2.5 million bottles annually. Approximately 20 hectares of the vineyards are planted organically.
"Lungarotti says that without profit, there is no future, but the profit must be reinvested in the estate."
Lungarotti's headquarters is in Perugia, Italy.
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The four sisters who run the Bortolomeole winery, founded by their father, in Valdobbiadene in the hills of Treviso - the heart of Italy's prosecco-producing region - are also concerned with reducing their environmental impact.
The family grows their own six hectares organically, while the 60 other vineyard growers who supply their grapes to the winery must follow strict green protocols that limit the use of chemicals. Carbon emissions are being tracked in collaboration with a university, and the estate aims to reach net zero emissions from all operations by the end of this year. "We want a balance between agriculture and the environment," says Elvira Bortolomeul, Vice President. "Today, sustainability is a reality in the vineyard and in the winery."
Ariana Okipenti is the founder of the eponymous wine label and one of the few female winemakers in Italy. She started her own winery in 2004, at the age of 21, on one hectare in Sicily.
Occhipinti, the daughter of an architect and a schoolteacher, encountered winemaking at 17, while helping her uncle, who had started his own winemaking company, at an event. "People were working, doing business, but smiling," she recalls.
She went on to study viticulture and oenology, which, she says, 'opened the door to the world of production- a world dominated by men.'
At first, she expected to work for her uncle, or some other estate. Instead, her passion for natural and artisanal winemaking based on organic farming, and her desire to return to her native Sicily where many were abandoning old vineyards led Occidente to go it alone.
"My goal is never the wine in the end, but why I make wine. To do something for my land, using wine that has come from very sustainable wines . . . artisan-made farming," she explains.
For 1,000 euros a year, she rented her first hectare, while her parents guaranteed her first 50,000 euro loan to invest in production. It also received money from an EU program designed to help Italy's less developed regions.
On 30 hectares of land, this company grows wine, olives, fruits, and vegetables. It employs about 25 people and produces 140,000-150,000 bottles of product each year. These products are all made using organic and natural production principles.
She also provides guidance to women considering entering the world of wine, suggesting that 'the best thing is to start small and grow with it step by step.'
She is frustrated by how few women are following her entrepreneurial path. 'It's too slow,' she says. 'We are in a moment where more and more women can do this. But they haven't arrived.'