When most family businesses talk about a long tradition, they might measure that tradition in years, or maybe decades. The Antinori sisters measure their family’s business history in centuries! Italian wine company Marchesi Antinori began in 1385 – over 600 years ago. The business built both a global market and an impressive lineage. Antinori remained a family-owned business, always passed down to a male descendant. Alessia Antinori, along with her sisters Albiera and Allegra, are the first women to lead the company. Albiera serves as president, while Alessia and Allegra are vice presidents.
Read our interview with Alessia to learn about Marchesi Antinori and how Alessia approached working in a male-dominated industry.
Could you walk us through the company’s history?
My family has been making wine in Italy since 1385. My sisters and I represent the 26th generation. Our family’s unique blend of centuries’ old Tuscan tradition and modern innovation has made our family wine business so successful for more than 635 years.
My family history is a narrative about devotion to winemaking that is woven through 26 generations. It stretches from our family’s historical vineyards in Tuscany and Umbria to our latest ventures in California with Antica Napa Valley and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, and in Washington state with Col Solare.
My family’s winemaking heritage started when Giovanni di Piero Antinori became part of the “Arte Fiorentina dei Vinattieri” or “Vintner’s Guild.” For over six centuries our family has personally managed the business and today it remains entirely family-owned.
You can learn more about our family estates and wines here. I hope you will come visit us when travel resumes after the pandemic.
When did you and your sisters begin the leadership transition? Were you always planning on taking this role, or was it a recent development? How did you prepare to lead the company?
From a very young age, my sisters and I visited our family wine estates and helped with the harvesting of the grapes. While I did not know I would join the family business when I was younger, I was naturally drawn to winemaking and graduated with a degree in Viticulture and Oenology from the Department Food Science and Technology at the Agrarian University of Milan in January 1998. I worked as a winemaker for the company and was very involved with our sparkling wine brand, Montenisa, in Franciacorta.
To better understand all aspects of the fine wine business, I decided to learn the export and sales side. I spent about four months each year in India and Asia as the Antinori Family Ambassador. I moved to New York City in January 2009 for several years, where I traveled extensively to participate in tasting events, winemaker dinners and working with the Antinori sales team.
What are some changes that you have made to Antinori, or intend to make in the future?
My sisters and I are continuing to innovate and adapt the 635+-year-old family business to meet the changing needs of consumers while also preserving the family’s long history and winemaking tradition. My family invests heavily in our vineyards and cellars with an eye toward innovation and quality. These continuous investments allow Marchesi Antinori to consistently produce the highest-quality fine wines. That opened the door for our family to begin engaging consumers in first-hand experiences.
My sisters Albiera, Allegra and I recognize that wine lovers today want to have personal experiences with the wineries and wines that they enjoy. Our family is constantly re-investing in its estates, vineyards and cellars to make this happen. To further engage our consumers and remove the barrier between our wines and wine lovers, our family has opened-up many of our properties to the public and created world-class consumer experiences.
Recent openings at the Antinori Family’s Estates include:
- Fattoria Le Mortelle (2011)
- Antinori nel Chianti Classico (2012)
- La Braccesca Cooking School, Wine shop and Tasting room (2014)
- Prunotto shop/tasting room (2015)
- 360-degree immersive room at MACCC with a vineyard & vinification focus (2017)
- La Cantinetta Antinori in Florence – newly renovated (March 2019)
- Guado al Tasso shop/tasting room/restaurant (March 2019)
How do you find a balance between managing tradition or legacy and bringing in new ideas?
For our family, tradition and innovation are fundamental aspects of our philosophy and of our business. We believe that tradition is our strength. Not only because of our centuries of involvement in the wine business, but also because we are a family owned and operated company. This tradition is how we ultimately transmit our values of passion, integrity and quality from one generation to another and then to our consumer. Innovation is vital for us because without that aspect, we would not be the company we are now. We are looking forward to succeeding for many more generations to come. Innovation means that we are looking ahead, exploring new ideas, experimenting and being curious when it comes to our business. These two aspects together are our strengths.
Wine is still considered a male-dominated industry. How did you feel about stepping into a leadership role? Did you face any pushback or encouragement?
When I went to university, there were only two women in our class and all the rest were men. This is to show how in the agriculture field in Italy in the 90s, it was a male dominated business. When I started to work officially in the winery, it was the same. There has been a huge evolution in the last twenty years. Now, almost 35 percent of our company employees are women. I remember driving the tractor at the winery at the beginning of my working experience. It was a shock for all my male colleagues working in the vineyards!
Also, when I started to look after the sales in the Middle East- Asian countries in the mid-2000s, it was not easy being a woman. It was very difficult to even to be considered.
Do you have any advice for other businesswomen in male-dominated industries?
There is no doubt that the wine industry needs more female figures. In the last decade, we have seen many more women involved in different aspects of the business from winemaking, tasting, vineyard management, sales, marketing. Now is a great time to be a woman in wine. As for other industries, businesswomen should trust their instincts, share their opinions, ask to take on bigger roles and asked to be compensated relative to male counterparts for the work they do.
I’ve read that you love the arts and tie that into the business, such as with the Antinori Art Project. Could you talk about that installation, or any other projects?
We believe that wine is art and given that our family is from Florence, which was the heart of the Renaissance period, we have always been surrounded by art and have also been commissioning art pieces like the Lunetta of the Resurrection of Christ of the della Robbia. Our intent with the Antinori Art Project is to show the continuity of our involvement in the arts. I always say that what we are doing now one day will be the past. We ask artists to interpret our world, family, winery and nature to produce a piece that reflects this moment through their point of view.
Is there anything not discussed so far that you would like to mention?
I believe that great professional happiness leads to a more serene and better-balanced work and home life. At the same time, a happy home life is imperative for a successful and balanced profession. Having two sons makes me feel very balanced in those two aspects!
It’s particularly difficult to separate your personal and professional lives when you work for a family-owned company because you never stop, and your mind is always spinning with new ideas! The wonderful thing about working for a family company is that you work for something that is completely your own; something you are totally passionate about and dedicated to, which, to me, contributes to the great success and happiness.
About Alessia Antinori
Alessia Antinori, Vice President of Marchesi Antinori, is the youngest daughter of Piero Antinori. Along with her two sisters, she is part of the 26th Generation now leading the Marchesi Antinori – one of the longest running family businesses in the world. The Antinori family has influenced wine and culture for centuries as one of Italy’s oldest and most prestigious producers. Alessia serves as Vice President of Marchesi Antinori.
Alessia was naturally drawn to winemaking and graduated with a degree in Viticulture and Oenology from the Agrarian University of Milan. She has worked as a winemaker for the company and has been the driving force behind their sparkling wine brand, Montenisa, in Franciacorta.
With an avid interest in fine art and photography, Alessia personally oversaw the creation of the museum area and contemporary art installations at the Antinori Chianti Classico winery and also supervises the Antinori Art Project, dedicated to all the company’s new projects with a contemporary art focus.