On arrival at the Antinori Cantina and vineyards in Tuscany, Italy, you may start to feel a sense of other worldliness, as the gentle rolling hills of Chianti disappear, and a vast space-age façade comes into view. Having passed my security check and driven through a large tunnel, I sighted the imposing entrance of the cantina, boldly emerging from its semi-subterranean setting. I had actually driven past the gargantuan construction site hundreds of times during its transformation stages but had yet to enter this award-winning cantina since its official opening in 2012.
For my personal tour of the cantina I was met with super-efficient staff who ushered be into the corporate lounge area. Here the view out over Antinoris’ famous vineyards was utterly breath-taking. The sleek contemporary lines of this architectural masterpiece, magically framing a timeless scene of historic Italian enterprise.
If you are a wine-lover then the Antinori name will have been on your radar for decades; in fact, it has been on the viniculture radar since 1385 when Giovanni di Piero Antinori started the journey into the wine world.
The connection between history and innovation can be found gently flowing through all the activities the family are engaged in. It is the fundamental link between the past, present and future that keeps this noble dynasty one step ahead in the ever-evolving world of wine production.
I had done my homework on this noble Italian family, but nothing had prepared me for the depth of commitment, enterprise and innovation the Antinoris apply to their businesses on a daily basis. From the 120 staff they employ at the HQ in Tuscany to the Two million bottles of wine the cantina can produce annually. The philosophy running through the Antinori brand pays deep respect to the past, yet always with a clear vision of the future. As Marchese Piero loves to say; “Old roots play an important part in our philosophy, but they have never hindered our innovative spirit.”
During my tour of the cellar I couldn’t help but notice the great attention to detail in every space, repeatedly linking and re-affirming the noble Florentine heritage with modern business practices and creative aspirations. From the gigantic wine press thought to be designed by Leonardo di Vinci, to the modern luminous two storey sundial that cuts through the centre of the building. Contemporary art plays a large part in the aesthetic and character of the building with eye-catching installations and abstract designs dotted throughout the interior.
The remarkable cellar is an innovative work of architecture, the fruit of seven years of design and construction work. Practically invisible from the exterior, if not for the two horizontal ‘slashes’ in the hillside which correspond to the cellar’s façade. Its distinctive signature is the spectacular spiral staircase which joins together the three stories of the structure.
Finished in a reddish-brown pigment and integrated with natural materials such as terracotta, wood, weathered steel, and modern glass. The character of this progressive cantina pays homage to the profound and deeply rooted connection to the terrain which has always hosted the vineyards of the Antinori family. The grand-scale structure incorporates a visitor’s centre, auditorium, immersion room, museum, offices and glass-walled VIP tasting rooms which seem to literally float above the barrels below. Guests can also enjoy exceptional food at the restaurant, accompanied, by award-winning zero kilometre wines.
Today the company is run by Albiera Antinori with the support of her two sisters Allegra and Alessia, both personally involved in the company activities. Marquis Piero Antinori is the honorary president of the firm. Tradition, passion and intuition are the elements that led Marchesi Antinori to establish itself as one of the principal winemakers in Italy. Throughout its history, 26 generations long, the Antinori family has maintained direct control of the company, making innovative and sometimes bold decisions yet always keeping their respect for traditions and the territory intact.
The Antinori family successfully blend innovation and tradition protecting the past and planting the vines of the future. The manufacturing aspect is large and impressive, with Antinori’s wines exported to over 160 countries globally, yet, the techniques used remain very much artisanal.
We have demonstrated, over the years, that in Tuscany and in Umbria there was the possibility of producing excellent wines, widely recognised at an international level, which showed both class and breed while maintaining their original character. Our library contains many books, but for us it is not rich enough. We have a mission which has not yet been entirely carried out, which drives us to express the vast potential of our vineyards and to reconcile both new discoveries yet to be made and the patrimony of Tuscan taste. A patrimony which includes tradition, culture, agriculture, art, and literature and which represent the identity of the Marchesi Antinori firm, ones of whose major strong points is the fact of being Tuscan or, if you prefer, our fundamentally Tuscan character”, says Piero.
Having completed a comprehensive and deeply fascinating tour of the cellars, ageing rooms and visitor centre I was delighted to be ushered into one of the tasting rooms. These James Bond style, floating glass-walled private rooms are perfect for VIP occasions and exclusive tastings. On request a Michelin starred chef can create a tasting menu with dishes designed to perfectly complement Antinori’s distinct wines.
Here, poised in a super-sleek glass box designed to accommodate eight discerning guests, I discovered more about the broad reach of Antinori’s wine production which encompasses Umbria, Piedmont, Lombardy and Puglia, amongst the most prominent wine regions of Italy.
My first tasting was of an elegant rosé from the Tormaresca vineyard in Puglia. The 2017 Calafuria is made from 100% Negroamaro grapes and has a delicate hue, perfect for relaxed al-fresco summer lunches. We then moved on to a wine close to my heart, a Villa Antinori Chianti Classico, Riserva 2013. This has such a depth of character with rich balsamic notes,a blend of mainly Sangiovese and other complementary red grape varieties. Lastly, I was treated to the Cont’Ugo from the Guado al Tasso Estate at Bolgheri. Made using only Merlot grapes, this oak aged red has a younger, fruitier personality, perfectly offset by an underlying depth of character.
Having spent a magical afternoon discovering the secrets of the Antinori family’s enduring success, I left feeling incredibly positive for the future economy of contemporary wine producers. The key I believe is in walking a very fine line between honoured tradition and experimental innovation. The essential ingredient being, utmost authenticity.