An Interview with Piero Antinori: Wine-Maker, Visionary, Rock Star
Piero Antinori, best known as the patriarch of the 630-year-old Antinori Family wine dynasty, has just flown in from Tuscany to his 550-acre vineyard estate on the edge of Napa Valley. I’m pinching myself, not only because the view high above the vineyards with the sun glistening on Piero’s private lake takes my breath away, but because in the world of wine, Marchese Piero Antinori is an Italian rock star.
His wine pedigree goes back centuries, yet Piero thinks like a modern man. He combines progressive and original techniques with traditional ones to dramatically improve and redefine winemaking in Italy.. I’ll say — after all, it’s the sum of this creativity, vision, and commitment to evolution as a winemaker that has lead him to create the new breed of wine called “Tignanello,” which became the original prototype of the tremendously successful super Tuscans — rocking the conservative world of Italian wines.
Piero sits with me on this Napa morning, gracious, charming, and humble as we talk outside looking out over his vast valley of vines. He is excited to share his vision of his latest venture, Antica Wines — “Antinori California.”
The Daily Meal: What was the draw to invest in a California vineyard?
Piero Antinori: The attitude in Italy is to continue to do things like our fathers, grandfathers, our great-grandfathers — and here there is a totally different attitude.
Like the Wild West.
Exactly, like the gold rush — they want to find and discover new things. So I was influenced a lot by that type of attitude — that’s why I like it here very much. I started also to admire what they were doing with wines because it was the time — I’m talking about the late 1960s, when they started to realize that in Napa Valley, they had the true potential to produce very good wines. In 1985, I looked around for something that could be interesting and I couldn’t find anything, except for the last day when I was supposed to leave. We arrived here, and when I saw this valley that was totally virgin, nothing here, I immediately fell in love with this place. I was very excited to build this place from scratch. Then we leased the land for fifteen years, and have been waiting to get it back, so now we have control of the total property — this just happened six years ago. We are very excited and optimistic because we think that there is a great potential here.
Tell me about the difference between your wines here in the canyon where Antica is located and the wines produced on the Napa Valley floor.
It’s more European style, I would say.
Are you bringing Old World to the New World and New world to the Old World?
[Laughs] Yes, there is a synergy. What we learn here is not technical, but more of an attitude. Coming here for us is always an injection of enthusiasm, searching for excellence. In Europe, there is not this attitude, really. However, we have brought our experience here, and a philosophy of wine-making that focuses on elegance and finesse rather than the big fruit-driven, high-alcohol, monumental wines. In this place, we are helped by the terroir; the condition of soil and climate compared to the valley floor. We are at an elevation with very rocky and volcanic soil. That’s why I fell in love immediately when I saw this place. It made me feel at home, because in Tuscany, it is the same thing. It’s in our DNA that when we see a place like this we know we can produce good wine — a gut feeling.
When people drink the Antica wines, what kind of experience do you want them to have?
Being European, we want to make wines that people can really enjoy with food and they enjoy drinking an extra glass of wine and still wake up the next morning feeling good… to look in the mirror without any problems. [Laughs]
Thank you for that.
We don’t want to produce the big wines that you can cut with a knife. Our attitude is that a great quality of a wine is its “drinkability.” The consumers are changing and becoming more sophisticated — they want to enjoy wine that pairs well with food. I think that is why wine has been invented.
What is your favorite meal to prepare when you have a dinner party?
An old country dish called cacciucco — a typical coastal seafood of Tuscany dish with bold flavors and seasoning, served with garlic bread.
Ooh, sounds like comfort food.
What Antica wine would you pair with this seafood dish?
Either the Antica Cabernet or the Antica Sangiovese — we have a small production of it — which would be perfect because of the acidity.
I’m getting hungry… OK, now I’m going to say a word and you tell me the first thing that comes to mind — are you ready?