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The secret to Cantine Ferrari: A Family Formula

Instead of wine, I want to talk about family. Or rather, about a family that makes wine. There are thousands of them in Italy. But not all families making beautiful wines can sell them in the modern, international marketplace; vintners need more than a deft hand in the cellar to grow the business, be financially successful all while preserving the wine’s integrity.

Nowadays, a successful wine business taps multiple skill sets: business acumen, social networking, mastery of marketing and media, and old-fashioned sales panache. To fill all these roles effectively as a family is like climbing Kilimanjaro—it’s not impossible conquer, but how many people do you know have done it?

Let me get a few details out of the way before I dig in. This article is about the Lunelli Family who own and run Cantine Ferrari in Trentino, Italy. Their sparkling wines are impeccable. If they weren’t, there wouldn’t be much point to me writing this—I don’t care about a family that can sell the hell out of a mediocre wine (of which notably, there are several).

I am not going to spend time espousing the finer points of each wine in the Ferrari line-up, offering tasting notes and professing the sublimity of wines like the Guilio Ferrari Riserva (which is sublime).  Anybody can—and should—taste these wines to understand their elegance, finesse and role in the market as an exceptionally priced, luxury product. All of Italy has figured this out, annually voting with their dollars Ferrari the preferred choice for Metodo Classico in the marketplace.

And if selection by the masses isn’t convincing—it certainly isn’t here in America (hello, Gallo?)—then consider that Prada, the fashion-house synonymous with style, toasts with Ferrari too. Does this mean the average Italian has better taste than Americans?

Matteo, Camilla, Marcello and Alessandro - The Fab Four

Matteo, Camilla, Alessandro and  Marcello – The Fab Four

Instead, I want to share my observations of the family behind the brand. The Lunellis: Matteo, Camilla, Alessandro and Marcello, are the third generation to run Ferrari winery, founded by Guilio Ferrari in 1902.

Ferrari learned the art of Champagne making in Épernay; he brought the craft and Chardonnay grapes home to Trentino as the forefather of Metodo Classico in Italy. Ferrari didn’t have any children, so he tapped local cantina owner Bruno Lunelli to replace him as steward of his vinous contribution to the world. Bruno and his sons built the brand from nine thousand bottle production to one of the most famous and successful sparkling wines in the world, all while staying true to quality.

Campers!

Campers!

In late October, I spent several days at the inaugural Metodo Classico Sparkling Wine Camp hosted by the Lunellis in Trentino. The camp was a beautiful week filled with tastings, seminars, tours, dinners, helicopter rides and side-trips to spectacular cities like Venice. One might wonder how I could have an objective bone left in my body after attending what felt like the Super Bowl of wine camp. I questioned this as well. So, I waited a month to write my review of the experience, allowing time to truly reflect on the people I met and my feelings about them. What I am left with is this: family envy.

Let’s consider the idea of “family” for a second. We all have one, you can’t pick them, and many aren’t good—consider the Lohans and Jacksons as celebrity examples.  Even if your siblings and parents are smart, talented AND sane, the likelihood you will all have the same professional interest and get along in business is improbable—your mom can belt out a few Joan Jett lines in the car, but you aren’t going to start a rock band with her.

Watching the inner workings of the Lunellis—some siblings, some cousins—reminded me of how rare it is to be born with the right recipe of family members who can bring a different and necessary ingredient to the pot.  Most impressive, however, is the fact that none of the Lunellis were entitled to work at Ferrari until stepping out into the world to prove themselves before returning willingly as leaders.

Camilla Lunelli

Camilla Lunelli

Charming and gracious Camilla first worked for Deloitte Consulting. She then opted to work with the United Nations in two of the poorest regions of the world, Niger and Uganda, before returning to Ferrari to become the first woman manager in the 100-year-old company. She is now responsible for communications and public relations, with a keen awareness of social media, a PR component often overlooked by wineries.

Matteo is a natural leader—he is the charismatic Chairman of Ferrari Winery and C.E.O. of the Lunelli Group, having spent several years prior in financial consulting at Goldman Sachs.

Marcello is clearly the passionate master of the cellar as the Chief Winemaker at Ferrari. He learned the trade alongside his uncle and predecessor Mauro Lunelli; then he spent time in the wineries of South Africa, California and Europe before returning home to Ferrari in 1995.

Alessandro, kind and inquisitive, began his managerial career with McKinsey. He spent several more years with Unilever working across the globe before returning home to Trento and joining the general management team of Ferrari and the Lunelli Group.

Watching their interactions reminded me of my siblings a bit. I appreciated the Lunelli’s tight-knit bond, daily opportunities to work with each other, and do so successfully and seamlessly, given their four distinct personalities.  But I believe they function effectively as a team because each member has a clearly defined role, respect for each other, and most importantly, strict discipline to not poach on each other’s turf.

Matteo jibing Marcello in the cellar

Matteo enjoys ribbing Marcello in the cellar

Of course, all families have quibbles. They must. To be family is to endure drama. For as much time as we spent with them, the Lunellis had the grace not to air most discrepancies, a not so easy feat, Kardashians! A spark or two did fly though, most notably when Matteo tried to school Marcello on the English language, not always correctly, and in Marcello’s domain. You don’t mess with a winemaker in his cellar.

Perhaps they duped us at Camp, and it was all a grand show. I asked myself: could they be this perfect? Are they really Stepfords disguised as cousins? Then I realized what I really wanted to know: are they looking to adopt?

I happen to adore my family, idiosyncrasies and all, but having met the Lunellis, I fully appreciate that my family should never go into business together–we could not replicate the magic formula that lies in the Lunelli genes.

In the last few years, my sisters and I reinstated an annual family trip we call Father-Daughters. This Christmas we are optimistically off to Tortola for what will probably be a too-long ten days of sibling arguments, dad’s crazy driving and lots of cocktails, over which a family business plan will inevitably be hatched. And the trip will end; we will return with mostly wonderful memories, beautiful photos and bottles of BVI rum. We will also be empty-handed of a business plan, and be all the better for it.

Image by Lauren Mowery

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Under the Umbrian Sun, Part 2: Tenuta Castelbuono Winery

TENUTA CASTELBUONO

This modest little winery outside of Bevagna is…Sorry, that was a different outfit.

Tenuta Castelbuono keeps up the reputation of the region for inducing gawking while driving and near constant car wrecks. I couldn’t believe this piece of sculpture, architecture as well as functioning winery could be so neatly tucked amongst the Umbrian hills; both obvious and hidden at the same time. Having seen the photos before arrival, I knew what to look for, but in person the property was a marvel. Despite the rolling dark clouds and rainy state of the sky, the winery, designed to resemble a turtle shell, shimmered both inside and out.

Angle 1

Angle 2

Tenuta Castelbuono Barrel Room

I have been to many wineries around the world but the “carapace” is perhaps the most stunning and unique. Yet I was concerned that with all the money spent on the winery, the wines might not deserve the shrine. You would be surprised how often this actually happens—how do you forget about the wine, people???

So who built this temple to Sagrantino? The Lunelli family (of Ferrari sparkling wine soon-to-be-fame-in-the-U.S.) acquired the land in 2001. They were looking to expand beyond the Dolomites of their home region, and fell in love with the distinctive character of Umbria and her unique grape. This would be their third winery project, having established a winery in Tuscany a few years prior.

Their arrival in 2001 meant the Lunellis were fairly new to the region, yet Sagrantino di Montefalco was granted DOCG status in 1992, and only a small group of winemakers had been making serious dry wines since the ’70s.  In fact, the region has seen a great deal of growth over the last few years as awareness and popularity of Sagrantino has grown.

Establishing the winery took a number of years, both in the vineyard and in the creation of the physical structure. As far as building an homage to the tortoise, that decision came from the renowned sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro whom the Lunellis engaged to design it.

When asked about his inspiration for the property, Pomodoro explained: “The landscape reminded me of Montefeltro, where I was born, a region painted by Piero della Francesca in his works. Therefore, my work must not disturb the gentle hills and vineyards, but it needed to integrate with them. I had the idea of a shape that resembles a turtle, symbol of stability and longevity. Its shell represents the union between earth and sky.”

The structure ultimately took 6 years to finish, finally opening this summer in 2012—lucky me for being one of the first tasters through the door!

Sagrantino is chock full of tannins and can be a tough grape to spend the day with. It is truly a food wine and a good Umbrian winery should offer something to nibble while tasting. Castelbuono prepares visitors a lovely plate of snacks, paired with a local olive oil made by the family of the tasting room manager Giorgia.

Snacks and wine at the tasting bar

Tenuta Castelbuono currently offers three wines:

Montefalco Rosso 2008: 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, 15% blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Despite being the “easiest” wines of the three, the Rosso was still a big boy, getting a tannic kick from the 15% Sagrantino, with loads of marasca cherries to coat the mouth. Aged 18 months.

Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2008: Same blend as above, but with more Cab than Merlot in that 15%.  This wine is aged for four years like the Sagrantino, and is a new addition to the line-up. Even more intense that the Rosso, this wine has impressive body, slightly smoother tannins and notes of blackberry, black and red cherry, with a nice kick of fall spice.

Montefalco Di Sagrantino 2007: 100% Sagrantino. The Big Dog. The Reason You Came. This huge wine is just getting started and really should be opened a few years down the road. If you must open now, drink with equally weighty food. Proper acidity brings balance. Mouthcoating tannins surround a core of blueberry, blackberry jam and leather.

Guests enjoying the view

My turn to gaze

Seriously Stunning.

All in all, Tenuta Castelbuono proved a successful start to my Umbrian adventure. A highly recommended experience, but if you don’t have plans to hit up Umbria any time soon, you can find their wines at Eataly Vino in New York City.

Next up, Arnaldo Caprai…

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