Sisters to lead wine empire

For the first time since the Antinori family began making wines more than 600 years ago, the world-renowned Italian wine company will continue into the future with an all-women team at its helm.

The 26th generation is made up of three sisters - Albiera, 47; Allegra, 42; and Alessia, 38, daughters of famed winemaker Marchese Piero Antinori, 74. He is widely known as one of the founders of Super Tuscans, a category of thoroughbred Chianti wines that are commonly made with a blend of local grape varietals such as sangiovese and foreign grape varietals such as cabernet.

Eldest daughter Albiera, the company's vice-president, says: "When Dad saw that the third child was also a girl, he must have been a bit disappointed. But he's over it, he couldn't do much about it."

Ms Antinori, who oversees image and strategic marketing, as well as the company's real estate and the building of new wineries, was in town recently to meet its Singapore wine distributor Monopole, as well as to host wine dinners.

Its wines, with prices starting at $46 a bottle, are available from the distributor. Some of its wines are also served in restaurants such as Bistecca Tuscan Steakhouse in Mohamed Sultan Road and Zafferano at Ocean Financial Centre. Antinori's best known wines include reds such as its Tignanello, Solaia, and Marchese Antinori, and whites such as the Cervaro.

The family owns wine estates and wineries in Tuscany, Umbria, and other parts of Italy, as well as in other parts of the world, some of which are joint ventures. The family also produces wines in Napa Valley in the United States, and in countries such as Chile, Hungary, Malta, Romania and Kyrgyzstan.

It rolls out 1.8 million cases of wine a year from its wineries around the world.

Asia makes up only 5 per cent of its wine sales, but Ms Antinori says there is a lot of potential for growth, given Asia's increasing interest in quality wines. Main markets for the company include Italy, the United States, Germany, Russia and other parts of Europe.

While Mr Antinori is still very much involved in the running and overseeing of the company, Ms Antinori and her younger sisters are poised to take over.

The younger sisters, between them, handle the company's restaurants - one of their restaurants, Procacci, has an offshoot here at Customs House - as well as the running of newly acquired vineyards. The sisters bear the weight of carrying on a family tradition that began in 1385, but never once did their father say they had to join the family business.

In fact, the eldest Antinori sister says that their father had said "absolutely nothing" about it.

She says: "I think that, because we are girls, we never had that constant father-son struggle. The father-daughter relationship is a very different dynamic."

She adds: "At the time, my father didn't really think we would all eventually work in the business because generally, in Italy, women did not work in agricultural businesses."

But she says she "sort of" fell into it. With no direction after finishing high school at the age of 18, her father had suggested that, to earn some pocket money, she work during the harvest at one of the family's estates - Castella della Sala.

She worked through her first harvest. Then, she wanted to see how the fruit of her harvest would be fermented in barrels and how wine was made, following which she was keen to find out how the vineyards would be prepped for the next harvest. Soon, she found herself deeply entrenched and enjoying the ins and outs of the business, from production to sales.

She says: "I didn't even realise I had started a job because it was a natural extension of a world I had always lived in."

She did not go to university but through the experience she amassed, she enrolled in a master's programme and has a postgraduate degree in communications and marketing.

Ms Antinori, a divorcee, has two children - a son, 20, who is studying economics at a university in London, and a daughter, 18, who is still in high school.

She hopes her children may one day be interested in entering the Antinori family wine business, but, like her father, she will not force it on them.

She says: "They have to be sure about it - not obligated."

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