Marchese Piero Antinori

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 June, 2010, 12:00am

What can we learn from the troubles of America's Mondavi winemaking family? 'Robert Mondavi was full of ideas - he was pioneering in his approach. He had a great winery but the biggest mistake for a winegrower is to be quoted on the stock exchange, because you are almost condemned to compromise in order to show results. The last thing we should do is compromise. If you're obliged to show quarterly results to shareholders, you can't skip a vintage if the grapes aren't good enough. It's a sad story and, at one point, they were obliged to hire psychologists. We prefer to hire oenologists or spend the money on equipment.'

Have you tasted many mainland wines? 'My last visit was 10 years ago, when [production] was just beginning. I went to the Huadong Winery, in Qingdao [Shandong province]. I was impressed, it's a serious operation. The whites were refreshing and clean tasting. I [would like to try] more on this visit. China is huge, I'm sure there are small regions that can produce fine wines eventually.'

How did the 'super Tuscan' craze come about? 'I was among the first in Italy to start using cabernet sauvignon in our Tignanello. It was innovative back then. The wine was developed at the end of the 1960s. A big problem with wine producers in Italy - especially Tuscany - was that the quality was going down. I took over responsibility at Antinori in 1966 and it wasn't easy. I travelled to successful winemaking regions such as the Napa Valley, in the United States, and Bordeaux, in France. A professor of oenology in Bordeaux, Emile Peynaud, helped us develop a new system of fermentation and ageing. He suggested we use different grape varieties and, as a result, we developed a wine that was different to the wines of Chianti [in Tuscany]. We realised if we used different methodologies, we could make better wines. Tignanello was the prototype of super Tuscans. That's what wine lovers call the wines - 'super Tuscan' is not an official appellation.'

As part of the 25th generation of the Antinori family, was there any doubt you'd become a winemaker? 'I've had the opportunity to choose other things but it was natural I went into the wine business. It's a wonderful business to be in anyway - you get to see nice places, meet interesting people and taste a wonderful product. My three daughters will go into the business - they want to be in it. When they were young, it wasn't as common for women to be in the winemaking business; they were interested and determined - which is good for the continuity of the Antinori business.'