Richard Parsons, former Citigroup chairman, eyes profit with wine hobby

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 2:58am

Former Citigroup chairman Richard Parsons, whose career in banking and media saw him at the helm of the industries' biggest companies, is betting that he can make money in retirement in the wine-rich Tuscan hills.

Twelve years after buying Il Palazzone, a Montalcino vineyard perched on the ancient trail to Rome, Parsons is getting serious about winemaking.

He has built a new cellar he inaugurated with this year's harvest and plans to double production of his finest wine, Brunello, turning Il Palazzone into a profitable activity within five years.

"This is not an undertaking for the faint of heart," Parsons said at Il Palazzone. "We're still in the investing phase. I think I can see the day when we start actually making money with this thing."

Wine is an acquired taste for Parsons, and he bought a Montalcino vineyard more by accident than by design.

Parsons declines to say how much money he has invested in Il Palazzone as he sips a glass of his award-winning 2004 Brunello Riserva. "I was really introduced to finer wine by a client of mine, Nelson Rockefeller, 30 years ago when I used to practise law."

Parsons believes Italian reds still have a way to go in gaining recognition in Asia, where sales trail the United States and Europe.

"China is everybody's focus if you're selling to retail but that is going to be a long march, I believe," he said.

"We do sell in Hong Kong, and Tokyo, in the high-end restaurants. I think it's going to be a while before we - by 'we', I mean everybody outside the French and a few Napa brands - really penetrate the Chinese market."