The SOMM Journal

June / July 2015

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Page 59 of 100

{ }  59 was not a focus in this phase of expansion, as Piccini wanted to "come home" as an internationally established brand. This vision has now paid off, as Piccini is one of the most-distributed Italian family of wines worldwide; the strategy also positively impacted the reorientation to export once the recession hit. During the recession, the Piccini strategy was to invest resources in two key areas. First, its production system needed to become more efficient and more flexible in supplying existing and future demands. Second was the development of a system of partners in the markets to be ready to respond when consumer demand returned to normal. "We had started as, and had been known as, a Tuscan wine company," Mario says, "but now we want to be known as an Italian wine company." Already in the top ten among the many family-run wine companies in Italy, Piccini has certainly made steady progress toward that goal with its five estate-based brands of wine. "I believe in wines and grapes that represent a region," Mario says of the Basilicata property. "We have done that for more than 100 years with Sangiovese as the primary grape in Tuscany. Here in Basilicata, we have the Aglianico grape that is so representative of this place," The first vintage harvested was 2013, and two wines are being made from grapes grown there. "We wanted to have a contemporary Aglianico," Mario contin- ues, "that is made to take out the bitterness of the grape, but to leave in the aromas." This means less skin contact, fermentation at higher temperatures and maturation in both large and small barrel formats. "We have had great success with this method," he says. In addition to expansions of existing estates and the establish- ment of new ones, brand growth and new brand introduction has been important to Piccini's drive to increase sales and market share. A prime example is the Memoro line of wines, which was introduced in 2011. Memoro represented a daring departure for Italian wine culture, as its wines are made by blending different grapes from different areas of Italy. While many, if not most, Italian wines are blends, the grapes have generally come from the same appellation or at the least the same region. "Nobody does it in Italy," Mario says. "We were the first ones to propose such a blend and such a concept for Italian wine, and it had an immediate impact." The same year that Memoro was intro- duced was also the year Piccini prepared to celebrate its 130th anniversary, while Italy was celebrating 150 years as a country. The name Memoro was hence an invitation to remember these two events—one as a company and another as a nation—and to enjoy a truly all-Italian wine, not just a regional one. A Home in Chianti Piccini's home base of Tuscany has not been ignored during this period of growth, especially in Chianti where market develop- ment has taken place at both the introductory level and the connoisseur level. Just as the French have a Grand Cru Classé denomination, Chianti Classico in 2014 officially introduced a new classification even higher than Chianti Classico Riserva called Gran Selezione. Gran Selezione is made exclusively from a win- ery's own grapes grown in its finest vineyards according to strict regulations, making it a truly super-premium wine. Gran Selezione can be marketed only after a minimum of 30 months' maturation and an obligatory period of bottle refinement. The first vintage of Piccini Chianti Classico Gran Selezione from its Valiano estate will be the celebrated 2010 vintage. Piccini has also been active at the more-basic introductory level of Chianti, becoming one of the first producers to release a screwcap format for the wine as a modern Chianti that will further enhance the company's core business. Finally in the Tuscan region, the Villa al Cortile Brunello has had some stellar vintages released in recent years, including 2006, 2007 and 2010. The spate of activity is not just part of a business philosophy, but also part of a personal philosophy. "Some people say to act as though it's the last day or your life," Mario says. "I think of every day as being the first day of my life! I have the same patience. I have the same enthusiasm." Although he has limited personal time outside the company, Mario says that he loves to cook seriously, not surprisingly a com- mon passion among many people who produce wine. He also has a passion for following professional football, being a fan of the Florence team. And he likes to hunt—and what goes better with a great Chianti than wild boar? Then, of course, there are his children, who potentially repre- sent the fifth generation that will work in the Piccini family's wine business. At present, all three children plan careers to do just that. The oldest is Ginevra, who is 22 and currently completing her studies at the University of Siena in Agriculture Engineering with a focus on resource management. Benedetta, 19, is enrolled at the University of Westminster in London and is studying inter- national marketing. She plans to continue her graduate studies in the same area. The youngest, Michelangelo, is 17 and is complet- ing studies at the Agricultural Institute in Siena. He is planning to become an enologist. Not that Mario is going to give up his desk—and chair—to any of them anytime soon. "Each morning," he says, I look into the mirror and tell myself, 'The show must go on!'" The next generation: 17-year-old Michelangelo Piccini, shown here in the vineyards with his father, is planning to become an enologist.

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