Massimo Ferragamo’s fine wine tribute to the Year of the RoosterBy Jill Triptree on January 24, 2017
Luxury brand executives generally don’t discuss the ageing of their products – or customers – yet it is a subject of fascination for Massimo Ferragamo. To be fair, the issue is more relevant when the chairman of Ferragamo USA dons his wine owner’s hat. Ferragamo bought the Castiglion del Bosco estate in his native Tuscany in 2003, and it’s now the world’s fifth-largest producer of Brunello di Montalcino wines.
“Whether your luxury product is fashion or wine, the concepts are the same,” says the scion of the Italian shoemaking and fashion family, who cuts a relaxed yet polished figure as he talks about his passions. “Luxury is something that gives you pleasure and enjoyment – it can be a car, a bottle of wine, a pair of shoes.
“Of course, the lead time is very different in the two businesses – at Ferragamo we don’t have to wait 20 years to enjoy a product. Ageing is essential in wine but visible ageing is not so desirable in luxury goods,” chuckles the spry 59-year-old. “Naturally, a quality product should last, but we don’t want to see it ageing in our stores.”
Ferragamo, who has a third feather in his cap, that of hotelier – the luxury resort he opened on his scenic, 2,000-hectare Tuscan estate in the Val d’Orcia is now managed by Rosewood Hotel Group – recently hosted a charity gala evening in Hong Kong for the launch of the Castiglion del Bosco Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2010 Zodiac Rooster. To qualify as a Brunello riserva, the wine must be aged for 24 months in oak; the estate goes even further with the Zodiac, maturing the wine for 36 months. Futhermore, a riserva can only be sold six years after the grapes were picked, making the 2010 the latest release. Ferragamo advises to wait at least another five years before drinking it, after which, he promises, “it will be fabulous for the next 20 to 30 years”.
Now in its fourth iteration, the Zodiac is a collector’s item, released to celebrate the Chinese calendar. Boosting the renown of Castiglion del Bosco in the important China market is an intentional by-product. The stylistic cockerel on the label – the Year of the Rooster begins on January 28, 2017 – was painted by Beijing artist Shao Fan, and 10 per cent of proceeds from the sale of the wine go to charity. The 2017 recipient is the Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation; Ferragamo is on the board of the American-Italian Cancer Foundation.
The youngest son of Salvatore and Wanda Ferragamo, Massimo left Italy for the United States in 1985. “My parents always used to say: always strive for the best in life, and I believe this is true whether in fashion or in wine,” he says. “We have two acres dedicated to Zodiac, our best wine. We dress it with a lovely label; we have a lovely bottle. Half the bottles are sold before release. There are only ever a few bottles left [after the launch].” Six signed bottles were auctioned at the Hong Kong fundraiser, including one of eight produced in a five-litre format.
“I never thought my passion [for wine] would grow so much,” admits Ferragamo. “Once I bought the estate I became fascinated with the details of the winery, how to tend the land, the way the grapes are handled, the bottling. I had great curiosity to count all the steps.”
Although he had originally been looking to buy a smaller estate, when he saw Castiglion del Bosco he knew it was the one for him. Bosco means wood, and as a young boy Massimo would spend hours in the hills and woods surrounding the Ferragamo home near Florence, immersed in nature. “I crave the countryside and every Friday when I’m in New York I go to the country. There’s a great balance to life when you can get away at weekends.”
The Castiglion del Bosco estate dates back more than 800 years. Sixty-two hectares were carved out from the estate’s vast woodland to grow grapes, and in 1967 it was one of the founding members of the Consorzio del Brunello di Montalcino, the body that regulates and promotes the area’s splendid wines.
“If I hadn’t bought Castiglion del Bosco, I would have wanted to buy something with great potential – I like the challenge,” he says. “I wouldn’t spend an outrageous amount of money for an established brand. The challenge is to change something around, though of course the potential has to be there. It has to be something that is possible.”
He cites, as an example, the vision of his wife’s cousin, Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, the grandson of the creator of Sassicaia, who bought land in Argentinian Patagonia to make Pinot Noir. It looked, in photographs, like a wheat field, but hidden in the undergrowth were ancient vines. The estate, Bodega Chacra, is well respected today. “His wine is totally biodynamic and organic, produced in small quantities; the bottles have hand-written labels,” applauds Ferragamo, adding, “These are the challenges I like and admire.”
Although Castiglion del Bosco is no novice wine producer, it took some time to build it to the present levels. “Maybe now we have the best expressions of Castiglion del Bosco,” affirms Ferragamo, who has worked closely with winemaker Cecilia Leoneschi, one of the teams he assembled in 2003.
“To make good wine you need great technical people. Yet though he may not be the winemaker an owner definitely has to influence the taste of his wine. [To be an owner] you need a palate, to understand what you are drinking. The owner gives the direction. I hate heavy wine. Of course, Brunello is not at all a light wine, but we are on the lighter side of Brunello and this comes from me.”
Ferragamo was introduced to fine wine by his brother-in-law, Marchese Giuseppe di San Giuliano, husband of the late Fiamma Ferragamo, who gifted him a couple of “special” Bordeaux wines. “I called to say how much I’d enjoyed them and he was shocked I’d drunk them already, as I was supposed to lay them down and drink them in 10 years. I replied that I could never have waited 10 years.” Today he can select bottles of the perfect age for drinking from cellars at his homes in New York and Tuscany. Twenty to 30 per cent of his collection is comprised of his own labels. “I cannot produce wines that I don’t like,” he says.
Pici al ragu di cinghiale (pici with wild-boar sauce)
“One of my favourite pasta dishes marries beautifully with a Brunello; with our Zodiac or Millecento [another riserva] it’s like heaven.”
Bistecca alla Fiorentina (steak Florentine)
“I’m not a big meat eater but this goes so well with our [Brunello di Montalcino] Campo del Drago 1999, or the 2004, which is also a great vintage.”
Apart from the Sangiovese-only Brunellos made at Castiglion del Bosco, Ferragamo is partial to Prima Pietra, a Bordeaux-inspired red blend produced at another estate he bought, Riparbella, on the Tuscan coast. Fellow Tuscan wines that have forged their own path with non-Italian varieties, Sassicaia and Siepi, are among the Tuscan selection lying in his cellar; he also has a penchant for fine Bordeaux, including Château Margaux and St-Émilion’s Château Angélus.
Ferragamo likes nothing better than enjoying wine over the course of an evening with good friends. “One of my biggest luxuries in life is to get together with four old friends.
We spend the whole evening together, from 5pm to 11pm, laughing and talking. One friend brings the finest truffles; I bring the wine.
“So luxury may be not so much about the product, but the people who you share it with,” he concludes. “It all comes down to making you happy.”
And if no friends are to hand? “I often drink with my dog – she doesn’t drink so I have to finish the bottle.”