tea, chocolate or wine? Italy’s illycaffe has branched out from coffee
beans, tea leaves and cocoa to produce some of the country’s most iconic wines.
Riccardo Illy, 55-year-old chairman
of Gruppo illy S.p.A., is a former ski instructor, politician and author. Two
years ago, just as the economic turmoil began, he decided to become a vintner.
“Looking back and knowing what
we know now, maybe it wasn’t the best time, but I don’t regret it,” Illy
said, pouring a glass of Rosso di Montalcino from the Mastrojanni estate that
they bought in 2008.
“We had been discussing buying
the estate for several years,” he explained.
Coming from a family of wine lovers
and married to a sommelier, Illy thought it only natural when his brother Francesco,
long a fan of Mastrojanni’s wines, wanted to buy their 36-acre of vineyards
dedicated to growing Brunello-worthy Sangiovese grapes.
“Why Brunello? First of all
because it is one of two or perhaps three iconic wines in Italy. It is sold
globally and it can last for 10-20 years,” he said. “Winemaking is a
long-term commitment. It is an investment not for a quarter, or year or five.
It is for generations.”
Each generation of Illy has
introduced a beverage to the company. Riccardo’s grandfather, a Hungarian who
settled in Italy after World War One, produced coffee and chocolate. His
father, Ernesto, introduced tea and now the brothers are focusing on wine.
“If we succeed in developing
our wine business, the next generation will be able to put a concentration on
wine as well. It is a long-term investment for the family compared to coffee,
chocolate or tea. It is much more capital intensive.”
And Illy is determined to maintain
production of their Brunellos at no more than 80,000 bottles annually.
“Quality over quantity is the
way we do everything, whether it is wine or coffee,” he explained