Whine of the Times

The trans­fer of an ital­ian wine­mak­ing icon into us own­er­ship has stirred con­tro­versy in italy, but the sale is a symp­tom of the chal­lenges fac­ing the in­dus­try, writes James Suck­ling

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life Wine -

taly has been abuzz with crit­i­cism of the Cur­rado fam­ily’s sale in July of the fa­mous Barolo win­ery Vi­etti, founded in 1873, to US con­ve­nience store mag­nate Kyle Krause for more than 50 mil­lion eu­ros. It was scan­dalous that an Ital­ian fam­ily had given up part of the na­tional pat­ri­mony, crit­ics de­clared. “Af­ter hun­dreds of years in the hands of an Ital­ian fam­ily, the his­tory was for­ever changed in one minute with the sig­na­ture of the deal,” one wrote.

What’s so bad about an Amer­i­can fam­ily buy­ing a top Pied­mont win­ery, es­pe­cially if the Ital­ian fam­ily no longer wants to own it? The Cur­ra­dos are go­ing to stay and man­age Vi­etti, keep­ing its 34 hectares of some of the best vine­yards in Barolo and Bar­baresco in ca­pa­ble hands. The wines would still be the same stel­lar qual­ity, wine­maker Luca Cur­rado as­sured me, and “we should be able to im­prove qual­ity even more with this in­vest­ment.”

I have not met Kyle Krause but I have met two of his sons, Ryan and Tan­ner, and they spoke can­didly about their fa­ther’s en­thu­si­asm for Italy, in par­tic­u­lar Langhe and Barolo. “My fa­ther loves the re­gion and his dream is to one day re­tire there. He’s a huge fan of Barolo,” Tan­ner told me a few months ago in San Fran­cisco. The Iowa-based Krauses own Kum & Go, a 430-strong chain of con­ve­nience stores, as well as banks and other in­ter­ests.

Kyle Krause’s pas­sion for Barolo led him to buy his first Ital­ian win­ery in 2015, En­rico Ser­afino, which had made great wines in the 1950s and ’60s but had be­come a com­mod­ity win­ery best known for sparkling wine. Krause then man­aged to buy about seven hectares of key vine­yards with the help of Vi­etti’s Luca Cur­rado. He planned to re­turn Ser­afino to its glory days with Cur­rado and was clearly on his way.

In­ter­est­ingly, Krause had tried to buy Cantina Gigi Rosso be­fore Ser­afino, but the deal fell through when Gi­a­como Con­terno bought the best Rosso vine­yards dur­ing the ne­go­ti­a­tions. An Ital­ian law gives first right of pur­chase to neigh­bours, and Con­terno owned vine­yards next to Rosso’s best vines.

The Vi­etti pur­chase, com­ing the year af­ter the Ser­afino deal, led Ital­ian me­dia and com­men­ta­tors to rail against the “Amer­i­can­i­sa­tion” of the re­gion. No one men­tioned how labour laws, taxes and in­ter­minable red tape make it dif­fi­cult for in­de­pen­dent pro­duc­ers to op­er­ate in Italy. I think the Cur­ra­dos just got fed up. Ital­ian wine­mak­ers are al­ways com­plain­ing to me about how dif­fi­cult it is to do busi­ness in Italy. Some­times it’s just too much.

I saw the same sit­u­a­tion emerge in France in the 1980s with the elec­tion of so­cial­ist gov­ern­ments and deepen with the ad­vent of the Euro­pean Union in the early 1990s. The busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment and tax struc­ture make it dif­fi­cult for in­de­pen­dent fam­ily op­er­a­tions to sur­vive, and it’s only get­ting worse.

In the mean­time, for­eign­ers con­tinue to buy châteaux, winer­ies and vine­yards. The Chi­nese are the most ac­tive buy­ers in France and it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore they start in­vest­ing in Italy. Vi­etti is the first ma­jor sale in the Pied­mont re­gion, and it cer­tainly won’t be the last. Italy’s best vine­yards are clearly now on the mar­ket.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.