The Antinori family has been making wine since England’s Richard II was on the throne, the Catholic Church had three popes and the ink had barely dried on Dante’s Divine Comedy. It would be more than 100 years before Columbus would discover the Americas.
Next month, the Tuscan family empire’s 26th generation will make history. For the first time, since Giovanni di Piero Antinori joined the Guild of Winemakers in 1385, a woman will be at the helm as Albiera Antinori officially becomes chief executive officer.
“We are a generation of three sisters, so it’s been a generation of women for a few years,” she says, a smile in her voice. “A woman can bring a sensibility on some subjects that is more typical of women’s nature. Attention also to people or to environmental issues or to approaches that are not softer, but perhaps more consistent in time.
“Women do have this tendency of seeing things perhaps moving along with results over a longer period of time,” she says on the attributes women bring to projects. “But in our case, patience is in our DNA. The wine world is a business where the results you expect to see are not in a few years, but in a generation.”
She does not anticipate gender push-back from her Italian competitors. It is, after all, a male-dominated business in Italy. “Things have changed a lot…Now, there are many women who have demonstrated to be doing well in the wine world,” she says.
Growing Up Antinori
When 50-year-old Albiera, who has been leading the business unofficially since December, formally assumes the mantel, she will do so not only with the years of experience she has gained from growing up an Antinori and being schooled in both wine and business, but also with the knowledge that her father, Marquis Piero Antinori, has her back.
“Let’s say in our family, in this kind of business, there is a shared role between generations,” Albiera explains. “It’s not that one feels the other steps down and things change. In our case, we would like to have three generations working beside one another, passing along the values and making sure that the company is heading in the right strategic direction–consistent, but slow and solid growth.”
She said when her family makes a strategic decision, it is made “for at least the next 10 to 15 years….It is important that these decisions are made with the eyes of a generation before and maybe perhaps with the eyes of a future generation also.”
Albiera’s first mentor was her grandfather, Niccoló. When she was a young girl, Albiera says he would bring her into his office and go over the winery’s accounting with her, perhaps preparing for the future.
The Antinori empire has spread from estates across Italy, to holdings and partnerships in California, Washington state, Chile, Hungary, Malta and Romania. Consequently, Albiera is not planning additional acquisitions or joint ventures—at the moment. “We have a lot on our plate, both in terms of quality and in terms of vision.”
However, she has found joint ventures to “always be interesting, not only in terms of… financials, but because it gives you an opportunity to explore and to understand and to meet people and markets. Some of these have had difficulties, but they have always brought, let us say, something positive to our winery.”
Respect For The Generations, As Well As The Land
According to the Boston-based Family Firm Institute, about 30 percent of family businesses survive into the second generation, just 12 percent remain viable into the third generation, and only about 3 percent of all family businesses operate into the fourth generation or beyond.
The 27th generation of Antinoris are already at work. Asked for the secret to their success, Albiera replied: “I don’t think there is one secret. Not in a business like ours.
“First there is the land. There is a respect for the land. Another is there is across generations a transmission of values rather than of technicalities about the company. Values like for the people you work with. And the division of family issues and company….There has to be respect for the generation after as well as respect for the ones before.”