Exclusivity and prestige play well in the China wine industry, traits that fashion-scion winemaker Massimo Ferragamo has exploited to the full, with production of a strictly-limited, China-targeted wine that is made from grapes grown on a tiny parcel of his Tuscan vineyard.
Ferragamo’s vineyard Castiglion del Bosco, located near the town of Montalcino, set aside an area for cultivation of grapes that are used exclusively for production of its Zodiac wines, which are retailing for US$1,000 a bottle in China.
On a recent trip to Hong Kong and China, the winery sold 600 of the 888 magnum bottles produced, including one Beijing buyer who stumped up US$2,000 in hard cash at a wine-promotion dinner. The bottles feature artwork by renowned Chinese artist Tian Shuhan – featuring a majestic horse, to mark the Year of the Horse – with a Castiglion del Bosco estate background.
Ferragamo, who runs the fashion brand’s American division, left China delighted with the reaction, convinced that there is a promising future for Castiglion del Bosco wines in particular, and Italian wines in general.
He says: ‘We are on the right track and very right in trying to approach and penetrate the Greater China market; it is a very segmented market and you cannot find one solution for China and for Hong Kong. We have to be very careful, China is a big territory with a lot of provinces and things you have to be more aware of.’
The Zodiac wines proved to be a particularly attention-grabbing feature of Ferragamo’s recent visit, which saw him accompanied by the estate manager, Simon Pallesi.
A charity dinner in Hong Kong, which raised HK$3.4 million for a breast cancer charity, saw many of the city’s affluent wine-aficionados in attendance.
As well as pushing the wine, Ferragamo was also keen to lure high-wealth tourists to the estate, which is located in rugged mountain country. It has a collection of luxury villas that rent for up to €35,000 a week during peak season, a hotel, restaurant and adjoining golf course, which is one of the best in Italy.
Ferragamo bought the property and land a decade ago and embarked on a multi-million dollar restoration project. It involved building a new production facility, reappraisal of production and growing methods and a determination to make wines that would be among the best in the region.
Says Ferragamo: ‘It was one of the seven founders of the Brunello denomination, it just had to be brought back to life. On this trip to China, people asked me if I am doing it as a hobby or if I am doing it for fun. For me it is really, really serious.
‘We are there because of the wine. I was inspired by my father, Salvatore Ferragamo’s example – no matter what you do, you have to try and make it better than everyone else, otherwise, why get involved.
‘Great wine starts with great ingredients and I think Castiglion del Bosco has all that. The first thing we did was not restoring the houses but planting the vineyards and a new winery. The winery now does good volume and makes good profits.
‘I think China will be a great market for Italian wines, I am convinced of this, right now it is rather small, it is about 7 per cent. The wines of Italy are fantastic and maybe the best value for money and as wine consumption broadens, more consumers will come to understand that not everyone wants to pay US$3,000 for a bottle of wine.’
Having said that, Ferragamo did brisk China business with his US$1,000 wines during the Hong Kong and China trip – and also drummed up interest for the property as a vacation destination. Castiglion del Bosco already has a number of wine-club members from the region who store their purchases in purpose-built lockers in a temperature-controlled room.
The winery currently produces around 200,000 bottles, with the capacity to expand to 300,000. It has some 60 hectares of vineyard, all planted with Sangiovese vines. When he took over the estate, Ferragamo built a state-of-art production facility where the maturing wines are stored in 750 French barriques.
The primary Castiglion del Bosco line of wines represents the region’s two classic denominations, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, produced in a standard version as well as the prestigious Campo Del Drago cru and Rosso di Montalcino DOC. There is also the Brunello Reserva Millecento, made only in certain vintages.
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