Exclusive: Massimo Ferragamo on Winemaking at Castiglion del Bosco resort
Massimo Ferragamo, the youngest scion of fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo, has turned his passion for wine into a second career – a winemaking hotelier with the Castiglion del Bosco resort in Tuscany.
Castiglion del Bosco has a famous new owner with a recognised surname. As the chairman of Ferragamo, the Florence born, US based Massimo Ferragamo, the youngest scion of fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo, has ventured into the least expected (fashion industry) but most unsurprising (chalk it up it to Italian love for ‘la dolce vita’) second career – in the world of winemaking and hospitality with the winery resort of Castiglion del Bosco.
Situated in Tuscany, the 2,000 hectare estate of Castiglion del Bosco is a Unesco World Heritage site, that means that Ferragamo’s passion might have been driven by love of wine and the fruit of the vines initially, but eventually, the requirements of owning a World Heritage site meant that the son of the fashion house of Ferragamo had to turn hotelier in order to restore the many buildings in the 800-year-old estate in Montalcino, Tuscany.
Exclusive: Massimo Ferragamo on Winemaking at Castiglion del Bosco resort
The US-based Ferragamo travels often to the Tuscany wine resort for months of the year and he spoke exclusively to LUXUO during his recent visit to Singapore about his loves of wine, restoration and the glorious heritage the region.
How does one go from fine leather goods into wine making?
Very easy, it’s all about items which speak about an exclusive experience: tasting and drinking fine wine belongs to that category. There was also an emotional element to my decision, I like to collect fine wines and I was always intrigued behind the history about it. The 800 year old Montalcino in Tuscany was something which combined both.
I live in New York, but during one of my many visits to Tuscany, I came upon an area of the region I didn’t know very well – Montalcino in Val d’Orcia. 90% of the time, the most fabulous wines come from the most beautiful places, case in point the fruits of the vines here produced the famed Brunello di Montalcino wine.
Combining my interest in restoration projects in older wineries, we found Castiglion del Bosco, a 2000 hectares wine estate with 60 hectares of vineyards, making us the 5th producer out of 240 producers. It had a great past but needed to be brought back to the level where it could once again be producing the finest wines in Italy.
This is sort of your second career, what sort of experience do you bring into setting up the estate and turning it into a resort?
I saw an estate in poor condition but had a vision of the potential of what it could become. It had a glorious past, the winery was one of the seven pioneers of the Brunello di Montalcino denomination and had been producing wines since the early 1900s and it just had an unlucky couple of decades which saw it go through different owners. A property like Castiglion del Bosco had to be nurtured and brought back to life.
First, we had inherited Brunello di Montalcino wines left for five years in the cellar. Second, all the other buildings and houses were left to decay because all the farmers had left in the 50s and 60s. Finally, I was driven by the idea of making all these parts work together and for each other.
I have been living for America for the last 20 years and i can tell you that besides daily operations of the House of Ferragamo, our office was like a travel agent, friends calling asking where should i go, what should i do. Plus, I also learnt that the comments of the experience when they returned where always similar: that Tuscany was beautiful but the house wasn’t air-conditioned or lacked certain creature comforts; or that the food was great but there was always a something lacking.
I was probably absorbing this information for many years but didn’t realise, i didn’t like calling it a resort but i wanted a place to have people come and stay and have a thoroughly good experience, i was driven by the fact that i wanted to put people in the front row to experience everything Tuscany has to offer including its authenticity.
How do you describe Castiglion del Bosco?
There are three elements to Castiglion del Bosco – the winery, the heart of the project. Hospitality at great level, not lavish but authentic to Tuscany; Finally, the 18-hole golf course where we used the beautiful fields to great effect – the only private golf course of italy. So people come to the property to stay and enjoy many of the activities we offer and so the property is back to a fine state – if we made only the wine, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to restore the village and the church with frescos from 1350. You have duty to bring it back. 50 years ago, it was farmland and it lived in another era, today, you have to give it purpose to make it live again.
Wine estate and hotel resort isn’t the type of thing that usually goes together, how did you have this idea?
Every idea I had was dictated by what I found. You had all these old buildings in a protected UNESCO heritage area. The buildings were all falling down, and the area was as you found it, trapped in the time of the 15th century, the vineyards and even an abandoned church with frescoes from the 1350s. How does one go about preserving all of this? In a protected heritage area, you cannot build new buildings, you can only restore existing ones. On the wine side it was clear, we needed a new winery facility because the old facilities were no longer conducive to modern wine making which is very precise and required new technologies like climate control. Meanwhile we preserved the good vines ranging from 6 years old to 15 years old and replaced vines where 45 years old that weren’t producing anymore.
I asked myself what we could to do restore them for use because part of the maintenance and injecting life back into them requires that they be used and so the resort came about – the idea of giving the real Tuscany for people to experience.
Was this the kind of dream you always had or was it something you heard your father talk about and then it became yours?
No, i think we have always been lucky because I grew up in the outskirts of Florence so i was always surrounded by greenery. My playgrounds were the woods, my brothers built little carts for racing down slopes in the wilderness, we were always outdoors playing soccer and I never really thought I would develop a passion for wine to the level that i have and again, Tuscany was always in my heart. I thought I was going to have a much smaller estate but when the opportunity arose, it felt almost like a call of duty.
I am a family man and in most of my research, visits to Tuscan vineyards are not very child friendly… what do kids do when the adults are having wine?
Good question. I am a family man myself so i had that in mind. Castiglion del Bosco can be couples oriented or entire families can come. There are morning and afternoon of activities for kids, we have a kids club, kids initiatives and even a farm where they can go pet the animals and that’s the most fascinating because most city kids have seen an animal in their lives!
There are also facilities for swimming, tennis, soccer and naturally wide open fields for running and playing. Past a certain age, they might like to play golf or go biking or hiking. That said, it’s challenging terrain to cycle, you have to get a guide, especially when you go downhill thinking it’s fabulous but then most don’t consider how they’re going to cycle back up, so we have a number where you can call the concierge and they can come get you.
Coming back to the resort in defeat is probably not something i will willingly do… the chinese are drinking more wine, have you discovered that their palettes are different from the eurocentric ones or they just following what is good because the western world believes it is?
I don’t believe I’m an expert and I won’t change my wines accordingly. We do our wines because we believe in them and hopefully people like them. There are a lot of variables, even in New York, different habits. For instance, when I was young, the adults were having gin and tonic and negroni for dinner and that has changed drastically.
Today, not all places in Asia are the same, there’s a certain sophistication in some places more than others, obviously, those just starting will gravitate towards familiar names – sometimes, even “expensive is better” is a concept they will have in their minds – but this isn’t the case of Italian wines because we have a broader range of valuable, great wines for the price.
Personally, I believe it’s a question of food because it’s more difficult in some cases in Asia where food is more spicy or use more herbs and it numbs the palate for tasting the wine but all this is something which will evolve. There’s no black or white. The more they taste it, the more they want to drink wine.
In this part of the world, very rarely do we combine wines with our meals because of the flavour issues you previously mentioned, do you have any ideas of how to combine wines and make it part of our meal routines?
I will make a lot of people unhappy with this statement but I believe that pairing is overrated and should not even enter the equation, because if you have a good wine, you can enjoy it over dinner with friends regardless of what you’re having. It’s really about how you enjoy it, there’s no reason to be obsessed about pairing. I personally go with seasons: when its cold, red. When it’s hot, both.
It really depends if you want to freshen up then a champagne or white will suffice or having a cigar with friends, a red comes into play. The myth of pairing is something which should relax a little, having said this, i have total respect for the great chefs and sommeliers who take the effort to put together elements which complement each other.
Finally, do you have any plans to incorporate a leather artisan’s workshop in some corner of the estate?
No, one shouldn’t add complication to a pure experience- wine is very different from what we offer at Ferragamo and if they want to experience shopping, we also organise shopping trips in Florence. What we do have, is a small shop in the estate curated by my wife where she finds unbranded things from the independent artisans around Tuscany, we will definitely not try not to mix and spoil the authentic Tuscan experience.
In the span of 13 years, Massimo Ferragamo’s Castiglion del Bosco has become the top five out of 240 estates that produce Brunello di Montalcino, a red Italian wine that contains only Sangiovese grapes. From the vineyard to the wine cellar, the estate produces 20,000 cases of wine a year. The quality of production is of detail and care that many of the wines have been ranked 90 points or above in the Robert Parker Wine Advocate ratings where 90 – 95 indicate ‘outstanding’ and anything above that is ‘extraordinary’.
Ferragamo’s Castiglion del Bosco created the limited-edition Zodiac line for the China market, dedicating its best single vineyard exclusively to production of the Zodiac range of Brunello di Montalcino Riserva ‘Zodiac’ wines. Luxuo sampled the new Zodiac dog during the interview with Massimo Ferragamo. The Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2010 Zodiac Rooster from 2016 received 99 points from famed wine critic James Suckling.