Wine Spectator tells the Allegrini story

04 April 2017

Wine Spectator tells the Allegrini story

In the 30 April 2017 issue of Wine Spectator magazine, writer Robert Camuto recounts how Marilisa and her brother Franco have "built the family company into one of Italy's top wine brands".

Please note that the text below is an excerpt from the original...

“We were desperate, because we were young and we didn’t have the business in our grasp. I remember [my brother] Walter said, ‘We have to fight like lions for the company to survive.’ ”—Marilisa Allegrini, CEO, Allegrini Estates

In 1983, the future of the Allegrini family wine company looked
dim. The untimely death of patriarch and winemaker Giovanni Allegrini at 63 left his children [Marilisa, Franco and Walter] searching for direction.

Allegrini was then a modest producer of fewer than 8,500 cases per year...Although Giovanni had carefully scouted terroirs and planted new vineyards with an eye to quality, the consumer image of Valpolicella was mediocre.

The siblings, the sixth generation of winemaking Allegrinis, worked with fierce determination to achieve one of the most dramatic success stories in Italian wine. In spite of setbacks, including the sudden death of Walter in 2003, Allegrini has steadily developed into a top Italian brand that now counts three quality driven estates—one in Veneto and two in Tuscany.

The Allegrinis have helped lead the movement to higher quality in the Veneto, producing Valpolicella and Amarone and other estate wines from local varieties, primarily the red grapes Corvina and Corvinone.

The company’s modern legacy is based on a simple formula of great grapes, smart business and tireless promotion, embodied by two seemingly opposite personalities: Marilisa, the globetrotting CEO, and Franco, the winegrower and producer.

“One of the intuitions I had was that it was my task to communicate to the world what Allegrini was doing to build the company and our future,” Marilisa says.

Franco is focused on meticulous row-by-row organic management of the vineyards, where he pays particular attention to vine leaves as indicators of nutritional balance and plant health... In the cellar, Franco is a classicist, aiming for elegance and shying away from trends toward more muscular, wood-influenced wines. Yet he is also an innovator who brought technology to the area to help winegrowers control conditions for Amarone production and limit the wines’ contamination from problematic molds.

Addressing the defects of Valpolicella and Amarone became Allegrini’s mission. Production was slashed and vineyards replanted with higher-density Guyot pruning in place of the old pergola system. The family phased out Molinara, a thin, acidic blending grape. The Valpolicellas—tasting of cherry and spice—became rounder, easier-drinking wines.

The oxidative character Marilisa and others detected in many Amarones sent Franco on a quest. He identified the key culprit as botrytis...“The more oxidation you have the more you lose your terroir...”

Franco and Walter began their battle against botrytis with a nearly grape-by-grape selection at harvest... The brothers switched to easy-to-clean plastic drying crates. Then, working with Verona enologist Robert Ferrarini, Franco led the effort to build Terre di Fumane, a modern drying facility and research center... “All the work we do in the vineyard, we want to preserve here,” Franco says.

In 1979, Giovanni had purchased about 93 acres of vineyards planted on the La Grola hillside at the western edge of Valpolicella Classico, near Lake Garda. Its heart was a 6-acre white limestone plateau known as La Poja, where he’d planted a high-density vineyard with his favorite clone of Corvina.

In 1983, La Poja was ready for its first harvest, but the grapes didn’t fully ripen until November... But after Franco vinified the crop at the family winery, built onto an ancestral farmhouse, he was struck by the complexity of flavors and depth of the resulting wine. “We understood immediately it was another level,” Franco says. La Poja became Allegrini’s top single-vineyard cru.

“Stylistically, our wines are the result of our discussing a lot,” Marilisa says. “I was out in the market, and Franco was able to change without losing the integrity and character of our varieties. We learned that you can make something that pleases you and pleases the customer.”