New York Times News Service
PALAZZONE, Italy – The Bulgari name has long been associated with luxury jewellery worn by some of the most famous celebrities in the world, like Elizabeth Taylor and Julianne Moore.
But will it mean anything in the world of fine wine?
The Bulgari family does not know, but it will soon begin to find out. A new wine venture by two members of the Bulgari watch and jewellery dynasty, Paolo and Giovanni Bulgari, was preparing in March to release its first three wines at Vinitaly, the international wine trade fair in Verona, Italy.
The wines, made at the family’s PoderNuovo estate here in southern Tuscany, are the first fruits of the enterprise established by the former chairman of the Bulgari Group, Paolo Bulgari, and his son since the family sold control of the jewelry company through a share swap with the French luxury company LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton in March 2011.
It is difficult to make a splash in the world of fine wine. It is very competitive and has plenty of venerable boutique brands like Tignanello, produced by Antinori, or Tenuta San Guido’s Sassicaia wines. But that has not stopped many celebrities, like the golfer Greg Norman and the actress Drew Barrymore, from entering the business.
The Bulgaris are playing down the family pedigree on the bottle, in part because of rules set by their former company that restrict how the Bulgari name can be used in other businesses. The PoderNuovo label is a simple design of blood-red stylized vineyards on a white background, with Paolo and Giovanni’s names in discreet light gray characters below. Of the three wines, only Sotirio, named after the Greek-born founder of the Bulgari dynasty, is a direct nod to the family’s illustrious past.
“Our first battle is not to be known as the Bulgari wine,” Giovanni Bulgari, 36, chief executive of PoderNuovo, said during an interview in the cosy dining area of the farmhouse that is now his part-time home. He said he and his father were worried that the wine would be seen as a rich man’s lark or an agricultural offshoot of Bulgari’s better known jewels, watches, perfumes or other accessories.
“The real challenge is to show that we can produce good wine very well,” he said.
That is not to say that handling jewels for years has not affected how Bulgari approaches wine-making. “My father taught me how to handle stones, to hold them in my hands without looking at them to get a sense of their temperature, and then to observe how light plays off them,” he said. Wine also called for an intuitive perspective: “how it reacts to light, how the colour moves in a glass.”
So far, luck and nature have been on their side, Bulgari said.
The 17 hectares of vineyards at PoderNuovo were planted in 2007. Their terrain is rich with clay, sand and chalk in differing proportions, a good match for different varieties of grapes. The Bulgaris also turned to one of Italy’s best-known oenologists, Riccardo Cotarella, to put his stamp on the three vintage 2009 wines going on the market: a Tuscan red blend, a cabernet franc and a sangiovese, the indigenous grape of central Italy.
Initial production is set for 60,000 bottles, with a goal of doubling that when the vineyard is fully operational. The wines will sell wholesale for 12, 16 or 20 euros (roughly US$16, US$21 or US$24), depending on the wine. Importers and distributors will set the retail price.
The family is under no illusion that past successes in one field will guarantee success in another.
“It’s a very crowded marketplace, and it’s a difficult moment to sell anything from wine to cars. The competition is so tough,” acknowledged Paolo Bulgari, who nevertheless described himself as optimistic.
“Overall, the international market has room for growth for those who offer good products, with good value for the money,” said Andrea Rea, who oversees the Wine Marketing Observatory at Bocconi University in Milan. He added, however, that the wine market was undergoing a “bottleneck effect at the distribution level” that made it more difficult for wines to be exported, especially from a crowded market like Italy.
Startup companies face the greatest difficulty, and those aiming to grab a share of the high-end market may find the economic barriers especially high, Rea said.
“There’s no easy way anymore,” said John Gillespie, a partner in Wine Colleagues, a wine business consultancy based in St. Helena, California, who said the wine market was glutted with celebrity offerings.