Even though he lives in the concrete jungle of New York, Massimo Ferragamo – youngest son of Salvatore and Wanda, the power couple who built the legendary Ferragamo fashion house – keeps himself abreast of grapes growing continent away in Italy.
That’s because he wears two hats. The better known one is chairman of Ferragamo USA, the regional branch of his family’s luxury goods empire. The other is owner of the Tuscan estate Castiglion del Bosco.
Purchased in 2003, the 1,700-hectare estate is the fifth largest wine producer in the heart of Val d’Orcia – a locality known for its indigenous sangiovese grapes that gave rise to the famous red brunello di Montalcino.
Ferragamo does not farm the vines and make wine himself. He has hired a team of agronomists and winemakers to do that.
Yet, the fashion mogul is very much involved in the whole production process.
“Winemaking is a team effort, but in the end, it reflects the character and the desire of the owner in a way,” he said. “Like in every denomination, there are a variety of brunello wines. Personally, I don’t like heavy wines. I like wine that you can enjoy by itself.”
The private winery produces around 300,000 bottles per year. Around 20 to 35 percent of the production is reserved yearly for the Greater China region. China is the second largest market importing Castiglion del Bosco wines, Ferragamo said.
While everyday wine drinkers can also find Ferragamo’s wines in shops and restaurants, the top-quality ones, such as the Zodiac collection that can fetch at least US$1,000 (HK$7,800) per bottle, are brought to Hong Kong and auctioned off at charity dinners.
This month, Ferragamo was here to take charge of the second such auction held since 2013, bringing along 688 bottles of the 2010 Zodiac vintage, dedicated to the Year of the Rooster. The one-night-only event raised about HK$3.9 million for the Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation.
“[Hong Kong] is a very important place for wine. It’s also the place we chose to do this special gala event. This year, we invited 310 guests. All the tables were sold out,” he said the day before the charity dinner.
“The wine is the best vintage of the last 20 years in Montalcino. It’s from the 2010 reserve, which is more sophisticated than that we brought to Hong Kong last time. It has been aged for a year longer so the wine is definitely fantastic.”
Ferragamo speaks of his wines with such enthusiasm that you wouldn’t believe he did not intend to buy the estate in the first place.
Granted, he had been searching for the perfect winery for three years. But the more than 800-year-old estate was too big, and had not been managed properly. Its stone buildings were in a sorry state. Only half of its wineries were in production.
“A friend of mine convinced me to take a look anyway. When I saw the vineyard, I saw beauty. It’s unbelievable not only from a beauty point of view, but also from a production point of view. My life changed completely that day when I saw the vineyard.”
He spent the next five years replanting the vines and building more facilities. He also turned the estate into a luxury resort by restoring the rundown buildings into a 23-suite hotel and 10 vacation villas, and adding a spa, two restaurants, a culinary academy, and the only private golf course in Italy.
“It was a big effort, much more than I intended to do. But I am so happy that I did it,” he said. “Real estate is second nature to my family. We love real estate not in the sense of owning it but, take stores as an example, that it is conducive to the business.”
The family owns the Hotel Lungarno in their hometown Florence, and Massimo’s elder brother Leonardo is its chairman. Ferruccio, the eldest of the six siblings and chairman of the Ferragamo fashion house, operates with his son Salvatore the Il Boro winery and boutique hotel in Tuscany.
Ferragamo’s family are frequent guests at his own luxury resort. Everyone is welcome for a short stay. But to claim the full bragging rights, you will need to fork out 60,000 euros (HK$491,828) upon joining, plus 5,000 euros per year as membership fees.
“Hospitality and fashion are a very similar business in a way because they are about service,” said Ferragamo, adding that the resort has all the elements of la dolce vita.
“Nothing in the countryside has changed since the 15th century. The villas are still the same because we can only restore them, not build new ones. So they are in the same shapes and materials as they were,” he said.
“We Italians have a good way to relax. We start with really good food and wine. It’s nice to stay at the table with family or friends. It’s a very nice way of being together.”
The article first appeared in the Standard on November 25, 2016.