The day we’re invited to Biondi Santi we also manage to organise a visit to Mastrojanni in the afternoon. The two estates are not far from one another, in fact they share the same south-east slope and can be accessed via the same road from Montalcino to Castelnuovo dell’Abate.
This double visit inevitably leads to comparisons. When you go around visiting wineries you understand that every farm has its own individual personality, and even if they are part of the same local community, they are aware of having some things in common, as well as many things NOT in common. They can relate to each other and may have a sense of solidarity, but in other ways, as they know, they are also distant and unrelated.
Thus for Biondi Santi and Mastrojanni – though we might take any pair of wineries at random – there is a significant difference between what they do and do not have in common.
Biondi Santi, obviously, makes a big deal of being the creator of Brunello, the place where it all began, the area’s historic benchmark.
Mastrojanni, on the other hand, cannot boast such a long history. However, it can offer a very modern cellar with massive truncated cone vats, spacious walkways with stainless steel handrails, and a spectacular terrace overlooking Mt. Amiata.
Two extraordinary but different experiences. And it is these very contrasting aspects that make the visits interesting.
There is a difference between their two assets, namely the historical background of one and the extremely modern facilities of the other: a historical past cannot simply be bought (unless you buy the whole estate), while facilities and oenological expertise can. It must be said that Mastrojanni is situated in a scenic location right in front of Mt. Amiata and has a breathtaking panoramic terrace. As with historical heritage, location cannot simply be bought, unless you decide to buy the whole estate.
What the two estates have in common is the fact that they belong to two large business groups: one French (EPI Group), for Biondi Santi, and the other Italian (Illy Group) for Mastrojanni. In agriculture, too, we are witnessing the phenomenon of gigantism and concentration. Through an ongoing process of mergers and acquisition, large international business groups and finance are “colonising” new spaces, so to speak.
Whether this is good or bad is, of course, for the reader to judge.
It appears that they are a sine qua non when it comes to growing and conquering new markets. And yet concentration is a double-edged sword. While on the one hand there is a healthy transfer of capital from one sector to another, for example from the financial and industrial to the agricultural sector, on the other hand there is a progressive ousting of small agricultural businesses who, perhaps oppressed by excessive bureaucratic burdens and the managerial and financial inability to deal with the various markets on their own, find it more convenient to sell to the big players and then put themselves at their service.
So wealth is becoming increasingly concentrated, and as the news reports show, the phenomenon of mergers and acquisitions in the Italian wine scenario is becoming more and more intense. The year 2022 opened with news of the growth – with the acquisition of hectares of vineyards and companies, of Elisabetta Gnudi Angelini's Caparzo in Montalcino and of San Felice (owned by the Allianz Group) in Bolgheri – and the announcement of the agreement, now almost closed, for the landing of Illy Group's "Polo del Gusto" in Barolo. The Clessidra fund acquired Botter and Mondo del Vino; Antinori acquired the majority of the Friulian brand Jermann, and Coppo entered the Dosio group. Italian Wine Brands bought Enoitalia; Torrevento from Puglia (already in the Prosit group of Quadrivio and Pambianco) took the majority of Oria Wine, not to mention Diesel patron Renzo Rosso’s increase to 7.5% of Masi (and entry into the board of directors), through Red Circle Investment.
We could go further, and talk about the Frescobaldi Group buying Corte alla Flora in Montepulciano, and Hyle Capital Partners, which entered the capital of Contri Spumanti through “Finance for Food One” funding, etc, etc.
A tsunami perhaps facilitated by the pandemic, which has caused many small agricultural businesses dependent on the HoReCa sector to wave a white flag, or understand the need for a strong partner to tackle the markets.
Small agricultural businesses don’t have an easy time of it, and have to deal with colossi like Gruppo Italiano Vini (GIV), Antinori, Frescobaldi, Santa Margherita, Terra Moretti, Tommasi Family Estates, Zonin 1821, Feudi di San Gregorio, Angelini Wine & Estates, Prosit Group, ColleMassari Wine Estates, Masi Agricola, Italian Wine Brands, Allegrini or Piccini 1882, the Duca di Salaparuta group or the galaxy led by the Farinetti family’s Fontanafredda, to name just a few.
In short, small producers like us have to find alternative routes, perhaps aiming to develop market niches or working together towards greater integration, seeking synergies that will help us support each other. The possible options include joint ventures or associative formulas like those offered on this website.