Ring in the New Year with the Antinoris

In the spirit of the holidays, "60 Minutes Overtime" takes a look back at the famous wine-making family

In the spirit of the holidays, 60 Minutes Overtime takes a look back at the famous wine-making family
In the spirit of the holidays, 60 Minutes Ove... 12:31

The following script is of "All in the Family," which aired on October 12, 2008. Morley Safer is the correspondent.

As anyone who's sat through a Thanksgiving dinner can tell you, families can drive you nuts. And if you're bold or crazy enough to go into business together, beware. A recent study found only 15 percent of family businesses survive past the second generation. Meaning, if the whims of the marketplace don't get you familial rivalry or plain old fashioned greed will, which makes the Antinori family of Italy all the more remarkable. They've been in the same line of work for six centuries now. The Antinori's make wine, and the family story reads like something a wine critic might write about their product: complex, stylish, sophisticated, with a bouquet both elegant and earthy.

It's harvest time in the great vineyards of Italy, none great than the 5,000 acres farmed by the Antinori family. Until recently, Italian business, especially the wine business, was pretty much for men only.

Albiera Antinori: Girls normally in families like ours ended up to be married, possibly happily, and that's it. No need to work.

But Albiera Antinori and her two sisters are the first women in 26 generations to play a major role in the family enterprise.

Allegra Antinori: I feel part of the land, you know? I think I'm old by that land. It's something very, very strong.

From the fields to the cellars, you'll find the Antinori women at work, hoping as vintners have for centuries, that this year the balance of sun, soil and rain will produce a vintage for the ages.

Allesia Antinori: People use these wonderful words to describe taste.

Allesia Antinori: Taste.

Morley Safer: There's personality. What else?

Allesia Antinori: The elegance.

Morley Safer: Yes.

Allesia Antinori: The wine has to be elegant. And so you say, how do describe elegance? You can't. It's like an elegant woman. How do you describe her? It's personal.

Morley Safer: You know it when you see it.

Allesia Antinori: Exactly. Exactly.

Their domain stretches from the legendary vineyards of Tuscany and Umbria to their property in California's Napa Valley. Antinori is, perhaps, the oldest family business on earth.

Piero Antinori: The first document which we had which proved that an ancestor of mine was involved in the wine production dates back to 1385.

The patriarch and still the godfather, is Piero Antinori. He's 70, and bears the noble title of marchese. He works behind an antique desk that dates to the Renaissance.

Piero Antinori: When we have to take some decision regarding the family, we have them here. And my father used to do the same thing.

And in his birthplace, Florence, the city that gave birth to the Renaissance, that flowering of arts, science and the good life, he leads a visitor to a small window to the past.

Morley Safer: It looks like a confessional.

Hundreds of years ago, an Antinori cellar master sat waiting for customers to knock.

Piero Antinori: The cellar master would pass a bottle of Chianti wine and he would receive the money back. This has been in operation until a couple of centuries ago.

Morley Safer: Recent history, by your standard.

Piero Antinori: Yes, recent.

For 623 years, various Antinori have kept the business going despite war, plague, political intrigue and the shifting tastes of consumers. The family tree shows a bumper crop of Antinori who made their mark, not just in wine, but in every aspect of Italian life.

Piero Antinori: In business, in politics, in church.

Morley Safer: So the family always made sure back then that all bets were covered, correct?

Piero Antinori: I think it was a bit the concept, yes.

Piero Antinori: There were poets and priests, rogues and rascals. In 1576, Francesco d'Medici, the grand duke of Tuscany, had one Antinori strangled for his undue attentions to Bianca, the duke's wife. In the 1700s, another Antinori cultivated Pope Clement XII as an important customer. The pontiff, who commissioned the building of Rome's Trevi Fountain, decided to throw a few coins the Antinoris' way.

Piero Antinori: We have some correspondence saying that the pope used to like very much the wines of our family, and he wanted to order more.

Morley Safer: A pretty good recommendation, correct? Especially in the 18th century.

Piero Antinori: Yes, no doubt.

But the family history lining the shelves of the Marchese's office says precious little about the wives and daughters in the Antinori family tree, a fact not lost on Albiera, Allegra and Alessia.

Are there any interesting women in those 26 generations?

Albiera Antinori: I'm sure there are some women. But women in history in the past time, even unless they were special, they were not...

Allegra Antinori: Considered.

Albiera Antinori: ...considered to be mentioned.

Allegra Antinori: Yes, exactly.

Alessia Antinori: It's true. Because when I went to agricultural university in northern Italy in Milan, we were two women and the rest were all men, very lucky.

For six centuries, command of the Antinori empire was passed from father to son, but with no male heir, the Marchese some years ago sold a major stake in the business to Whitbread, a British company whose fortune was based on beer making.

Piero Antinori: It was the period when I didn't know exactly if my daughters would be interested or not to be involved in the business. And so for me, that was a way to guarantee a continuity all through the company.

But the partnership produced mainly grapes of wrath. It was a vintage clash between the foaming suds of quick profits and Piero insisting he'd sell no wine before its time. This marriage of inconvenience ended when Piero bought back the shares, keeping Antinori all in the family.

Albiera Antinori: I think he saw us interested and said, `Why not? What's wrong with girls?' And so took his chance, expecting his daughters to fall in love with the business.

And that they did. Now all three travel the countryside and the world helping to grow, promote and market Antinori wines. They sold 17 million bottles last year, $200 million worth, making a healthy profit. And though the business now involves spreadsheets and science, the basics still come, as they have for centuries, from down on the farm.

Even with all this tradition and history and everything else, the family still regards itself as farmers. Yes?

Albiera Antinori: Yes, absolutely. This is our origin. Still now, in modern times, we are basically farmers.

Allegra Antinori: We appreciate the nature and the countryside more than the glamorous city life.

Morley Safer: You're three country bumpkins. So...

Albiera Antinori: Yes.

Alessia Antinori: Exactly.

Allegra Antinori: Yes.

Morley Safer: Well, hardly. Salut.

Piero Antinori: Cheers.

Elegance is the rule at Palazzo Antinori, the family home in Florence. Since the family's wines must be sampled often to ensure quality control, every lunch at the palazzo is a kind of business lunch. The Marchese, his wife, Francesca, their daughters- and sons-in law and the grandchildren all may have a say.

Any family arguments at this table? Come on, secrets. I want secrets revealed here.

Piero Antinori: Yes. Sometimes we start with an argument. But after three or

four glasses of wine...

Allegra Antinori: Everything disappears.

Piero Antinori: This palazzo has been in the family since 1506, both the headquarter of the business and also the residence of the family.

When an Antinori wishes to seek solace or a place for quiet contemplation, or even a place to confess his earthly sins, it's hardly difficult.

Just leave the Palazzo Antinori and, traffic notwithstanding, cross the Piazza Antinori. And within minutes, arrive at the Capella Antinori, the Antinori family chapel, where they might visit the tomb of Alessandro Antinori, one of the founders of the dynasty and perhaps a nod to any number of Antinoris buried beneath the chapel floor. If wealth and history can buy you one lasting pleasure, it is convenience.

Marchese Antinori, for instance, commutes by air to his most famous vineyard, Tignanello in the Tuscan countryside south of Florence. Here the family developed the red wines for which they're famous. At his villa here, this is the view the Marchese wakes up to every morning.

Piero Antinori: We have the vineyards and the landscape.

Morley Safer: The geography.

But as the experience with the British partners showed, it's no business for the impatient or for those who have a taste for the quick buck. Ten years can pass from the time a new vine is planted until its wine comes to market.

Piero Antinori: You have to be patient.

And to wait until the wine is good enough, the vines are old enough to produce a good wine.

Tignanello is but one of the Antinori postcard-perfect estates. Castella della Sala is another, halfway between Rome and Florence. Here Albiera went to work after high school, living at the family's grand 14th-century castle, but learning the wine trade from the bottom up, as a field hand in the vineyards.

Morley Safer: You got your hands dirty.

Albiera Antinori: Yes, I got my hands dirty. It was the first place where I really started to understand what was going on, I mean, the whole process.

But it's not all dirt and business. There's that other estate, Guado al Tasso, on the Tuscan coast.

Allegra Antinori: I did my own stable, my own training track in the middle of the vineyards.

Allegra Antinori: I go riding there every morning. It's beautiful. I love it.

Morley Safer: It's a very good life you describe. Do are you spoiled?

Allegra Antinori: Yes. I am very spoiled.

And they're constantly reminded that in this line of work, nature always has the last word. The Antinori found the 2002 crop wasn't up to par and didn't bother bottling most of it.

Albiera Antinori: You cannot force things. You cannot force nature. If you have a bad vintage, tough luck.

We can wake it up for a second before we put it back to sleep.

Every few months, they check on the progress of their wine, fast asleep in the cellars. The verdict? Let it sleep a while longer.

Albiera Antinori: You see, it's still very young, very rough, very has to stay in there for a little while.

Another family meal, another bottle of wine or two. Every once in a while, someone offers to buy them out, but this farmer and his daughters politely decline on the theory that a family ownership was good enough in 1385, it's good enough today.

Piero Antinori: It is really our intention to remain a family business because we think that this is the best solution for us.

Morley Safer: For at least another 500 years.

Piero Antinori: At least.