Illy Coffee Family Enjoying Winemaking Success

Who hasn’t enjoyed deliciously rich, Italian Illy espresso? Those same standards of taste and excellence have been applied to winemaking since the Illy family took over Mastrojanni Wines in 2008. Riccardo Illy, Chairman of Gruppo Illy and Vice Chairman of illycaffe came to the Setai Hotel in Miami Beach to introduce their latest wines to a select group of journalists during a lavish luncheon paired with Mastrojanni’s best wines. The news? Mastrojanni was recognized as one of the top producers in the Montalcino region. The charming Illy told me that Miami has become a very important market in the food and wine industries and it’s an ideal place to launch top wines.

DAISY: When and how was the Illy family business founded?
: In 1933 producing coffee and chocolate. We owned a farm in Istria near Trieste, at that time the farm was in Italy, but after Second World War it became Yugoslavia and the farm was lost. After World War II, my grandfather decided not to produce any more chocolate and put all the focus on coffee. In the sixties, my father, Ernesto Illy, introduced Illy tea but stopped in the eighties.

DAISY: When did the interest in wine surface?
The family wanted a farm for wine production for several years. We are wine lovers and we desire to buy and drink the best wines we can find in the world. The best come from Italy, France and California. And, it is in line with our addition of chocolate, tea, jams, etc.

DAISY: Who in the family discovered Mastrojanni wine?
My brother Francesco was the first to go to Montalcino. He had been drinking Mastrojanni for some time, knew the wines well and was a fan. His friend, artist Sandro Chia, invited Francesco to visit him in his castle in Montalcino and suggested he should buy some land nearby and introduced him to a shepherd who wanted to sell his land with an old house that was practically destroyed. That property was next to Mastrojanni. Francesco began to work on his estate, Le Ripi, where he now has a house, vineyards and cellar, and is producing excellent wines. He became friends with the general manager at Mastrojanni, Andrea Machetti, who introduced him to the Mastrojanni family.

DAISY: Tell me about the founder of Mastrojanni.
He was a lawyer and Secretary General of Italian Parliament. When he retired, he invested his money in Montalcino land that became Mastrojanni. He  started with sheep then shifted to wines. His first wine came from the 1980 vintage. In 2006, Mr. Mastrojanni died and the family sold the company. Our family purchased the winery in 2008, but Mr. Machetti still manages the winery.

DAISY: What changes have you made since the purchase of Mastrojanni?
A few small changes because we do not wish to change what’s already working so well. We realized we needed a bigger cellar and we worked with Francesco’s son, Ernesto, who is an architect. He designed a cellar based on new biological principals, a bio-architecture cellar that features mostly wood and stone, very little steel, no concrete. The cellar naturally regulates the temperature and humidity because it’s built into the hillside, underground. We replanted the vineyards where needed and redesigned the labels. Now there’s an entire control of the entire quality from grape to the glass. Mastrojanni is about elegance and tradition. The taste and flavors are intense, elegant and follow the traditional methods. We are not making quality in the cellar; the quality comes from the vineyards

DAISY: What creates the variety in the wines?
You will never find two vintages that are the same because each year there’s different weather and conditions, which means there will always be a different wine with differences in flavor, acidity and perfume. We are doing the opposite of what we do with coffee – where we always create the same taste and flavor. Each vintage must express its own characteristics.

DAISY: What is the most important moment in wine production?
Harvesting often is. Usually when the rainy season begins and it’s very risky. The most important element is intuition, not science. We depend on Mr. Machetti and his intuition. Normally we harvest in October, but in 2005, he decided to harvest early in September. Because of this, we have a great vintage – one of the best. Also in 2006 and 2007 we had five-star quality weather. We were the last to harvest in 2008 and produced another five-star vintage. We also have found that the climate is right for cabernet sauvignon, which is used in our Super Tuscan, San Pio.

DAISY: Any plans to complement the wine business?
We hope to have a small boutique hotel and something special for the visitors. Here you have the best site of the Val d’orcia, with the vineyards. Soon, Mastrojanni will partner with a spa very close by in Montalcino called Castello di Velona where visitors will have the opportunity to visit Mastrojanni during their stay. Recently there was a renovation of the castle/hotel and during this process hot water springs were found underground which will now be used in the new spa when it re-opens in 2011. Many plans, very exciting!




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