Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Kobrand’s Impressive Tour d’Italia 2011 in Washington DC, USA

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller, Kobrand's Gary Gondelman and Tenuta San Guido's Piero Incisa in Washington DC

Kobrand’s Tour d’Italia 2011 came to Washington DC and I took part in it. Kobrand is a privately owned marketer of wines and spirits in the USA that serves as the exclusive agent for many fine European wines. In addition, the firm owns many of the brands in its portfolio, notably Maison Louis Jadot. Kobrand's wine offerings include wines from California, France, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, and Spain. In particular, I find the Italian portfolio very strong. I was delighted when Gary Gondelman from Kobrand invited me for the Kobrand Tour d’Italia 2011 at the Occidental in Washington DC.

Picture: The Occidental in Washington DC


Kobrand is owned by the 3 daughters of the firm's founder, Rudolph C. Kopf. Kopf was born in the Queens in New York City and graduated from the University of Columbia's Business School in 1927. All his youth, he lived under prohibition. Prohibition was repealed by President Franklin Roosevelt, when he took office in 1933. It was in that year that Kopf started a wine and spirits department at New York's famed Macy's department store. Under his guidance, it became known as one of the best shops in the country and Kopf established himself as an industry force.

Picture: The Wine Regions of Italy

In 1944, at the age of 38, he struck out on his own and formed his own wine and spirits marketing company, which he called the Kobrand Corporation. Although light on money, Kopf was well connected, having established relationships in the wine and spirits business around the world.

Kopf's big break came in 1945 when he lined up his first major wine brand to represent, Maison Louis Jadot, which was established in France in 1859. With the Jadot business in hand, Kopf's next notable achievement was landing a spirits brand: Beefeater Gin. A third key brand acquisition in another important category, champagne, took place shortly after the Beefeater deal, when Kopf secured the marketing rights to Taittinger Champagne.

In wines, the firm focused on French brands until 1978, when it began to market the Italian wines of Michele Chiarlo in the United States, which I could also taste at Kobrand’s Tour d’Italia 2011 in Washington DC.

Picture: The Frugal Socialite, aka, Lucinda Hughes (on the left)

In 1985, Kobrand bought Maison Louis Jadot. Only a few months after the Jadot deal was completed, Kopf died at age 80 and his three daughters shared in the ownership of Kobrand. Also in 1985 Kobrand acquired its first stake in a California company, Napa Valley's Sequoia Grove Vineyards. A year later, Kobrand turned its attention to Northern California, forming a joint venture with Taittinger called Domaine Carneros. Kobrand added further to its California interests in 1987 when it reached a marketing agreement with Cakebread Cellars.

Picture: Gary Gondelman and Dennis Cakebread at a Cakebread Winemaker Dinner at Evo Bistro in McLean, Virginia

The year 1987 also marked the end of the relationship with Beefeater Gin. In the late 1980s and early 1990s Kobrand added a host of brands, making the firm a major marketer of Italian wines. These labels included Sassicala, Ornellaia, Terriccio, Spalletti, and Chiehe Chiarlo.

Kobrand continues to be a family company, owned by the founders three daughters.

Impressive Group of Attending Winemakers

It was quite an impressive group of winemakers that poured their wines at the Kobrand Tour d’Italy 2011. The group toured the US from September 12 to September 23, with 10 stops, including in Boston, New York, Houston, Chicago, Miami Beach and San Francisco. I understand, they also hosted winemaker dinners. From talking to them at the tasting in Washington DC, I gather that these winemaker dinners must have been great fun.

Who participated in the Kobrand Tour d’Italy 2011?

Alberto Chiarlo from Michele Chiarlo

The wine producing firm of Michele Chiarlo was founded in 1956 by the present owners, Michele and Giuseppina Chiarlo. Michele Chiarlo is today one of the most respected producers of the fine wines of Piedmont.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Alberto Chiarlo from Michele Chiarlo

Perhaps the crown jewel among the vineyards of Michele Chiarlo is the vineyard of Fornace di Tassarolo in the Rovereto area of Gavi, a small parcel planted in 1910 which yields a brilliant and intense Gavi of exquisite refinement. Michele Chiarlo also has long-term agreements with the owners of two spectacular vineyards in the Castiglione Falleto and Serralunga crus of Barolo, from which he produces Barolo Riserva Rocche di Castiglione and Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda di Serralunga. In addition to these contracts, Michele Chiarlo also purchased the Antico Podere Averame in the Cerequio cru of Barolo, considered one of the zone's finest Nebbiolo vineyards; and an estate, also in Barolo in the cru of Cannubi, which due to its extremely sharp gradient had never been cultivated. In 1995, Michele Chiarlo acquired the estate of Azienda Agricola Aluffi in Castelnuovo Calcea, considered to the most beautiful and prestigious property in the heart of the classic Barbera d'Asti zone.

Since the early 1990s, Michele Chiarlo's sons, Alberto and Stefano, have entered the firm in positions which will lead to their eventually assuming full responsibility. Alberto, the elder, who I met, directs marketing and sales; Stefano, an enologist by profession, manages vineyard operations and collaborates in production in the cellars.

2007 Michele Chiarlo, Gavi Le Marne DOCG
2009 Michele Chiarlo, Barbera d’Asti Le Orme DOCG
2007 Michele Chiarlo, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza La Court DOCG
2007 Michele Chiarlo, Reyna Barbaresco DOCG
2007 Michele Chiarlo, Barolo Tortoniano DOCG
2007 Michele Chiarlo, Barolo Cerequio DOCG
2007 Michele Chiarlo, Barolo Cannubi DOCG

Giovanni Folonari from Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Tenute

The Folonaris are among Italy’s oldest and most prestigious Tuscan wine families with a winemaking history dating back to the late 1700s.

Today, Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Tenute, conceived by this father-son team as a collection of small, beautifully located vineyards producing primarily Tuscan “grand crus,” is recognized for its distinctive, small-production wines from the family’s numerous estates. Both Ambrogio and Giovanni, a University of California at Davis enology graduate, are directly involved in winemaking.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Giovanni Folonari from Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Tenute

Prior to launching A. & G. Folonari Tenute, Ambrogio was the president of Ruffino, originally purchased in 1912 by Ambrogio’s grandfather. In the 1980s, Ambrogio created Cabreo, a unique combination of tradition and innovation including Cabreo Il Borgo (red), a blend of traditional Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, while La Pietra is Chardonnay from Tuscany, fermented and aged in oak. These wines were among the first in a new group of top wines now widely known as “Super Tuscans.”

In 2000, Ambrogio and Giovanni left Ruffino to focus on small-lot, estate-grown wines. Their portfolio includes:

• Nozzole Estate (Chianti Classico, Super Tuscan, Chardonnay)
• Cabreo Estate (Super Tuscans)
• TorCalvano di Gracciano Svetoni Estate (Nobile di Montepulciano, Rosso di Montepulciano)
• La Fuga, Montalcino Estate (Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino)
• Conti Spalletti Estate (Chianti Rufina, Chianti, Rosso Toscano)
• Campo al Mare Estate (Bolgheri DOC, Vermentino IGT)
• Vigne a Porrona Estate (Montecucco, Morellino, Maremma)
• Ronco dei Folo Estate (Colli Orientali del Friuli, Pinot Grigio, Tocai, Sauvignon).

Giovanni and his wife Eleonora live with their three children at the Cabreo Estate in Greve, 30 minutes from Florence.

2010 Tenuta Campo al Mare, Bolgheri Vermentino DOC
2009 Tenuta del Cabreo, La Pietra Chardonnay, Toscana IGT
2007 Villa Nozzole, Chianti Classico DOCG
2007 Tenuta di Nozzole, Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG
2009 Tenuta Campo al Mare, Bolgheri DOC
2007 Tenuta di Nozzole, La Forra, Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG
2006 Tenuta La Fuga, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
2008 Tenuta di Nozzole Il Pareto, Toscana IGT

Emilia Nardi from Tenute Silvio Nardi

Tenute Silvio Nardi consists of 80 hectares of vineyards in an unspoiled part of central Tuscany: Montalcino, whose symbol is its great red wine, Brunello. Silvio Nardi founded the estate here at Casale del Bosco; since 1985 it has been run by his youngest daughter, Emilia, who I met.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Emilia Nardi from Tenute Silvio Nardi

Emilia Nardi knows she can depend on Casale's special and distinctive territory to produce a contemporary and elegant Brunello. She has invested single-mindedly in the vineyards in this harmonious natural setting - as any tasting of her fine wines will attest. Each of her signature wines expresses the differing character of Sangiovese when it is grown at Montalcino.

The estate's vineyards are situated between 140 and 420 meters above sea level: some extend north-west of Montalcino on the hills around Casale del Bosco, while others are located to the north of it at Tenuta di Bibbiano and to the south-east at Manachiara, where the precious cru of the same name originates.

2009 Tenute Silvio Nardi, Rosso di Montalcino DOC
2006 Tenute Silvio Nardi, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
2006 Tenute Silvio Nardi, Manachiara, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Roberto Pighin from Fernando Pighin and Figli

The undisputed rising star among Italy's fine wine producing regions since the early 1970s has been the northeast, notably the province of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. Among its viticultural houses, none has captured greater achievement nor well-earned respect than Azienda Fratelli Pighin, one of the region's most esteemed producers of pure varietal, D.O.C. Grave del Friuli wines.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Roberto Pighin from Fernando Pighin and Figli

Azienda Fratelli Pighin was founded in 1963 when brothers Ercole, Luigi and Fernando Pighin acquired a 500-acre estate in the D.O.C. Grave-del-Friuli zone then belonging to an aristocratic Friulian family. In 1968, a further 75 acres of vineyards were acquired at Spessa di Capriva, in the province of Gorizia, in the tiny, prestigious D.O.C. Collio zone, expanding the company's portfolio to encompass a full range of fine, classic wines from the two finest viticultural growing areas in Friuli. These areas are by general consent recognized to be among the finest viticultural areas for white wines in Italy.

Beyond the domestic market, the wines of Azienda Fratelli Pighin are represented in ten export markets, of which the most important are Germany and the United States, through a commercialization strategy focusing on restaurants, small wine shops and gourmet boutiques. In fact, when Roberto realized that I spoke German, he switched to German.

2010 Fernando Pighin & Figlio, Pinot Grigio, Friuli Grave DOC
2010 Fernando Pighin & Figli, Pinot Grigio, Collio DOC

Piero Incisa from Tenuta San Guido

Piero Incisa is a third-generation winemaker, the grandson of Mario Incisa Della Rochetta, the creator and proprietor of Sassicaia, one of the most renowned Italian wineries, and nephew of Niccolo’Incisa Della Rocchetta, who currently manages the family’s wine-making enterprises. Piero spent his childhood on the family estate in Tuscany, privy to the exclusive centuries-old wine-making and vineyard management traditions to which he now claims his own expertise. Now a resident of the United States, Piero divides his time between New York City, Italy and Patagonia, where he has begun a very limited production of his own Pinot Noir.

Pictures: Gary Gondelman with Piero Incisa from Tenuta San Guido

Sassicaia - the now historic wine single-handedly responsible for launching the Super Tuscan movement - remains one of the most sought-after wines in the world. Marchese Niccolò Incisa della Rocchetta continues the 36 year old tradition at the Tenuta San Guido estate, which is considered by many to be the birthplace of Tuscan Cabernet.

2009 Tenuta di Salviano, Salviano di Salviano, Umbria IGT
2009 Barda, Pinot Noir, Patagonia, Argentina
2009 Tenuta di Salviano, Turlo’, Lago di Corbara IGT
2008 Tenuta di Salviano, Solideo, Lago di Corbara IGT
2008 Tenuta San Guido, Guidalberto, Toscana IGT
2008 Tenuta San Guido, Sassicaia DOC
2009 Agricola Punica, Montessu, Isola dei Nuraghi
2007 Agricola Punica, Barrua, Isola dei Nuraghi

Giovanna Moretti from Tenuta Sette Ponti

The estate of Sette Ponti lies in the heart of the Chianti zone, fifteen miles northwest of the city of Arezzo just past the village of San Giustino Valdarno. The Via del Monte, known locally as the Via dei Sette Ponti, leads into a beautiful hidden valley and to the estate. The name Sette Ponti, or "seven bridges," refers to the seven bridges crossing the Arno River on the road from Arezzo to Florence. The first, the Ponte Buriano, is nearby. Erected in the mid 13th century, it took nearly forty years to build, and is perceptible in the right far background of Leonardo DaVinci's Mona Lisa. Previously the property of the Princesses Margherita and Cristina Savoia d'Aosta, the core of the Sette Ponti estate was purchased in 1957 as a hunting retreat by architect Alberto Moretti, and is now the family property of Antonio Moretti, his son. After graduating from Siena University with a degree in economics and banking, Antonio Moretti opened his first apparel store, a business which has since expanded to a chain of shops throughout Italy, and the acquisitions of Arfango, known for its fine leather goods, and Bonora and Carshoe, two brands of handmade shoes.

Picture: Gary Gondelman with Giovanna Moretti from Tenuta Sette Ponti

The vineyards occupy a total of 150 acres and lie at an altitude of 200 to 300 metres (600 to 900 feet). The oldest vines on the estate were planted in 1935 by HRH the Count of Turin, Vittorio Emmanuele di Savoia. This five-acre plot, called the Vigna dell' Impero (the "Vineyard of the Empire"), is a hand-terraced vineyard planted primarily to Sangiovese vines interspersed with traditional Canaiolo, Colorino, Trebbiano and Malvasia. An adjacent 87-acre section of this vineyard, also of principally Sangiovese vines, was planted in the early1960s by Alberto Moretti.

2009 Tenuta Sette Ponti, Crognolo, Toscana IGT
2009 Tenuta Sette Ponti, Oreno, Toscana, IGT
2009 Tenuta Sette Ponti, Poggio al Lupo, Maremma IGT
2007 Feudo Maccari, Saia, Nero d’Avola, Sicily
2006 Feudo Maccari, Maharis, Sicily

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  1. Very interesting experience, doesn't it?

    Lizzy - Vinopigro

  2. Hello Christian,

    I heartily thank you for the time you spent with me during last Italian Wine Tour and for the nice article in your very professional blog !

    It has been a real pleasure to know you and to have had the opportunity to introduce you personally our estates and our two Estate Bottled Pinot Grigio Friuli Grave D.O.C. and Collio D.O.C.

    Thank you again for everything !
    Mit freundilchen Grueßen

    Roberto Pighin
    Fernando Pighin & Figli S. Agr. A R. L.

  3. Dear Christian,

    Great posting!!

    It was nice meeting you too and hope to see you soon.


    Giovanni Folonari

  4. this schiller blog sucks big time. soooo selfish

  5. anonymous: my recommendation - just ignore schiller-wine.