Tenuta di Trinoro: Like father, like son

Coping with the loss of a parent is hard enough, but how about putting yourself in your father’s shoes?

© Vini Franchetti
| The estate produces wine in Tuscany and Sicily, but neither Benjamin nor his father had much time for native varieties.

When Andrea Franchetti, founder of the Tuscan estate Tenuta di Trinoro, sadly passed away in December last year, tributes were unanimous, describing him as a “maverick, pioneer and visionary”.

Prior to his death, Franchetti passed control to his son, Benjamin. Bearing a heavy responsibility, the engineer-turned-winemaker spoke about his plans for the family business.

Were you indoctrinated into the world of wine from an early age?

[Laughs] Yes and no. I grew up in Rome, although my father wanted us to spend most weekends with him in Tuscany, having acquired Tenuta di Trinoro in the 1980s. It all started after his visit to Saint-Émilion; Dad decided to plant Bordeaux grape varieties on his estate in Val d’Orcia, southern Tuscany, in 1992. Andrea was very enthusiastic about the project – as a teenager I was less than happy to leave Rome for the countryside. So I wouldn’t say the wine bug hit early in my formative years.

What happened next ?

I moved to the UK in 2005 to study engineering at Imperial College London. I was in no rush to get into the “real world”, so I also completed a PhD and became involved in research at the Department of Sustainable Engineering. After spending a year in the United States, I returned to London and helped create a start-up, focused on turbines. However, my father’s winemaking career had helped spark my growing interest in using engineering to improve agricultural processes and technology development. So I founded Agricola Moderna in 2018.

Are you still very involved in the business?

Certainly – despite the upheaval of my father’s death. Based in Milan, Agricola Moderna is a vertical farming company that controls every aspect of the farming process – humidity, light exposure, soil health – to grow top quality vegetables in a sustainable environment. Urban agriculture offers a viable solution to climate change. We now sell our products in [supermarket chain] Carrefour and plan to expand our facilities.

So is it fair to say that your father’s death essentially accelerated your involvement in Vini Franchetti?

Well, I had taken a more active role in the company since 2016. I became a member of the board, contributing ideas and driving our strategic vision in the 21st century. The truth is that regardless of her illness, Andrea had decided to retire from day-to-day management several years ago; he wanted his team to manage the wine estates by relying on their great expertise. He told us in 2019 that he had been diagnosed with a serious illness, so we made plans for the final transition.

The wine industry is notorious for its intergenerational feuds and the thorny issue of power transfer – how smooth has the transition been?

Honestly, it was very simple. As I said, my father was no autocrat – he saw his job as training emerging talent, preparing our team for the great responsibility of producing world-class wines at our estates in Sicily and Tuscany. There were no eruptions.

Nevertheless, your life must have been turned upside down?

Of course, we all miss my father very much. I naturally spend a lot more time in Tuscany since I became president, and I want to implement some changes in the future. Yet, like Andrea, I understand my role as a director – we have assembled an elite team and now I have to let them do what they do best, providing support and direction when needed.

The late Andrea Franchetti has been described as a maverick, pioneer and visionary

© Vini Franchetti
| The late Andrea Franchetti has been described as a maverick, pioneer and visionary

Tell us about the changes you have planned?

Ultimately, I want to maintain my father’s vision of supreme quality as the end goal. But I’m not shy about admitting that as a company we need to focus more on the business side of things. I think we need to do a better job of communicating our wines. To that end, I’m wondering if we should consolidate some of our labels. Additionally, our signature Tuscan wine, Tenuta di Trinoro, will now be aged for an additional year before release.

In terms of expansion, we market a small quantity of Sémillon blanc and I would like to eventually acquire land to produce more. However, finding the right terroir for white wines in Tuscany is not easy. We are also exploring the possibility of doing Verdicchio – watch this space.

Your father once told me that “Cabernet Franc is now replacing Cabernet Sauvignon’s role as the premier red grape for Italy.” Do you agree?

Yes. It prospers in the Earth; it produces a superior wine; it brings amazing freshness and vigor, even in hot years. Tenuta di Trinoro’s last vintage containing Cabernet Sauvignon was 2017; we use less and less. I want to continue my father’s tradition of thinking outside the box. We need to focus on the right international varieties for the climate and soils of Tuscany.

Can you elaborate?

There is a presumption that the “right” variety must be the native grape of the region. Andrea strongly disagreed; the right grape variety is simply one that responds to the terroir with extreme precision, delivering a sense of place and superior wines. Val d’Orcia Cabernet Franc is a classic example. My father also believed that Chardonnay and Sicily were made for each other – he really didn’t like native white grapes like Carricante. The fact that the Chardonnay was not native to the island was irrelevant to him.

Would you ever consider making Brunello di Montalcino?

I do not think so. I must admit that my father was not a big fan of Sangiovese either.

Do you plan to use your engineering expertise to bring about changes to viticulture in Tuscany and Sicily?

Yes absolutely. I will give you an example: our vines are located at the bottom of the valley, at the foot of an extinct volcano. Due to global warming, budding usually starts earlier and earlier; however, the volcano provides a ready supply of cold air that clings to the bottom of the valley floor. The risk of devastating frost for our harvest becomes a real headache – we spend considerable resources to fill the vines with candles, to stop a significant drop in yield. My idea is to use industrial fans as a more cost effective solution.

Andrea was a man of strong opinions and convictions – who were his heroes?

He admired and respected top Nebbiolo producers like Conterno. I share that respect.

Since taking on this role, has free time become a precious commodity?

Yes indeed! I recently became the father of a little girl; I am very grateful that Andrea had the chance to meet her, before her death. But I love music and literature and I intend to keep those passions alive.

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