How to Own a Vineyard, by Former Citigroup Chairman Richard Parsons

Photograph by Lee Towndrow for Bloomberg Businessweek

The first thing to consider is where you want to be. I bought Il Palazzone because I love Brunello di Montalcino. But I also love Tuscany. I love the people. I love the food. I love the natural beauty of Montalcino. If I just wanted to make wine, I could have bought a vineyard in Long Island. I happen to really like spending time here. Find a place you’re passionate about.

You’re a farmer. You can’t control the weather. When you make a Brunello, you have to follow a set of rules. One is no interference with nature. You can’t irrigate in a dry year. I happen to like traditional methods. I’m kind of old school. If you’re someone who balks at following rules, you can still make wine, but you can’t call it a Brunello. You might want a vineyard in Napa Valley instead.

You’re not just buying the land but the wine that’s not yet ready to go to market. Sometimes the owner wants to keep it all. If you’re planning to continue the brand, you’ll want some of it. Otherwise, you’ll have no product to sell while you’re waiting for your harvest. Of course, a lot of people just harvest the grapes and sell them. You can also be part of a local co-op where they handle the vinification process. The third model is to have a winery in your property, which is what I did. Then you can make the wine that you want.

The most critical thing is finding the right people. I happen to have a great husband-and-wife team running my vineyard: Marco Sassetti and Laura Gray. They work with a terrific winemaker, Paolo Vagaggini. I’m here in early October when the grapes are harvested. We pick grapes. It’s fun. That’s how you know what you have. I get involved in the blending, the aging.

Unless you start a vineyard yourself, you’re also buying the name. I had no desire to name this vineyard after me. Il Palazzone is a great name. It had a local reputation. If something were to happen to me, or I sell this, the name would go on. I did make a blend in honor of my parents, Lorenzo & Isabelle. But my main focus is the Brunello. The really good ones are sweet but almost tart, with hints of sour cherry. We also make a Vino Rosso that’s not aged as long but is still very good. This is not a business for anyone who wants to turn a quick profit. It takes five years to get a vineyard fully productive, and then it takes another five to produce a Brunello. Even if it’s a business you love, you still want it to make money. There’s only so much wine you can drink. The rest has to be sold. —As told to Diane Brady

Parsons is former chairman of Citigroup and CEO of Time Warner. 

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