Inside the Secret New Offering From One of Tuscany's Oldest Wine-Making Families

The Fresocbaldi family has been making wine in Italy for 700 years. Today the clan produces over 11 million bottles annually, from its six Tuscan estates.

And much of the family's global success is the result of a joint venture formed with Napa Valley legend Robert Mondavi back in the early 1990s.

Some 22 years later, the top-rated wines created from that venture, named Luce, have appreciated and are collectibles since the production still is so small.

We recently had the pleasure of spending time with Marchese Lamberto Frescobaldi, of the thirtieth generation, who is now president of the Marchesi Frescobaldi group, at Osteria della Pace in Eataly in downtown Manhattan, to talk about the expansion of Luce and his views on the global economy.

Luce - The Light

It actually was Robert Mondavi who reached out to the Frescobaldis, fully knowing they were one of the premiere winemaking families in Tuscany, to suggest a joint venture.

Mondavi was no stranger to these types of projects. Back in 1968, he began talking to the late Baron Philippe de Rothschild of the world renowned Chateau Mouton Rothschild about a joint project. The result would be Opus One, which is still one of the world's top-rated wines.

Luce was born in the early 1990s, when Lamberto's father Vittorio and Robert Mondavi united their passion and traditions and create this venture in Montalcino, Italy.

The JV was official in 1995 and the first wines were released in 1997.

The wine was named Luce, because "on one very windy miserable day in Tuscany, a beam of light came through the clouds and [Margrit, Robert's wife,] said, "Luce!" which translates to light.

The wine, dubbed a Super Tuscan, is half Merlot and half Sangiovese, which is the native grape of Tuscany. 

Always Look Forward

Their sons, Lamberto and Tim Mondavi, took over the project from their fathers and are the reason the wines are so well-received today.

In 2003 they added a Brunello - a 100% Sangiovese wine -- to pay homage to Montalcino, which produces the world's best Brunellos. The Luce Brunello has twice received a perfect score of 100 from wine critics.

When Constellation Brands (STZ) acquired Mondavi's assets in 2004, the Frescobaldis bought their 50% stake, so Luce is now 100% Frescobaldi-owned. 

And they are looking to take Luce to the next level. "You don't have to fall in love with what you are or what you were," says Lamberto. "You always have to look ahead."  

So in 2017, they bought more land specifically for Luce and created a special team just for those wines. 

In addition to Luce and the Brunello, they also produce the Lucente, which is around 75% Merlot with the rest Sangiovese.

A Sweet Tooth for America 

"The U.S. is the most important export market for us after Italy," says Lamberto. So it is hard to ignore the political rhetoric coming out of America today. 

"And I wouldn't want to lose this market because of tax issues," he says, though he's not worried. "The American consumer is becoming more sophisticated. They are knowledgeable, they travel around the world and appreciate what they're tasting." 

And while he says that "Italians have a sweet tooth for this country," he is also looking to other markets, in case things do get hairy here. Singapore, Canada and even India are all opportune markets for them.

Because just like us, they want great wines too. The 2014 Luce will be available in the States in a few months.

And let's hope that we figure things out here so those beautiful wines like Luce keep coming.

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