When people meet Salvatore Ferragamo for the first time, they might be surprised to learn that he doesn’t design women’s shoes and handbags. Instead, the 36-year-old has devoted himself to another of the famous Italian family’s enterprises – wine production and agritourism.
Ferragamo runs the Il Borro Estate, a country resort in Tuscany, about an hour south of Florence. The Feragamo family bought the estate in 1993 and restored it. The centerpiece is a 11th-century medieval village, complete with 24 villas and other luxury country-style accommodations.
The 700-hectare estate currently has 40 hectares of that land dedicated to five varieties of vine – Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sanggiovese and Petit Verdot. From the blend of these grapes, Il Borro produces about 150,000 bottles annually of three optimum wines: Il Borro, Pian di Nova and Polissena.
Born to an Italian father and English mother, Ferragamo is one of six children. He travels frequently to market Il Borro and was recently in Japan where he visited Osaka, Nagoya, Odawara, Tokyo and Yokohama before going to Shanghai. While in Tokyo, he was guest speaker at a special epicurean promotion at the Hilton hotel.
Japan Today editor Chris Betros caught up with Ferragamo just before the big dinner.
Tell us a little about your background.
I was born in Florence. When I was 13, I went to England for 4 1/2 years, then did undergraduate studies in the U.S., before heading back to Italy. Later, I returned to the U.S. for an MBA.
How come you didn’t go into the fashion side of the family’s business?
I wanted to be part of a project that started from zero – which the Il Borro Estate really did – and develop it. We restored homes and planted vineyards. Now it is a resort and the wines have been very well received.
I guess when people hear your name, they automatically think you are in the fashion side of the business?
They do and it’s not a problem. I am very fortunate to carry my grandfather’s name. It is a responsibility and honor. I have a very strong relationship with my father and collaborate closely with him. He is my mentor in business.
Do consumers know of the link between Il Borro and Ferragamo?
Probably not, but that’s OK. The integrity of the product is more important than linking the brand names. Interestingly, though, when people taste a phenomenal glass of our wine and then find out later it is a brand operated by the Ferragamo family, they are pleasantly surprised. Nowadays, some consumers probably think of wine as a luxury brand item like shoes and handbags.
How long has Il Borro wine been available in Japan?
For about five years. We have a good collaboration with Enoteca wine shops, so we are very well represented. We also have a restaurant in Roppongi (Osteria Il Borro) which opened a couple of years ago. It is an outlet for our Tuscan way of life.
What is the Tuscan way of life?
Tuscan lifestyle is about being comfortable and the intrinsic value of quality. It might simply be sipping a glass of wine by your vineyard and enjoying a plate of pasta.
Are you home much to enjoy such a lifestyle?
I travel extensively to the North American and Asian markets. I’ve been coming to Japan four times a year. I’m usually on the road once a month, but when I get time to relax, I don’t really go anywhere. I enjoy staying at home.
What is your biggest market?
About a third of our production goes to Asia, a third to Europe, of which 20% is Italy, and a third to America.
How do you market the brand in Japan?
This time, I teamed up with the Hilton group for some fantastic dinners. This is the best marketing method. Wine is a funny product. Aggressive marketing can backfire if it is perceived as a commercial product, especially if the intrinsic value of the wine is not there. So we are very careful in promoting the wine. Word of mouth is the best way.
What do you like to eat when you come to Japan?
I enjoy Kobe beef shabu shabu and sashimi
What do you think of Italian food in Japan?
I’d say it is quite comparable to what we get in Italy where it varies from region to region.
How do you like to relax?
Playing with my three young children. I like soccer, golf, tennis, swimming, polo, skiing and hunting pheasants..
What are your future plans?
As far as the resort is concerned, we plan to put in a golf course and spa. As for wine production, we are producing around 150,000 bottles a year. That will probably go up to 250,000. We may produce another exclusive white wine, maybe a Chardonnay-Riesling blend.© Japan Today