The Founder of OTB’s New Venture Manages His Investments in Wine

2 weeks ago 21

It seems like Renzo Rosso can’t stay away from turning his passions into a business.

What began simply as his love for the land has taken the shape of a new company, called Brave Wine, which manages his investments in high-end wine companies. “I like to think of Brave Wine as an atelier where traditions dating back to thousands of years are employed with the most advanced technologies to create unique products, even customized,” says Rosso.

Over lunch at the newly opened restaurant at Rosso’s Diesel Farm, nestled on the hills of Marostica, Italy, near Vicenza, in his signature direct and energetic manner, the entrepreneur underscores his commitment to a wine-making project that spans almost three decades and which he sees as having a long-term future.

“I’m having fun, but boy is this an undertaking,” he says.

Diesel Farm is a sprawling estate he bought in 1993, located not far from the headquarters of Rosso’s OTB group, which controls Diesel, Marni, Maison Margiela, Jil Sander, Viktor & Rolf, and production arms Staff International and Brave Kid, as well as having a stake in American brand Amiri. Rosso has restored it, turning it into a fully organic farm, converting the stables and opening the restaurant last summer.

Diesel Farm’s land map shows cabernet sauvignon and franc, chardonnay, merlot and pinot noir for bottles of award-winning Rosso di Rosso, Bianco di Rosso and Nero di Rosso. The sparkling Celebrating 55 and Icon di Rosso, Grappa di Rosso, Brandy di Rosso and Olio di Rosso, extra virgin olive oil, cold-pressed and organic, round off the production. The bottles stand out with a special seal lacquered by hand.

Rosso has recently been turning his attention to building Brave Wine by investing in two stellar wineries: Benanti, one of the finest Sicilian vineyards in the Etna area, and the Piedmontese Josetta Saffirio, which produces Barolo and Nebbiolo wines in Monforte D’Alba, which are among the best in Italy.

Dating back to the 19th century, Josetta Safirio is now managed by the family’s fifth generation heir, Sara Vezza. Benanti produces 250,000 bottles a year in the exclusive range of the market, with vineyards on the four sides of the Etna volcano in Randazzo, Castiglione di Sicilia, Milo, Viagrande and Santa Maria di Licodia.

“The idea is to be present in territories of excellence in Italy and around the world,” says Rosso, who has no intention of stopping here, already eyeing additional wineries “for a portfolio representative of the richness and quality of this sector internationally.” After Italy, he is looking at France; Oregon, which has “the coolest pinot noir,” he contends; California’s Napa Valley, and he admits he is a “fanatic of New Zealand.”

“It is key to protect the separate identities, leaving each to shine,” says Rosso’s wife Arianna Alessi, who is chief executive officer of Brave Wine.

The wineries acquired so far were financially solid and in fact Rosso describes Benanti as “the Rolls Royce of wine.”

“We seek the most authentic wineries in the territory,” he adds. “I want to show how beautiful Italy is.” And, Alessi says, “this way you can prove you can create a group.”

She underscores her interest in Josetta Safirio, “a fascinating story of five generations of women, which is a rarity in the Langhe region.”

Rosso and Alessi have their own cellar of more than 8,000 bottles, which “we don’t just collect, we want to enjoy them,” he says.

Diesel Farm

Rosso is self-taught, reading all he can on wines, photographing wine lists at restaurants and curious to discover new labels. But his father produced wine and grappa, so some early information sank in as a child, he recalls. His favorites range from pinot noir and chardonnay to Puligny Montrachet Romanée Conti — among the most expensive wines in the world.

Just as he has built OTB, Rosso is adamant he wants to develop Brave Wine his own way, “putting together the best territories and wines in Italy to promote Italian wine, because we have an incredible quality that has not been emphasized enough; they deserve more. The French have been able to do that, just as they did with fashion. We as Italians have not been able to work together,” says Rosso.

The idea is to model Brave Wine after OTB, working with the separate wineries but as a group offering synergies, logistics, shipments, commercial and financial aid, technology — all that can be of help to further develop the wineries.

Rosso sees the artisanal way of making wine the same way an atelier creates couture or a tailor a suit. “We pick the grapes depending on how ripe the seeds are and depending on their exposure to the sun. I could see us selling different barriques [barrels] to different chefs, or each could prepare their own blend, participating in the winemaking, personalizing it. It’s a long-term project but it’s where I would like to get to.”

Diesel Farm

Brave Wine’s oenologist Umberto Marchiori says the goal is also to help modernize the wineries since Rosso can bring “a different point of view and a positive cross-pollination,” as well as his expertise in other “success stories” to this world which, he explains, “has always been quite slow, fragmented and conservative in Italy, where until the end of the 1800s our wines were hardly exported. Renzo’s added value is that he see things as they could be.”

Just as experiential events have become key in fashion, Rosso believes “we must create entertainment, the wineries and wine cellars are increasingly becoming beautifully designed and worth visiting.”

Diesel Farm is a haven of peace, and it is open to the public for walks in the woods. Deer, goats and ponies pepper the meadows. He proudly says a salamander was found outside in the garden. “It’s not pretty but it’s a proof that the area is not polluted.”

The farm now produces around 25,000 bottles of wine a year, and 3,200 liters of oil. Traditional agronomic techniques are mixed with innovative ones, such as flower green manuring and dry farming. As part of its mission to enhance biodiversity, Diesel Farm grows many melliferous plant species to help protect bees — which are at risk of extinction.

Diesel Farm

Rosso firmly believes in caring for and safeguarding the territory. “There is a lot of talk about sustainability and carbon neutrality, planting trees and so on. I saved those hills from speculative urbanism as they were to be parceled out and turned into residential compounds — now it’s all a park. This is true sustainability.”

Diesel Farm is also a place that allows secrecy as he recounts how it was here that he negotiated for two years — and completely undisturbed — the arrival of John Galliano at the helm of Maison Margiela in 2014.

Located 980 feet above sea level, the farm covers 250 acres.

“It’s at a special crossroads of winds that are favorable to growing unique high-quality crops: the wind that blows in from the Adriatic Sea and the one that descends from the pre-Alps create a special microclimate,” says Rosso. “The sea is 55 kilometers away and the mountains are also 55 kilometers away. Diesel Farm is spread out over five hills and five is my magic number, since it has always brought me luck.”

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