For a lot of brands, it’s a big deal when they have celebrated a 25th anniversary. In the case of Barone Fini Wines, the company’s history goes back over 500 years, and owner Giovanni Bonmartini-Fini is the 15th generation of the family involved with the company. These days, 150,000 cases of Barone Fini wine each year, specializing in Pinot Grigio and Merlot. Its tagline is “a noble commitment to quality,” as Barone Fini’s output is the product of sustainable agriculture.
Giovanni Bonmartini-Fini spoke to Downtown about the history of his family’s wine, also touching on his history with New York. Speaking of which, last month, Barone Fini partnered with I Trulli on a Ferragosto menu, of which 100% of the proceeds from sales of Barone Fini were donated to the Food Bank For New York City. More about Barone Fini can be found on the website of Deutsch Family Brands: www.deutschfamily.com.
Is it true that your brand has been around since the late 1400s?
Giovanni Bonmartini-Fini: Yes, dating back 15 generations, my family has been cultivating vineyards since 1497 when the Bonmartinis and the Finis were joined in marriage and began producing wine. The Barone Fini brand has been in market for 40 years.
Did you ever consider a different career path? Or did you always known that wine was going to be in your future?
GB-F: With a long lineage of family members before me who cared for the vineyard, I always knew that I would be involved in the winery. But it was important to me to chart my own course and learn about science and business operations and as a foundation for my career. I studied Molecular Biology at Princeton University, which opened my eyes to science and chemistry and I ventured on my own to begin a printing business as well. Both of these experiences I bring with me to my role in the winery, helping to foster and grow the operations.
Do you have a favorite of the Barone Fini varieties?
GB-F: Pinot Grigio is my favorite varietal. It is the most universal wine I can think of with food, and I love to eat! It has a wonderful mountain crispness that resets the palate, enhancing the delicacy of a fish such as a Halibut or Seabass. But it also has the strength to slice through the salty, richest pasta sauce on earth called “Ragu alla Bolognese,” and its natural mineral balance soothes the heat of the hottest pepperoncini sauce. It will even make a steak taste better.
Beautiful packaging aside, what separates Barone Fini wines from other fine wines?
GB-F: Thank you for the compliment! The center of our label is my family’s coat of arms or crest. The Pinot Grigio inside our bottle is the highest quality standard for a Pinot Grigio because it is D.O.C. — Denominazione di Origine Controlata — and we go to great lengths to ensure that we produce the highest quality wine from old vines, through hand-harvesting methods. And most importantly, we are still able to produce this high-quality wine at an affordable price.
Why are only Pinot Grigio and Merlot made for the U.S.? Are there plans to offer other varieties in the future?
GB-F: 500 years of experience has taught us that both Pinot Grigio and Merlot are approachable wines that are perennial favorites for millions around the world, and our location in the region offers spectacular growing conditions for these two varietals. We take meticulous care of our old vines and cultivate only the finest grapes to produce the best Pinot Grigio and Merlot we can. Perhaps in time, we’ll look to plant new varietals on our gorgeous mountainsides, but for now, our focus is to continue producing the best quality wines at the most affordable prices.
When was the first time you came to New York City?
GB-F: I was born in Gloucester, MA and spent a lot of time in Milan as well as other European cities. My first time coming to New York City as an adult, I was incredibly excited to experience the energy and electricity of one of the greatest cities in the world.
Do you remember the first bar in New York to carry your products?
GB-F: It’s been a long time, so I don’t recall the first place I ever saw Barone Fini offered on the menu, but I vividly recall eating at Ristorante Gino on Lexington [Avenue] between 60th and 61st which had been in business for over 50 years and was a hotspot for the likes of Ed Sullivan and Frank Sinatra, back in the day. I remember sitting down and was so happy to see our Pinot Grigio on the menu, that we ordered a bottle and had a great meal.
Do you have a favorite bar in New York City?
GB-F: The city offers so many amazing places! I love The Loeb Boat House in Central Park. When I think of New York, I think Boathouse. How exciting to sip my Pinot Grigio with amazing food on a beautiful lake! I also enjoy AVRA on 48th between Lex and 3rd. Everything about Avra is about freshness. The fish is incredible and they have great wine to pair with their amazing menu and Mediterranean décor. I love the romantic setting of One If By Land Two If By Sea on 17 Barrow Street because I am a “romantico” at heart.
I also LOVE Pellegrino’s on Mulberry, it’s my new Gino’s! And of course, Delmonico Kitchen on West 38th [Street] –- a New York staple. I also enjoy going to Bell Book & Candle on West 10th Street. It reminds me of being in an underground cellar. Their rooftop garden is amazing, and the restaurant focuses on sustainable practices and responsible procurement, something we adhere to at the winery. Too many great places in the city to keep track of!
Later this month, there will be a Ferragosto menu at iTrulli in which 100% of the proceeds from sales of Barone Fini wines are donated to the Food Bank For New York City. How did that partnership come about?
GB-F: Ferragosto is an annual Italian summer holiday that originated as a religious holiday and a festival of the Italian harvest. Centuries ago, it was a time when aristocrats and peasants broke bread together, which was unheard of even back then. While today most Italians celebrate with fireworks and friends, we thought it would be appropriate to give back in the spirit of what Ferragosto was all about. The team at I Trulli put together a great menu and all proceeds from the sale of Barone Fini will support the Food Bank For New York City, which has worked to bring over one billion meals to hungry New Yorkers. What an incredibly beautiful accomplishment.
Is there a Barone Fini accomplishment you’re most proud of?
GB-F: Every day we’re blessed to be doing what we do for a living, and I often think if my ancestors would be proud of what we’ve accomplished. Adhering to their traditions and respecting the land they once cultivated, while producing a new vintage every year that maintains the highest quality, is something I take great pride in. It’s a responsibility we don’t take lightly, but I think my greatest accomplishment will be passing it down to the next generation and teaching them the skills that my parents taught me.