IN CONVERSATION WITH MARILISA
Following the 2023 Naples Winter Wine Festival’s record breaking auction, raising $26 million to support children in need, we meet with one of the event’s main supporters and a pioneering woman in wine, the co-director and CEO of Allegrini Group
The 2023 Naples Winter Wine Festival has been a phenomenal success. Drumming to the theme “In Perfect Harmony,” through its live auction, the annual arts and entertainment event set a new milestone, raising close to $26 million in support of vulnerable and underprivileged children in Collier County.
Held each February in Florida’s Paradise Coast, since its inception in 2001 the festival has raised some $269 million with proceeds supporting 50 nonprofit organizations in the community, while providing over 300,000 local children with the services and resources to help better their lives.
This prestigious event brings together wine enthusiasts and collectors, philanthropists, sommeliers and chefs from around the world, as well as a selection of renowned vintners representing 13 wine producing regions, seven countries and three continents.
One such featured vintner is Marilisa Allegrini of the revered Allegrini Valpolicella estate, a long time supporter of the festival, who raised close to $310,000 in auction proceeds at this year’s Festival. Alongside her involvement in charity, Marilisa is a passionate advocate for using her voice as a woman in wine to help others find a career in a world which remains largely dominated by men.
Marilisa’s life is intimately connected to wine. As the head of the Allegrini Estates, she carries on the legacy of her father Giovanni who was a visionary viticulturist credited for revolutionizing Amarone and appassimento winemaking.
Raised on her father’s vineyards, the young Marilisa was heavily influenced by his dedication to making wine of place. Following studies at the University of Verona, she traveled the world as director of sales and marketing for Allegrini, sharing her passion for Amarone.
Today, Allegrini produces benchmark Amarone with a focus on single-vineyard sites, and marrying tradition with innovation. In 2017, Marilisa became the first Italian woman to adorn the cover of Wine Spectator. Three years later she was awarded the Cavaliere del Lavoro – a national honor given to “those who have been singularly meritorious” in agriculture, industry and commerce.
Following the Naples Winter Wine Festival, VOICES caught up with Marilisa Allegrini to see her thoughts on the role of the wine industry in supporting charitable events, and her vision for the role of women in wine.
The festival has been a phenomenal success. You must be overjoyed with the results. What are your overall feelings about the event and the atmosphere?
I have been participating in this cause for close to 15 years, and continue to be impressed by how the community pulls together in order to help the children of Collier County. After such a long relationship with the Festival, returning to this part of the world feels like a homecoming.
I’m able to interact with old friends and new, and with some of the recipients of this needed charity, which is heartwarming. There are some wonderful events and amazing wine enjoyed during the festival, all of which goes hand-in-hand with a unique experience in the name of a worthy cause.
You’ve been supporting charitable events and auctions for a long time. Do you feel the wine industry is in a good position to support charitable causes, and be a positive force for the community?
As an entrepreneur, I feel that it is my responsibility to give back to the community which sustains my endeavors. I also realize what a wonderful opportunity we possess as vintners to elicit emotions through our craft. Leveraging this unique position can be very effective in channeling support for good causes.
Food, wine and art have the power to capture the imagination in a way that few other products can. So I proudly sit on a number of boards, such as the Fondazione Arena di Verona, Palazzo Te in Mantova, the Venice Guggenheim, as well as help with Allegrini’s support with various enterprises. All these causes have incredible reach in giving back to the community at large.
As a pioneering woman in wine, you are rightfully a strong advocate for championing equality for women in an industry still largely dominated by men. How has the wine world changed since you began your journey?
Ah, but how the world has changed since I began my career! Women are making real breakthroughs in the wine industry in general, with many females excelling in the areas of marketing, PR, sales and winemaking. I am encouraged and believe that we will continue to see great things in the industry from our female participants.
But from a personal standpoint, I have always had a great amount of confidence in the value which I brought to the field. And upon reflection, I admit that much of my confidence perhaps came through my father. He always treated me the same as my brothers, held me to the same standards and without prejudice, and bestowed the same rewards in terms of affection and encouragement. Towards the end of his life, he was absolutely resolved to have me develop a leadership role at the winery, having always recognized the contributions of the women of the Allegrini family, both past and present.
Our Women Behind the Wine program, supported by yourself, helps women pursue careers in wine through scholarships and mentoring. What are the main challenges, and what more can be done to overcome these?
Stepping back from the wine industry, I think we can point to a lot of progress for women both in Italy and across much of the globe. We have seen time and time again how female participation in the general economy can offer enormous macro-economic dividends. So, we should continue to invest in education and celebrate female involvement in the wine industry. I recognize my great fortune to have been born into a family that supported me, and in a country that values my contributions.
I feel I have a responsibility to speak for the rights of women, especially those who live in countries that still oppress women and consider them inferior to men. It breaks my heart, but also reminds me that we all have a responsibility to lend our voices to these women in their fight for equal rights and opportunities. The challenges ahead are far-reaching and multiple, so if we are not able to come together and harvest the talents of “all” people, we risk leaving a powerful resource untapped in the fight for our future.
What are your hopes and fears for your two daughters as they lead Poggio al Tesoro, the family’s Estate in Bolgheri, into the future?
Like any mother, my hopes for my daughters are to learn from my mistakes! This is perhaps wishful thinking, as young people need to make their own way in life. What I can say is that I have every confidence in my daughters, who have both proved themselves in other fields prior to taking on a leadership role at the estate.
Carlotta is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of the University of Florence and practices as a doctor of medicine, while Caterina is a PhD candidate at the University of Milan. I’m excited to see them continue our family tradition, advancing the land and winery for the next, eighth, generation of Allegrini vignerons.
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