25 agosto 2022
by Ilaria Conti

Lunar feuds

 Antonio Capaldo
 Antonio Capaldo

Forget about foreign markets to explore and fight over with France. Italian wine and also barbatelle–the first roots that grow from a small vine cutting–cross the frontier of the atmosphere and land on the International Space Station. A venture featuring Campania, Irpinia, Avellino, Sorbo Serpico: the terroir of Feudi di San Gregorio that reaches the stars. The project by the Italian Space Agency also involves the wineries Gaja and Biondi-Santi and the aim is to assess the aging power of wines.

A new challenge for the president of Feudi Antonio Capaldo who, in 2009, after spending ten years in high finance, realized that the most important business of his career was right at home. He gave it all up and devoted himself to the family business: bottles with a narrow bottom and labels created by Massimo Vignelli, the designer behind the maps for the New York subway and someone who certainly knows about frontiers, given that he has successfully crossed over to the MoMa in the Big Apple. Repentant tee-total, until the age of 25, Capaldo admits to having made up for lost time “in a big way, but “in moderation” and is today convinced that wine is “a drink that gives warmth and joy,” of course, but that is also a “cultural challenge.” Vignelli's labels, he confides, are “one of the insights that led us to success: the thought that the beauty of the container was as important as the content.” Abroad, it is called 'brand identity', the distinctive trait that transforms a company into a brand. “There are not many wineries that have focused on the recognizability of the label, which today is very much a trend,” points out 'Mister Feudi', head of a winery visited every year by over 25,000 people.  

Under his leadership, Feudi is one of just twenty companies in the Italian agri-food industry that have joined the list of B Corps for performance, transparency and responsibility. “The big added value is not the certification per se, but the process that allowed us to involve everyone: there has been no more federating element than the issue of sustainability. It is a way of asking everyone not just to be more productive, but to reduce the impact. We have become sustainable not for consumers but for ourselves: if you aren’t, you will be punished in practice and you are not credible as a wine producer,” he explains. Seven out of ten bottles remain in Italy, the rest travel to the United States, Germany, the Scandinavian countries, Canada, Japan and Korea: “We have been working in China for a few years, but it is a very difficult country,” he admits. “After my uncle left,” he says “from 2006 to 2009, there was no one from the family in the company”: an unimaginable situation for a company like this. And so Capaldo didn't let the chance pass him by: the opportunity “was right there.”

His father wasn’t exactly over-excited in his encouragement: “He told me that parents have to leave something to enable their children to make mistakes, and that, despite having a good resume, I would make mistakes.” Which is precisely what happened. “It was a lesson,” continues Capaldo. “When I arrived, my thoughts were not to not make any mistakes, but that I knew how to do much more than was actually the case. But the there’s nowhere that teaches you how to be an entrepreneur and therefore you have to make mistakes.”

“Wine is not just a drink that gives joy but is above all a cultural challenge”

Present and past, tradition and modernity come together in this 'millennial' company, founded in 1986 that has not yet got past the front door. “In the world of Italian wine, we are still one of the youngest. We don't just want to make a good product, we also look to today’s consumers, to those who will drink our wine in the 'here and now' and to those who want wines to be aged in four or five years. This forces us to think ahead,” he says again. 

“Sustainability is an extraordinary element for creating empowerment”

Sustainability and the terroir, another 'obsession' of Capaldo’s, who is also passionate about Piedmontese reds and Alsatian whites. “I am fascinated by the story that a bottle of wine expresses more than just the hands that made it,” he says. This concept has been put into practice in the 'Feudistudi' project, designed to ferry Irpinia beyond its borders. “We are in a territory that is not very well known but that has a great history. In 1800, the first school of viticulture and enology in Italy was founded here, where there was the third-largest center of Italian production. Our varieties come from the Greeks and Romans. Pliny the Elder writes about it. Feudistudi seeks to convey the complexity and richness of these areas also through small productions of certain wines, which we mainly use for tastings. We think that Irpinia deserves to be known in detail,” he insists, announcing the forthcoming publication of an encyclopedia. 

What about your fears? The fear that 'know-how' will soon disappear, not just in his area but also in Tuscany and Friuli, where the company has expanded. “The problem exists, the kids all want to be enologists, no one wants to work the land,” he says, hoping for “investments to teach the job to people who come from areas with no winegrowing culture.” We must hurry, he warns because “we have no teachers either. We truly are losing something.” In the meantime, we look at the stars and imagine a toast in space: “We thought we were going to take our varieties around the world, we didn't expect the idea of going beyond the atmosphere. We are very proud and it is a fantastic idea by the Italian Sommelier Foundation."

Seguici su