Sergio Esposito acquires Biondi-Santi library in $5 million purchase (the blue chipization of wine)

sergio esposito italian wine

Esposito’s Italian Wine Merchants on 16th St. in Manhattan. Image via Google Places.

According to a press release issued last week by PRWeb, Italian wine merchant Sergio Esposito has purchased the Biondi-Santi library for $5 million.

The “7,000-bottle” archive stretches back to 1945.

A wine industry observer, who spoke to Esposito about the acquisition, told me that the winery’s owner Jacopo Biondi-Santi was facing financial pressures in the wake of business investments gone awry.

Jacopo is the son of Brunello patriarch and patrician Franco Biondi-Santi, who died less than two months ago at age 91.

The sale of the wine is significant because it is “the largest vertical collection sale in history of ‘blue chip’ Italian wines.” It also represents Esposito’s latest move in his quest to amass a behemoth-sized collection of investment-worthy Italian wines.

Esposito is the director of the Bottle Asset Funds, “a $50 million investment fund” founded in 2008 that invests in “‘blue chip’ wines in inefficient markets.”

franco biondi santi

Above: Brunello patriarch and patrician Franco Biondi-Santi died in early April 2013.

I worked as the media director at Esposito’s Italian Wine Merchants in Manhattan when it was still co-owned by celebrity chef Mario Batali and celebrity restaurateur Joe Bastianich, who pulled no punches in his brutal account of their business dealings.

In my view of the Italian wine world, the acquisition marks yet another milestone in the big-businessization of Italian wine.

Is that a good thing?

In the New Testament “Parable of the Talents,” the master praises his servants for investing well. No one can fault Esposito and his group of investment bankers for wanting to augment their business and increase their earnings.

But the moment a bottle of wine — the fruit of the vine — becomes a “blue chip,” it ceases to be an expression of a place and of the persons who tended that vine. It’s no longer the child of tradition and culture but a mere object to be traded among the world’s elite.

It’s the ultimate reification of agriculture. And the moment that we forget where that bottle comes from, we lose sight of the humanity that produced it. In that estrangement, we lose sight of ourselves.

eddy murphy trading places

Image via The Escapist.

14 thoughts on “Sergio Esposito acquires Biondi-Santi library in $5 million purchase (the blue chipization of wine)

  1. We see what Big Business has done to our food industry and how hard it is for the small farmer to make it anymore. With more big dollar auctions in the Far East, certain wines are surely going to become an investment/show commodity. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I love Joe Bastianich’s account of Sergio Esposito, and their parting, with which I completely agree with JOE. He and Mario are two of the good guys, and of course Lidia is brilliant. No wonder they’ve done so well.

    • Sure… except for the decidedly prejudicial and slanderous attack on Neapolitans… Did I mention that three of my grandparents are from Avellino :) Really though, is that kind of commentary from Bastianich the price to pay for his usual candor and forthrightness? I believe in taking the good with the bad, yet that kind of provincialism takes the shine of the B & B empire — just ask the waitstaff that won the lawsuit for pilfered wages (workers unite!) about that glitter.

      • Alfonso this is scary!!! Bravo, Kazantzakis was and still remains one of the greatest and to code him it’s very touching.

        Mr. Ziliany as your side says “ELEGANCE IS THE ONLY BEAUTY THAT NEVER FADES” and I say that BALANCE IS THE ONE “THING” THAT IS NOT MAN MADE, PURCHASED, OR SOLD. It can only be achieved by been true, natural, real, soul-full and honest!!!!! It’s crafted by people who believe!!!!!
        As THE CRAZY FRENCH WOMAN SAYS AND TOTALLY AGREE WITH HER “I like wine that is alive and unmanipulated, characteristics that are surprisingly hard to come by in modern winemaking. I don’t like wines that are worked: heavily extracted, oaky, manipulated, squeaky clean and boring. I like finesse and elegance, and wines that are full of emotion and personality – a bit like people. For this, the winemaker needs to take a step back, and allow his/her wines to go with the flow of nature. Being overly controlling ultimately limits the possibilities and expression of your wine”. And maybe these wines might have a bottle differentiation, excuse my language but so f-u-c-k-i-n-g what, isn’t it interesting some times that we go through THE EXPERIENCE OF TASTING SOMETHING DIFFERENT.
        Why Musar is Musar, or Gravner is Gravner, or Radikon is Radikon, or Damijan is Damijan, or Cos is Cos, or Mascarello is Mascarello, or Klinec is Klinec, or Paolo Bea is Paolo Bea, or Cornelissen is Cornelissen, or Salvo Foti of is Salvo Foti, or Clos Saron is Clos Saron, or Donkey & Goat is Donkey & Goat, among others………
        I think I need to stop right here..

  3. Fuçk this guy and his wine-as-investment-strategy outlook on things! Especially since he obviously plans to turn a mighty profit from his $5 million bucks! WIth an average purchase price of $715/bottle, you gotta know he plans to at least triple…if not quadruple…that number for his retail business! Anyone out there wanna pay $2145-2860.00 for a 1990 il Greppo Riserva?!!

  4. Thanks for all the insightful comments here. I included the link to Bastianich’s harangue because I wanted to contextualize the world that people like he and SE inhabit. It’s not pretty.

    Roy, I think that the bitter pill to swallow is the fact that Biondi-Santi’s wines are part of Italy’s “cultural patrimony.” What if Renaissance masters were traded as “blue chips” by the world’s elites? Sadly, they are.

    Ed, always great to see you here. I’m not expressing any personal opinion about SE’s character. But again, just trying to give some context.

    Graz, I was surprised by the racism in JB’s as you were. I think it speaks to the world that people like he and SE inhabit. It’s not allowed at our house or in our professional activities.

    Brad, I’m a huge fan of your work. So awesome to see you here. Thanks for the comment.

    Alfonso, any excuse to revisit Kazantzakis! It’s a great analogy.

    Fabio, I know that you know where I’m coming from. I’m with you all the way.

    Thanks to all for being here.

  5. So I read JB’s account of Sergio. My only issue is, he supplies no details on what went wrong. Why did Sergio bring no value to the table? How did he screw them? Joe’s account is pure ad hominem attacks with no real information.

    If anyone can provide some more details on the back story I’d very much appreciate it.

    • James, thanks for being here. I really don’t know what went down between JB and SE. I just wanted to give a sense of the world that they inhabit.

      Camille Giroud is owned by Goldman Sachs. Now (a library of) Biondi Santi is owned by SE and his gang of investors. Especially in the case of the latter, an icon of European cultural patrimony and Italy’s identity has been blue-chipized.

  6. Pingback: Errata corrige: Jacopo Biondi Santi ed il Greppo estranei alla vendita al Bottled Asset Fund delle riserve di Brunello di Montalcino | Blog di Vino al Vino

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