Isole e Olena sold

Isola e Olena estate

The Charles Heidsieck wine and champagne empire expands.

Isole e Olena, the emblematic Chianti Classico estate painstakingly built up by Paolo De Marchi over the last 45 years, has been acquired by the EPI Group, owners of Charles Heidsieck champagne and Biondi-Santi in Montalcino inter alia.

De Marchi’s son Luca will continue to oversee the De Marchi family’s original wine estate, Sperino in Lessona, Alto Piemonte. Back in 1956 Paolo’s father bought two rather tumbledown hamlets, Isole and Olena, near San Donato in Poggio in the west of the Chianti Classico zone. Paolo’s first visit there was in 1958 when he was seven, according to Bill Nesto MW and Frances Di Savino’s invaluable book on the region.

Paolo De Marchi
Paolo De Marchi

He went on to study at Geisenheim, Montpellier, Beaune and UC Davis before arriving to manage the estate in 1976, very much setting down his roots there. Since then De Marchi has been much more likely to receive the wine world’s luminaries at his exemplary estate than to travel to meet them. Among many quality-inspired initiatives he instituted over the years were a dramatic improvement in the quality of Sangiovese plant material (from which all of the region benefited) and restoration of traditional terraces in the very varied vineyards spread over the estate’s 49 ha (121 acres). Cepparello, from the estate's best vineyards, is one of the most respected all-Sangiovese wines.

The deal, involving an undisclosed sum, has been two years and many long discussions in the making. It was important for De Marchi to see how the Biondi-Santi estate fared since EPI acquired it, its first Italian investment, in 2016. (See Walter’s 2021 verdict.) According to Damien Lafaurie, CEO of EPI Wine & Champagne, ‘there was a lot of emotion involved in the sale. Paulo built the estate. He can tell you a story about each plot, each tree – he knows everything.’

De Marchi and his wife Marta are expected to relocate to Alto Piemonte at the end of next year but EPI would like De Marchi to remain as chairman of the Isole e Olena board for as long as he wishes. Meanwhile EPI will appoint a new technical team to be trained by De Marchi, with EPI’s two Italian properties overseen by Giampiero Bertolini, currently CEO of Biondi-Santi. Lafaurie assured me they are not currently involved directly in any other acquisitions (‘there’s no rush’), but are always on the lookout for ‘gems’. EPI already have a stake in Isole e Olena's longstanding UK importer Liberty Wines.

De Marchi’s official comment is, ‘After having devoted a large part of my life to Isole e Olena, I am pleased to see my estate now in the hands of a group that shares the values to which I am personally very attached: the transmission of know-how, the enhancement of terroirs, and the quest for excellence. I look forward to actively contributing to this exciting new chapter for Isole e Olena and to ensuring a gradual and seamless transition. This transaction does not involve my old family property in Lessona (Alto Piemonte) run by my son Luca who will benefit from my higher support and experience.’

EPI’s wine empire also includes Piper-Heidsieck, Rare, a stake in Tardieu-Laurent and Ch La Verrerie, an estate in Provence owned by the family of Christofer Descours, the EPI Group’s president, who said, ‘I am delighted that the renowned Isole e Olena estate is joining EPI. Paolo De Marchi’s unique vision, operational excellence, and constant perseverance are in strong unison with the core values upheld at EPI Group. This investment illustrates our passion for excellence, our ambition to develop brands of the highest calibre and our respect for the transmission of heritage and craftsmanship.’ (The group was originally built on top-quality shoes and clothes.)

On a personal note, I can’t help seeing parallels between De Marchi’s decision to sell Isole e Olena and my own to sell We are both the same age. But I devoted less than 22 years to establishing my website before selling, and it did not involve an extensive landholding, whereas De Marchi has spent more than twice that time utterly bound up in a beautiful slice of Tuscany.