Tullio Masoni makes some of the most exclusive wine in the world, but he doesn’t want you to drink it.
An exuberant entrepreneur, art collector and former investment banker, he created what he says is the world’s smallest vineyard atop a 16th-century palazzo in the heart of Reggio Emilia. The town is famous for being the birthplace of the “tricolore” Italian national flag. It’s also sandwiched between Parma and Modena, in a stretch of land that has given Italy some of its most well-known exports, including supercars Ferrari and Lamborghini and culinary staples like lasagne, tortellini, Prosciutto di Parma and Ragù alla Bolognese.
That Masoni’s wine doesn’t end up on many tables with such comestibles probably makes sense when you consider its beginnings. He grows his grapes on the rooftop of Via Mari 10 – the building’s address and the name of the wine itself – a notable site because in 1859 it was visited by Giuseppe Garibaldi, the revolutionary who helped unify Italy.
“My father was into winemaking,” he said in a phone interview. “I inherited an actual vineyard in the countryside around Reggio Emilia, but when I looked at the books, I realized I’d have spent more money on it than I’d have made – so I sold it.”
“However, 20 years later I regretted it, so I made myself a pocket-size vineyard.”
At just over 200 square feet, Via Mari 10 yields only 29 bottles of red wine a year, which Masoni then prices at an eye-watering 5,000 euros (about $5,000) each. Aptly for the cost, the bottles aren’t sold in a wine shop, but in an art gallery – Bonioni Arte – just a few blocks away.
“My wine is a form of artistic expression, a philosophical provocation, something to keep in your living room so you can chat about it with your friends and tell them about the lunatic who put a vineyard on his rooftop,” said Masoni, who compares his urban vineyard to French artist Marcel Duchamp’s “Bicycle Wheel” – an actual bicycle wheel he mounted onto a stool in his Paris studio in 1913. It then informed Duchamp’s famous series of ordinary objects presented as art, called Readymades.
“If you see a bicycle wheel in a living room rather than a repair shop, you realize how beautiful it is,” Masoni said. “My vineyard is like that: It’s unexpected; it stimulates the brain; it sparks new thoughts.”
Art of the vine
The connection between the wine and art starts with the fruit, because the vines grow on trellises that are actually artworks made by a local sculptor, Oscar Accorsi. “My grapes grapple art as soon as they’re born,” Masoni said.
The wine is aged in oak barrels that are also sculptures by another local artist, Lorenzo Menozzi, and are meant to represent a man and a woman. Masoni also got Giuseppe Camuncoli, an established Marvel comic book artist who was born in Reggio Emilia, to draw a special edition of his wine label. As a result, he encourages his buyers to never open the bottles, but treat them like artworks.
“I’m the only wine producer in the world who says you shouldn’t drink his wine,” he said.
The vines, which are Sangiovese, are fed with eggs, bananas, seaweed and nightingale droppings, according to Masoni, but he says their “diet” also includes the voices coming from the neighborhood – the quarrels, the curses and the various dialects that enrich and contaminate the fruit, giving it an edge over countryside grapes, which enjoy only silence.
Masoni rejects the notion that his wine could be judged via traditional means, for example by isolating the flavors in its bouquet. “There’s no leather or red berries in my wine,” he proclaimed.
He can’t hide his disdain for what he considers to be some snobbish aspects of the wine world, particularly the fact that the majority of the great Italian producers are noble families. That may seem at odds with the price of his product, but he’s a little tight-lipped about actual sales figures, revealing that most bottles are either given away or added by the Bonioni gallery as a gift to buyers of significant pieces. According to his website, there are 10 bottles left of the most recent vintage, 2019, with many of the preceding years out of stock.
Pressed on what the wine is really like in the glass, Masoni offers some unique tasting notes: “At the first sip you get a lot of perplexity, but after a few seconds something comes alive in your palate that opens up your mind to a new dimension,” he said, carefully weighing each word.
“My wine does not offer tranquility, rather it traces a red vertical line inside your mind, that conveys a feeling of infinite speed.”
Of course, most will just have to take his word for it.