CONWAY — Known more for its outlet shopping than expensive labels and for craft brews than fine Italian wine, North Conway nevertheless was the destination Monday of a man who is comfortable both in the fashion and wine worlds: Salvatore Ferragamo of Florence, Italy, namesake grandson of one of Europe’s most recognizable designers.
He and wife Christine were there to visit Vito Marcello’s Italian Bistro on Seavey Street, where they are rolling out Salvatore’s latest vintages from his estate-bottled Il Borro label.
Though it’s obvious the Ferragamo name is more commonly associated with expensive shoes, belts and perfumes than small-batch winemaking, according to the tall, blue-eyed Salvatore the family has maintained vineyards for decades in the fertile soil of Tuscany.
Now, with Vito’s assistance, he is bringing his Pian di Nova red blend (of Syrah and Sangiovese grapes), his Lamelle (a buttery Chardonnay) and refreshing Rose wines to New Hampshire.
Though they will later be sold statewide, for now they are exclusively available at Vito Marcello’s, Vito and Salvatore said in a joint statement.
“The wines are being poured in the restaurant right now,” Vito said. “We’re the only restaurant in the state of New Hampshire that sells the wines from Salvatore’s vineyards in Tuscany.
“But,” he went on, “we are working on getting the license to sell retail, which will then expand to the rest of the state and the country.”
“We, of course, are very proud to be here,” the 46-year-old Salvatore said in a musical Italian accent, “at the beautiful Vito Marcello’s restaurant, and to bring a little piece of Tuscany to New Hampshire, which is very important for us.”
Salvatore said all the wines “are certified organic, as of January 2015. We believe in organic sustainability.”
He added: “We own a beautiful property called Il Borro, which is not only a winery but we produce many different agricultural products,” including olive oil, vegetables, chicken, eggs and beef.
Also called Il Borro is a medieval hamlet outside of Florence that the family has converted into a Relais & Chateaux boutique hotel. While a night’s stay at the 1,700-acre estate might set you back about $400, the property offers everything from a golf course and spa to farm-to-table cuisine and (of course) wine tastings. The hotel is also totally sustainable, “because we produce three times as much solar energy on the property as we consume,” Salvatore said proudly.
Over lunch, Christine Ferragamo — an Austrian native and self-described “soccer mom” to their three kids, who met Salvatore at age 25 when she went to Italy to study law — supplied a bit of background about his grandfather, who apprenticed with a cobbler in Naples at age 14, went to Hollywood in 1914 and ended up staying on as “shoemaker to the stars,” creating designer footwear for everyone from Audrey Hepburn to John Wayne.
Returning to Italy, Salvatore Sr. founded his company, married and had six children. Though he died in 1960, his 96-year-old widow Wanda is still very much alive.
Meanwhile, Salvatore Jr.’s father, Ferruccio, is chairman of the company and his twin brother James was recently promoted to vice president.
“But because there are so many children, the family business keeps getting divided up into smaller and smaller pieces,” Christine explained. In addition, a family rule dictates that only three third-generation members can be directly involved in running the company. Which could be why the outdoors-loving Salvatore Jr. gravitated toward the vineyards.
Speaking of vineyards, if you can’t wait to to try some of Salvatore’s delicious wine at Vito’s, a visit to the website ilborrowines.com offers videos of Salvatore explaining his winemaking philosophy.
Go to wine.com and plug in “Il Borro,” however, and you’ll find they are all “currently unavailable.”
Happily, not for us in North Conway. While the full-bodied Pian di Nova wines are available by the bottle in the restaurant now, Cynthia Ehmett, general manager of VM Foods Inc., said, “Once our new inventory arrives, we will offer the Pian di Nova and Lamelle by the glass.”
Salvatore said he and Vito met at a Wine Spectator event in New York, and thus a beautiful friendship was born. “We met always huge challenges to get our wine into the States,” he said. “But Vito found a way.”
If all goes well, Salvatore plans to return next fall for a special winemaker dinner, in which each course will be accompanied by a different Ferragamo wine.
“We are currently looking to secure a date this coming fall to host a Tuscan wine dinner featuring Il Borro wines and Chef Vito’s culinary talent,” Ehmett said.
“The wine dinner will take place at the bistro, and tickets will be offered prior to this event,” with the date to be announced soon, she said.
For more about Vito Marcello, go to vitofoods.com or call (603) 356-7000. The restaurant is open Wednesday-Sunday, starting at 5 p.m. When summer hours start June 25, the restaurant will also be open Mondays.
For more on Il Borro, go to ilborrowines.com.