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food / travel

Wine And Jeans: Diesel Founder Renzo Rosso's Organic Vineyard

The diesel farm
The diesel farm
Anne Waak

MAROSTICA — An hour southwest of Venice, behind an inconspicuous gate at the end of a long conifer-lined path, stands a rustic hut. It's fashion entrepreneur Renzo Rosso"s weekend house, which he calls "Diesel Farm."

Rosso sits making a call at a large table in the main room, which is decorated with hunting trophies. On the table are red wine, olive oil, Parmesan and cherries. When he hangs up, there is disappointment on his face.

"I had an audience with the Pope at the Vatican tomorrow, but it's being re-scheduled," he says. But the letdown is not enough to seriously affect Rosso's mood, and he's soon smiling again and talking about what he likes best: business and his success.

It's as if the 59-year-old were looking down over his empire. The headquarters of his company, Diesel, is not far away, in Breganze. Five hundred people work there, and it is complete with a kindergarten, a cafeteria and a fitness studio, the wall of which displays a modified company motto that reads "For a Successful Body." The company motto is "For Successful Living," and since the spring of 2013, artistic director Nicola Formichetti has been flying in every two weeks to make sure the brand retains optimum coolness.

Rosso's appearance bears witness to the successes he has achieved since he founded the company in 1978. He's wearing Diesel jeans, with the fringed seams turned outward, and a dark blue pullover from Maison Martin Margiela. He bought the avant-garde brand in 2002, the first of many acquisitions.

Rosso's holding company OTB (short for "Only the Brave") today has shares in Viktor & Rolf and Marni, and produces and distributes the collections of labels such as Vivienne Westwood and Dsquared2. On the middle and ring fingers of his left hand, Rosso has Rs tattooed — one for Renzo, the other for Rosso. He has three other hidden tattoos: the Diesel Indian, the OTB logo, and four stylized basting-thread stitches, the Margiela brand logo.

He bought his 247-acre farm to prevent the terrain from being sold to different owners and divided. On its four hills, 12 employees cultivate grapes, fruit and olives. Along with oil and grappa, he produces wine, 5,000 bottles each every year of Chardonnay Bianco di Rosso, a Pinot Noir called Nero di Rosso, and a Cabernet Sauvignon called Rosso di Rosso.

The farm is located 984 feet above sea level, and a sea wind blows in from Venice. To the north are the Dolomite Mountains. These factors, Rosso explains, create a special climate. Four-fifths of the grapes are cut back at the beginning of May so that all of the sun and soil's energy flows into the remaining fruit.

A labor of love

The whole farm is in the process of making the transition to organic cultivation methods. "It's the future," Rosso says. "Organic is good for your body. That is the true luxury of the future."

In the case of the wine, that luxury costs 90 euros a bottle. But Rosso says profit is incidental. "It's about the pleasure. We make less than a million euros with it," he says. Compared to the billion in earnings that his parent company generates every year, it truly is a negligible figure. Rosso spent 5 million euros two years ago on the renovation of the Rialto Bridge in Venice.

The farm, where he spends his free time, reminds him of his simple background. He says being there is like returning to his roots. Rosso's father was a farmer as is his older brother. Rosso grew up on a farm near Brugine, about 25 miles west of Venice. He now lives with his second wife and the three youngest of his six children in Bassano del Grappa, just a few kilometers away from Diesel Farm. He uses a helicopter to go back and forth, just as he will use it when he eventually goes to meet with the Pope. There's a heliport right behind his farmhouse.

He refers to the farm as his island. But he says it's inaccurate to view his property up here as a little castle on the hill. After all, a road runs through here that people can use to walk, hike or jog. As far as he's concerned, they can ride their motorcycle on it too, and he considers this approach a mark of his social commitment.

"Yes, I do a lot of social things, really a lot," he says. People often address him on the street, he says. "Young people like me. They see me as a simple person who started with nothing and won respect through work."

His latest entrepreneurial project takes him away from fashion and is to some extent an extension of what’" happening here on the farm. In Germany, 8% of farms use organic cultivation methods, but in Italy only 2.5% do, he explains. So it's a growth market. Which is why he recently bought the Italian organic supermarket chain NaturaSì.

"I want to make products that are good for peoples' health," he says. But the words get progressively harder to hear because of the sudden racket behind the house. His helicopter has just landed. "May I go?" Rosso asks before jumping up and heading towards it.

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