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Wine Story: From mafia to winemaking, path of Michael Franzese and Samvel Hakobyan, history of creation of Armenian wine Franzese

20:42, June 4

Michael Franzese Winery, founded by Michael Franzese, is a unique story of transformation and partnership. The former boss of the Colombo crime family in New York, Franzese managed to change his life and devote himself to a completely different business: the production of high-quality Armenian wine.

In an interview with News.am Style, Samvel Hakobyan, executive director and co-founder of the Michael Franzese winery, spoke about the fascinating and difficult path of Michael Franzese, their partnership, and the creation of Armenian wine in the arena of the American wine industry. Find out how a former mafia boss introduced unique wines from Armenia to the world and turned his life into a story of success and inspiration.

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Michael Franzese was born into a mafia family: his father was an underboss in the Colombo crime family. Michael quickly rose through the ranks of the Mafia and became the second biggest moneymaker in the history of the Italian Mafia after Al Capone, earning between 8 and 10 million dollars a week. However, at the age of 35, his life changed dramatically. Having fallen in love with a Mexican woman who professed Christianity, Michael began to think about his life and its meaning. Once in prison, he began reading the Bible that his lover had sent him and decided to change his life.

“His story becomes a story of transformation. He is the only member of the mafia who left it without putting anyone in prison or collaborating with the government. Nobody else did this. He was able to leave without making enemies, and shared his story of transformation,” says Samvel Hakobyan.

The path Michael once chose to change himself and his life continues to this day.

“There are times when I bounce back, get angry or go back to old ways of thinking. That’s why it’s so important to surround yourself with the right people who will help you stay on track,” Michael once said.

That is why in this context, when Franzese talks about his transformation and that this requires time, responsibility and the right people around, the Franzese wine is perceived not only as just a delicious drink, but also as a symbol of redemption and metamorphosis.

“For those unfamiliar with the winemaking process, when planting seeds, the root must penetrate deep into the soil to find water. The higher the altitude and the lower the water level, the deeper the root must penetrate. The larger the fruits you get as a by-product. You don’t water the grapes: you let them penetrate the soil and find it, just as a person must dive deep to find the meaning of life for which it is worth changing.”

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Another reason why Franzese chose Armenia as his reference point and inspiration in winemaking was the story that the world's first vineyards were discovered here, where Noah planted the first grapes and made the first wine, which Samvel told him at their first meeting.

Samvel himself, a fan of Franzese from a young age of 10, met his idol at the age of twenty. Their meeting turned into a strong friendship and mentorship. After the war, Samvel sought to draw attention to the country and its achievements.

“Armenia has done so much for the world, and when I learned that the roots of winemaking go back to it, I turned to him: ‘Mr. Michael, your story is a story of transformation, and wine is a symbol of transformation. Armenian wine has never been brought to the US on a national scale, and you have a large following. I'll find a winery and let's form a partnership, bring wines from Armenia and share the story of the world's first wines with the United States.’ So, we brought some wines from my uncle's winery, and Michael liked them. This is how our cooperation began,” shares Samvel.

Are Michael Franzese wines made exclusively from Armenian grape varieties? For example Areni and Kakhet? The peculiarity of their products is the use of traditional winemaking methods without the addition of sulfites and preservatives, which ensures high quality and natural wine. This is something that Michael himself also values in production.

“We want to offer the highest quality wines. What makes Armenian wine unique is that it is produced using traditional winemaking methods and does not contain sulfites or many of the preservatives found in wines from other regions. We want to offer the American consumer and consumers around the world the highest quality wines from Armenia. We want people to know about Armenian-made wines,” emphasizes Samvel Hakobyan.

The vineyards are located in a region with rich volcanic soil, which gives the wine a special taste and aroma. Armenian wine undergoes a single fermentation, which preserves its natural properties and high sugar concentration. This process allows you to avoid a hangover and discomfort after drinking, which distinguishes Armenian wine from many others.

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“We are pleased to see that Armenia as a wine region is beginning to gain popularity here in the United States. And, of course, we like to think that we had something to do with it. This is an exciting event. People are looking for something more than Napa Valley wines, traditional French or Italian wines. Everyone who tried Armenian wine liked it very much.”

Samvel and Michael plan to visit Armenia to become more familiar with the traditions of winemaking. PBS has already expressed interest in creating a documentary about Armenian winemaking, which will help draw attention to the culture and history of the country.

“PBS approached Franzese with a proposal to make a documentary about Armenian winemaking in Armenia. There is definitely interest in this in the next year or two,” shares Samvel.

In the coming years, the winery plans to expand production and become the largest importer of Armenian wine in the United States. Their plan is to develop partnerships with other winemakers and vineyards in Armenia to create diversity and offer new and unique wines to the American consumer.

Michael Franzese's story and journey into winemaking epitomizes transformation and dedication to tradition. Samvel Hakobyan and Michael Franzese strive to convey to the world community the importance of Armenian wine and its cultural heritage, they see this as the potential to create a strong brand that will be associated with quality and history.

Michael Franzese wines are available not only in the US, but also in the UK, Australia, and Canada. Partnerships with major retailers such as Kroger are helping to expand the brand internationally.

“We now partner with Kroger so people can go to Ralphs, Kroger in Michigan or Mariano's in Illinois. We’re really expanding and taking the brand national.”

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The company strives to ensure that their wines are present on every family table and in every home. Plans include using modern technologies such as augmented reality to promote the product and interact with consumers.

The story of the Michael Franzese winery is not only a business success, but also an inspiring example of transformation and devotion to one's roots. Michael Franzese and Samvel Hakobyan continue to develop the brand, bringing the culture and heritage of Armenian winemaking to the world.

Michael Franzese himself once said: “Wine represents history, philosophy and transformation. By combining the story of the world's first wine with the true story of reincarnation, we offer the market something unique."

Liana Agհaյanyan

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