Dr. Francesco Bellini: The Pride of Le Marche
Becoming a powerful businessman or a famous scientist are not the typical dreams of a child raised in rural Italy. As a young boy growing up in the central Italian town of Ascoli Piceno, Francesco Bellini was not aware that such professions even existed. At that time, Bellini’s only wish was to be just like the heroes in the 10-cent adventure books he read and daydreamed about. At the heart of the eventual modest mogul is a courageous and committed hero willing to save the day, regardless of what dangers lie ahead – just like the heroes in the stories he read as a boy.
In 1967, the cosmopolitan bi-lingual city of Montreal, Canada welcomed another immigrant in search of the “American” Dream.
J.T. Adams (1878 – 1949) is responsible for coining the term “American Dream.” In Epic of America, he describes the infamous American ethos: as “… a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain the fullest stature of which they are capable.”
With a handful of english words, a non-existent French vocabulary and empty pockets, it wouldn’t seem like he would be capable of much more than mediocracy.
Many Italians who emigrated to Canada and the U.S. appreciated any honest hard-working job right through to retirement. That was their “American Dream.” Whichever career path he chose, Bellini would face discrimination and communication barriers along the way.
Bellini’s focus, hard work and vision helped him become a two-time tycoon. He plowed through every obstacle in front of him and reached the summits in the world of business and science. His positive attitude, matched with his Italian work ethic, helped the “little man from Le Marche [pronounced lay markay]” persevere through adversity.
It took five years of work-by-day/school-by-night for him to earn a bachelor of science degree from Loyola University. In 1977, 10 years after his feet touched Canadian soil, he threw his black-tasselled cap into the Maritime skies having earned a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of New Brunswick. For many immigrants, if the story stopped here, it would already be considered a success. But Bellini’s legacy rolled on and crushed the naysayers who ever underestimated his potential.
At the turn of the millennium, the visionario entrepreneur decided to venture into the world of wine making. The fragrant fields of grapes and rolling hills of flowers, brushed by the breeze of the Adriatic Sea on which his ancestors worked, became the location for Bellini’s latest endeavour. He named it Domodimonti Natural Wines. Bellini’s biotechnical skills were put to use in the wine-making experience. He refers to the process of making wine as the oldest biotechnology in the world. His mission is to make it the healthiest and most delicious, internationally successful wine on the market. “Look, I never do things just to do it; I do things with passion, and to me things that I do have to succeed, and I do everything possible to make them succeed.”
If it weren’t for his vision, none of this would be possible. In 1986, Dr. Bellini co-founded BioChem Pharma with the late McGill graduate and chemistry professor Bernard Belleau. Dr. Bellini eventually helped develop and commercialize BioChem Pharma’s first therapeutic drug, 3TC Epivir – the first anti-HIV compound drug ever commercialized. His company went on to become one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in Canada. As reported by ALLBusiness.com, the Shire Pharmaceutical Group (PLC) acquired BioChem Pharma for $6 billion – almost 21 times its worth. Bellini’s shareholdings made him a very rich man.
A quarter century after its development, 3TC Epivir is still known as the cornerstone in combination HIV/AIDS infection therapies. “During that time, everybody thought the AIDS virus was … they did not know what it was, they did not know it was a virus, they thought it was a disease only for homosexuals … very few people in the field were involved because there were a small group of people looking for a cure, I had a much better chance of finding a cure.” Vision – it’s what separates the millionaires from the billionaires.
Eventually, Bellini became the chairman of BELLUS Health, ViroChem Pharma, Picchio International, Picchio Pharma, Prognomix and Molson Coors. He was honoured as a member of the Order of Canada and received the Cavaliere di Lavoro in Italy, the same title that was given to Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. Throughout all the accolades, millions of people have added weeks, months and years to their lives because of Bellini’s vaccines. He is currently working on finding a cure for Alzheimer’s. Although he became a hero, he shrugs it off modestly. “I do not have a role model and I don’t think I am a role model. I act like a simple guy still; I do things because I believe in what I’m doing.” Having made his riches in Canada and the United States, Bellini returned to his native region of Le Marche with a gift. He took something from his past and brought it to the present, something that could stand for futures to come. In 2004, Bellini began building what is now a state-of-the-art winery called Domodimonti Natural Wine. With it is a gorgeous hotel built of sand-coloured stone that radiates in the sun, named Magnolia Hotel. Together they are surrounded by untouched earth, a paradise far from the chaos of the world. The seven suites are uniquely designed and inspired by his seven wines: Piccolo Principe Rosato, Deja’V, Li Coste, Monte Fiore, Picens, Il Messia and Solo Per Te.
Bellini found a hill that was so beautiful he had to have it. He built his future wine empire on it and adopted the name the locals had given the area – domo di monti. The name couldn’t be better, Bellini explains. “It was not me who chose that name, it was the local people; they told me that the area is called domo di monti. It means, the ‘king of the mountain.’” It is a fitting title for a man who has climbed the highest mountains and is now the king of one.
Not only does he produce some of the healthiest and most delicious wines at Domodimonti Natural Wine’s facility; his property is also responsible for stimulating tourism in the area. Essentially, he has placed Le Marche on the map, much to the pleasure of the mayor of Montefiore dell’Aso (the village where the vineyard is located), who said, “Domodimonti is for our territory one of our most exceptional and innovative establishments, both in terms of quality wine production and with respect to tourism. It is a new jewel set in our lovely hilltops.”
Forty-three years after he left Le Marche with empty pockets, Francesco Bellini, a.k.a. “the pride of Le Marche”, tells us why he returned to build a winery in the area near his hometown. “I chose a place with no industry. It’s wild. I said I had to do something here …What attracted me was the beauty of the place, and nobody knew about the beauty of this area. Everyone always talks about Tuscany, Piedmonte, Florence and Venice, but nobody talks about Marche, and it’s beautiful, so I said this is a golden opportunity to do something here.”
Success may not be all about money, but perhaps money can provide a better view of what we want to see and be surrounded by. Dr. Bellini passionately describes the view he invites everyone to experience at Domodimonti Natural Wine. For those in need of romance in their lives, Dr. Bellini has the cure – wine, a vineyard, a beautiful resort – and it’s all in Italy’s beautiful natural landscape. “The view,” he says, “is exceptional. To see the moon going over a hilltop, and on that hill there you see a medieval village. You look on your left you see the sea, you look on your right you see the mountains, in late spring you look to one side you see the water. You look on the other side and you see the snow on the mountains tops. In the summer, yellow flowers blossom everywhere; the hills are all yellow, you smell the Earth … it is a beautiful place because it is a forgotten place. You have to be there to experience it.”
Bellini has turned work into leisure on more than one occasion, and with his winery he has found a way to combine all three passions – biotechnology, business and wine – and turn a profit. “My mind is always working, I always like to challenge things, until I have solved the challenge in my mind I cannot sleep … Anybody can produce wine, good marketing will do it, but to make wine which is good for you is very difficult.” This is where his medical side comes into play. He is motivated to create not just wine but a revolutionary wine with less toxins and more taste.
Domodimonti Natural Wines is a family run business and the passion that goes into perfecting every drop in every bottle is a family objective. Even though Bellini had nothing when he first came to Canada, he had something – family. “What are you if you do not continue your dreams?” he asks. “You build something and then what do you do if your children love what you do and respect you? They should be the continuation.” His children, Roberto and Carlo, are very much involved in Francesco’s personal and professional life. Roberto has taken his father’s place at the biotech company BELLUS Health, and Carlo is helping at the winery and other businesses, including real estate.
So how does “Dr. Wine” enjoy la dolce vita? He says it is all about life’s simple pleasures, and a couple of decadent indulgences. “La dolce vita” he says, “is what I do. I travel, I fly everywhere, I enjoy myself, I go hunting, I go fishing. Making fantastic wine, enjoying nice company on a nice day with good food and good wine, that’s la dolce vita.” He spends part of his time in Calgary, winter in Florida, part of the summer in Quebec and part in Italy. Travelling is not a problem – Bellini owns his own plane. “Now that’s la dolce vita.”
Dr. Bellini confidently concludes that he will never stop working, “I don’t think I’ll ever stop, because I don’t consider this working. This is living, this is my life.”