John Mariani, founder of the Castello Banfi vineyard estate in Montalcino, has been selected to receive the "Toscana-USA" prize for his work in promoting Tuscan wines around the world and building relations between the region and his native United States. Florence's mayor will honor Mr. Mariani, 70, in that city's historic Palazzo Vecchio on September 24th. Chairman of leading US wine importer Banfi Vintners, Mr. Mariani founded Castello Banfi in 1978 along with his brother, Harry, out of a desire to create world-class wines in Montalcino and conviction in the region's potential to do so. Castello Banfi has been named four-time "International Winery of the Year" and "Italy's Best Wine Estate" for the past nine years by the annual International Enological Conference in Verona, Italy, and declared "European Winery of the Year" by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, consistently earning rave reviews and high scores by wine critics. Mr. Mariani developed the medieval fortress crowning the estate into a hospitality center complete with formal and casual restaurants, glass museum, and enoteca to host over 60,000 visitors a year from the 52 world markets for Castello Banfi, making it an economic stimulus for the area. The estate's website, www.castellobanfi.com, also promotes dining and lodging in Montalcino. Castello Banfi has been recognized for its groundbreaking research in clonal selection of the native Sangiovese grape to improve the overall quality of the area's historic Brunello di Montalcino wine, as well as its introduction of international grape varietals. The estate's signature wines, in addition to the single-vineyard reserve Poggio all'Oro and unfiltered cru Poggio alle Mura Brunellos, are three proprietary cuvées, ExcelsuS, SummuS and Cum Laude. Several noble varietals, including Tavernelle Cabernet Sauvignon, Colvecchio Syrah and San Angelo Pinot Grigio are produced from estate vineyards as well. The Tuscan-American Association was founded in 1996 to promote cultural and economic ties between the United States and Tuscany. Co-recipients of the award, honoring those who contribute to the development of friendship and exchange between Tuscany and the US, include former US Consul General Sue Patterson, ex-rector of the University of Florence Paolo Blasi, and famous tenor Andrea Bocelli.