The bucolic Tuscan wine estate Castello Banfi transforms into a college campus early each summer, shifting emphasis from vinification to education.
In-depth classes on wine, food, and culture at the medieval castle are part of a Banfi sponsored seminar for students majoring in hospitality and the culinary arts. Two groups head to Italy each year under the guidance of Bill Whiting, Banfi’s director of wine education, and members of their respective faculties. Students first visit a Prosciutto di Parma ageing center, a Parmigiano Reggiano cheese dairy, a pasta maker and, finally, the Castello Banfi vineyard estate. In the evenings, the group samples the artistry of premier restaurants in Parma, Siena, Montalcino and Rome along with the Tuscan fare of Ristorante Castello Banfi, recognized with a coveted one-star rating by the prestigious Guide Michelin.
The curriculum delves into the different soil types in the estate’s constellation of single vineyards and on-going efforts to match ideal native and international grape varieties to individual site conditions. Students taste an in-depth sampling of the estate’s latest vintages direct from the barrel and current releases including proprietary blends, SummuS and ExcelsuS, and Castello Banfi’s Poggio all’Oro Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.
The classroom setting extends to Banfi’s balsamic vinegar cellar, enoteca and glass museum, which holds a comprehensive collection of ancient Roman glassware. Local artisans become guest lecturers to discuss and sample their Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Pecorino cheese, honey, bread and biscotti, with one morning class devoted to preparing traditional Tuscan dishes. Members of the Mariani family, proprietors of Castello Banfi, host informal discussions with the students. Starting this fall, a bit of hotel management will enter the curriculum with the opening of Castello Banfi – Il Borgo, a 16-room luxury hotel nestled in the 18th century homes adjacent to the castle keep.
Alumni of the program include students from Cornell University, the University of Nevada - Las Vegas, the Culinary Institute of America, Florida State University, University of Central Florida, Johnson & Wales University, the University of Denver, the university of New Hampshire, University of Houston, Drexel University, University of Delaware, University of South Carolina, Oklahoma State, CalPoly, and Shannon Hotel School in Limerick, Ireland. The program took on its current format about four years ago, but Castello Banfi has been hosting students annually since its dedication in 1984.
A family-owned vineyard estate and winery in the Brunello region of Tuscany, Castello Banfi’s dedication to excellence in the art of winemaking has been recognized the world over. Capturing honor after prestigious honor, the American-owned estate was declared “International Winery of the Year” an unprecedented four times and Italy’s Best Wine Estate” every year since 1994 by the International Enological Concourse in Verona, Italy.
Grants to study the wine and food culture of Italy are funded by The Banfi Vintners Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Castello Banfi and its affiliate, Banfi Vintners, America’s leading wine importer. Banfi is lead today by the children and grandchildren of company founder John F. Mariani, Sr.
Encouraged by their success in business, the Mariani family established the Banfi Foundation and from its earnings contributes to leading national charities and higher education through scholarships, fellowships and grants-in-aid. To promote greater knowledge of the fine wines of Europe and the U.S., the Foundation has endowed the Banfi Chair of Wine Education at Cornell University and provided funding for a Chair of Economics at Colgate University themed to the American economy and the importance of the free enterprise system.
Among other imaginative philanthropic endeavors, the Banfi Foundation provided seed money to help Catholic Relief Services build a technical school, an orphanage and a housing project in Potenza, Italy, for 6,000 people who had been left homeless by that country’s tragic earthquake in 1980. The project consisted of 850 three-room units, completely furnished and rent-free.