MONTALCINO- “It is Bellissimo!!!” Better yet: wonderful.
Excuse me, what was that, Ms. Mariani? One would imagine that it would pertain to a budget surplus, or a contract. The desk of this fascinating American woman is covered in reports, studies, proposals. And her telephone seems like a metronome, ringing every ten seconds. “No, the rainbow is so beautiful!” The only thing missing is Judy Garland singing… But the ambiance is truly a bit magical. And it is the kind of enthusiasm that only a girl born in the shadow of Manhattan’s skyscrapers can find when she looks out the window overlooking classic Tuscan landscape: cypress trees, olive groves, the soft hills of Montalcino speckled with its native holm oak trees, and that expanse of vineyards that surrounds Castello Banfi. And above it all, lighting up the sky, there is an infinitely beautiful rainbow hugging the sky between Sant’Angelo in Colle and the Medici Fortress, the entire profile of Montalcino, one of the most important wine territories in the world. “Here you have it,” explains Cristina Mariani, president of Castello Banfi: 55 million Euros in sales, 10.5 million bottles of which 60% are sold overseas – the fascination of making wine, all the charm of winemaking, is wrapped in that rainbow.”
But what about the financial crisis? The Brunello investigation?
“These things happen,” responds Cristina, who has golden hair and a sweet demeanor even if in the company they say she is maniacal in her attention to detail, as she divides her time between two sides of the Atlantic; and between her husband and three children on one side, and a company with hundreds of employees on the other. But the real wealth is in this countryside, and the possibility to work with this earth. The world financial crisis is passing, and sales of Brunello are strong.”
Do your American friends envy you?
“Sure, and why not - I’m a top manager, I earn my pay, I am happy doing what I do, but when I tell them about my Tuscany, my Montalcino, my wine, they are absolutely blown away. I can almost hear them whisper, ‘lucky you.’
Does ‘Made in Tuscany’ still have strong value in America?
“Absolutely yes. In America it is sort of a fatal attraction, but also in the rest of the world when you tell people that you are Italian and that you make wine in Italy, they look at you with eyes glazed over in amazement.”
Excuse me, but you’re not truly Italian. You were born in America, you studied in America, you sell wine mostly in America…
“But I have an Italian last name, I spend a lot of time living and working in Italy, and I make one of Italy’s best wines, Brunello di Montalcino. And to tell the truth, I now feel more Italian than American. Plus I live in the land of Dante, Botticelli, Galilei, Michelangelo, Puccini and Verdi. When I tell my friends about that, their reaction reminds me of when I tell fairytales to my children.”
I’ve heard that the image of Italy has faded. Listening to you, though, that does not seem to be true.
“For my work, I travel from New York to Singapore, from Rio to Shanghai, and I have never found anyone who is not fascinated with Italy. Maybe it is because I tell them about it in English, but the perception of Italy in the world is one of absolute quality in terms of its products and for a way of life that everyone aspires to. And these are the values it takes to sell wine. The image of a place is fundamental, and Italy is at the top.”
In just over a week, VinItaly opens; what are the prospects for the economy when it comes to wine?
“Excellent in the overseas markets, a little less domestically. In the USA we sell well, in Germany, which remains the leading market for Italian wine, the recovery is strong. And it is really not true that high priced wines are not selling. Those that are selling are the wines that are able to deliver value for the money, regardless of price point. In Italy, things are moving along a little slower, but the consumer, even if he is more selective than before, recognizes quality. What doesn’t work is to try to sell smoke. All around the world today, you can sell if you can make your customers appreciate the value in your product.”
But isn’t it the case to ask yourself is wine marketing has become a little outdated?
“I’m not convinced that’s the case. Today you need to have a direct dialogue with the consumer, we have to help them understand the value of the investment they are making in the purchase of a bottle of our wine. It is an investment in emotion, in sensation, and in pleasure. From this point of view the role of wine tourism is fundamental. Who comes to Montalcino, who comes to visit our Castello which also has a luxury hotel and restaurant, gains an authentic perception of the value behind our wine, which also comes from the beauty of our land here. And I believe this is the magic formula for all Italian wine. And then some!”
Pardon me, Ms. Mariani, but it seems strange to hear that coming from you, an American…
“No, it is not strange. I am a woman who is well aware that in the world of wine today woman have a key role; there are outstanding women winemakers, excellent businesswomen, supersensitive tasters who have brought a touch of fascination, of creativity, of passion and more to this world of wine. And I am a woman born in America who had a dream: Italy. That is why the rainbow is so beautiful to me!”