Cristina Mariani knows what it means to have a tough act to follow. Over the past three years, the 30-year-old family proprietor of Castello Banfi has been assembling a team to succeed the estate's founders: her father and uncle, US wine merchants John and Harry Mariani.
"They created something that once seemed unimaginable," said Ms. Mariani, "and were decades ahead of their time. Our challenge is now to take that one step further."
Fathers, of course, never leave the role of counselor, and John Mariani, at 68, remains an active force behind his daughter's daily decisions for the estate. The more daunting task for the young Mariani is bidding farewell to Ezio Rivella, enologist and long-time family friend who engineered the Mariani's dream at Castello Banfi. Mr. Rivella has long been the figure most closely associated with the estate on the Italian market, but like the sage master, he has been preparing Ms. Mariani and her managers for this moment. He officially retired from his position as Managing Director in December 2000, but will remain a consulting enologist to Castello Banfi.
Ms. Mariani graduated from Washington, DC's Georgetown University and received her MBA from New York's Columbia University. She is responsible for global marketing of the estate's wines and directed a recent administrative restructuring at the winery. She is the third generation of family leadership at Banfi, along with Harry Mariani's son, her cousin James Mariani, 35, whose primary responsibility is the firm's U.S. import activities.
John and Harry Mariani succeeded their own father, who founded Banfi in 1919 to import fine wines to the US. They conceived of Castello Banfi in the mid-1960s, and within a decade purchased land in Montalcino, Tuscany to carry out their long-time dreams of a vertically integrated wine estate that combined the best elements of tradition and innovation. They started from scratch in a tradition-bound arena, and have had their crowning moment repeated with the unprecedented four-time awarding of Italy's highest honor, the Premio Gran VinItaly as International Winery of the Year, most recently in April 2000.
Castello Banfi's staff was initially culled from young local talent, void of great experience but rich in potential; as the estate grew, it attracted professionals from within the industry. Today, they have evolved into a cohesive leadership team ready to make its own mark. Rudi Buratti, 39, an enologist at Banfi since 1983, leads a winemaking team that includes Paolo Benassi, 39 and Lucio Matricardi, 31. His vineyard management counterpart, Maurizio Marmugi, 43, took over as chief agronomist in 1992. Directors like 41-year-old Remo Grassi, responsible for the estate's finances, 38-year old Carlo Marini, director of sales for Italy, and 42-year-old Elizabeth Koenig, director of hospitality, joined at the estate's inception. Newer faces, like general manager Enrico Viglierchio, 35, marketing director Rodolfo Maralli, 34, and European Sales Manager Rodrigo Redmont, 27, signed on within the last decade and bring a new mix of experience to the team. They rally around Cristina Mariani with renewed vigor and creativity. John and Harry Mariani, men of profound marketing experience and success, now play the role of mentors.
"Our young colleagues have an opportunity to rise to the top," noted John Mariani. "They are intelligent, well trained and quick to respond to market impulses. They are the future stars of the wine world."
The young managers share a vivid common goal - to confirm Castello Banfi's position as Italy's premier vineyard estate. "They are the authors," said Mr. Mariani, "who will write the sequel to the pioneering chapter in Tuscany's winemaking history."