When researchers at Castelo Banfi winery in Tuscany discovered new vine clones that would produce higher quality and healthier Sangiovese vines, they did not retain the information for exclusive use. Instead they shared it with their competitors in an effort to improve quality and sustainability in the entire region. Similarly, when Banfi’s CEO, Cristina-Mariani May, 3rd family owner from generation to generation of the company and Banfi Wines, she assumed the leadership role in the company in 2018, not only has she maintained the same centennial strategy. Instead she fundamentally changed it in a new direction, which many people doubted was the right business move.
However, three years later, and after surviving a global pandemic, May’s bold moves and visionary insight paid off. Banfi achieved 25% revenue growth in 2021, with positive trends continuing into 2022. Today the company focuses on a lean portfolio of 4 wine brands, spread across 100 countries.
“Our main message at Banfi”, reports May, in a recent online interview, “is that we are dedicated to a better world of wine. We want to produce sustainable wines, do research and share that research with other wineries around the world, so that wine is recognized as one of life’s true treasures ”.
Changing the traditional Banfi strategy – Despite the opposition
“We are an Italian-American family,” says May. “The company was founded by my grandfather, John Mariani Sr., born in America, but raised in Italy by his aunt Banfi. He taught him all about Italian food, wine, olive oil, bitters and other products. So when he returned to New York in 1919, he started an import company and called it Banfi.
Over the years the company has expanded by importing wines from other countries, especially the best French wines, as well as major brands such as Ruinite and Concho Y Toro. Eventually May’s father, John Mariani Jr., took over the helm and continued to expand the company. When May took over as President and CEO in 2018, they were importing many different wine brands from around the world and owned several wineries in Italy, including Castelo Banfi in Montalcino, dating back to 1438.
In 2019, on its 100th anniversary, Banfi had grown so big that the family had to make some tough decisions. They received a takeover offer from LVMH, the French luxury conglomerate; however, May decided to take the company in a different direction by returning to its Italian roots. So she streamlined her portfolio from 2 million cases of mainly valued wine to 300,000 cases, with a focus on her own proprietary Banfi labels and 3 other sustainability-focused brands (Natura, Rainstorm and Pacific Rim).
“Our heart and soul have always been Italian”, he says, “and I felt we weren’t doing enough justice to the other suppliers. In the end it was the right choice for our company, but it was tough. We had to cut the workforce in half. We are now more of a flat and agile global organization. “
His decisions seem to pay off with a 25% increase in revenue in 2021. Furthermore, Castelo Banfi, one of the first to adopt sustainability and climate research, has raised the bar in this sector, with a focus still more intense on research and sharing, in an attempt to create a better wine world.
Castelo Banfi – First winery to obtain ISO 14001 environmental certification
Castelo Banfi is probably the most famous of Banfi’s Italian wineries. Located just outside the hilltop village of Montalcino, it produces world-class Brunello, Rosso and Supertuscan. Banfi also manages other estates in Tuscany and Piedmont, creating a variety of red, white and rosé wines. However, it was at Castelo Banfi that the company began to focus on sustainability, even before it was a popular topic. This enabled them in 2007 to be the first winery in the world to receive ISO 14001 certification for environmental management and SA8000 for implementing socially acceptable practices for employees.
“We have always focused on preserving the vineyard environment and social issues,” says May. “Soil protection is particularly important, as we get rich nutrients from the calcareous soil. This is what makes Sangiovese di Montalcino so unique. And we always do research. For example, archaeologists have found shark teeth and a 5 million-year-old whale fossil in our vineyards right next to the castle. “
In addition to research on soil and clones to create healthier vineyards, Castelo Banfi has installed solar panels and water-saving measures to conserve energy. They also keep 1/3 of their land in virgin forests, with another third planted with wheat, olive trees and fruit trees to promote biodiversity.
Castelo Banfi was also one of the first to adopt lightweight bottles to reduce their carbon footprint. In fact, since reducing the weight of the bottle in 2009 from 570 grams per bottle to 360 grams today, they have saved over 26 million kilowatt hours of energy and 6,000 tons of raw materials.
All these efforts must bear fruit, because Castelo Banfi was recently awarded the Equalitas Certification, for the results achieved in many aspects of sustainability: environmental, social and economic. Equalitas focuses on a more holistic approach to sustainability.
“We are always evolving,” says May. “The future of food and wine is very important for our company. We are concerned about changing climatic conditions and therefore continue to do clonal and lattice research as well as cellar innovations, such as our hybrid stainless steel and wood tanks. And we believe in sharing this research with others around the world ”.