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Banfi’s Mariani May Talks Brunello, Prosecco And The Resurgence Of Riunite

June 15, 2017

New York-based importer Banfi Vintners is aggressively pursuing new trends in the U.S. wine market while staying true to its Italian roots. Last year, Banfi depleted 3.5 million cases in the U.S. market and had sales of $152 million. Excelsior Wines, which Banfi operates as a separate division in a joint venture with Viña Concha y Toro, saw its U.S. volume hold steady at 3.1 million cases for its portfolio of primarily Argentine and Chilean wines, such as the Casillero del Diablo and Frontera labels.

With the U.S. wine market growing more crowded, Banfi tells SND it’s targeting the high end, which is showing the most promise within its portfolio. “We’re trying to play in that category of affordable luxury, and it’s working for us,” says co-CEO and fourth-generation owner of Banfi Vintners, Cristina Mariani May. “We’re also tailoring our message so that it resonates with consumers who want authenticity behind their brands.” The company currently derives about 11% of its business from its tier of $15-$20 wines, with about 1% coming from wines priced above $30 a 750-ml., although those segments are growing faster than Banfi’s lower-priced wines.

The family-owned Italian winery Castello Banfi continues to be a growth driver, with its Brunello di Montalcino ($80) doing particularly well. “We’re watching Sangiovese-based wines quietly gaining ground as sleeping giants from Italy,” says Mariani May. “We’ve been lucky to have a string of outstanding vintages in Tuscany, and for Brunello di Montalcino especially, which has forced people to take notice.” A third of Banfi’s Italy-based wine business is exported to the U.S., while a third is sold domestically and the remainder goes to other export markets.

Elsewhere in the Italian portfolio, the Prosecco boom is boosting Banfi’s Maschio label. Maschio recently added a sparkling rosé in 187-ml. and 750-ml. formats, as did portfoliomate Bolla. Last year, Maschio grew about 26% in the U.S. to 65,000 cases, according to Impact Databank, while Bolla declined 6% to about 490,000 cases. Meanwhile, Banfi’s Rose Regale sparkling red Brachetto from Piedmont is enjoying rapid growth in the $15-$20 range, and Banfi La Pettegola Vermentino ($19), which saw a limited launch last year, is now getting a wider rollout.

Banfi is also enjoying newfound progress with Riunite Lambrusco, which had long been in decline. Riunite grew 2% to 1.6 million cases in the U.S. last year, and Banfi is targeting an acceleration to 6% growth this year. “To recruit younger drinkers to Riunite, we’ve put more focus on marketing 187-ml. bottles. On-premise, 187-ml. bottles are successful both as by-the-glass options as well as cocktail concepts, such as the Riunite-Rita,” says Mariani May. Riunite will also be extended this summer with the launch of a Sangria retailing at $6 a 750-ml. and $10 a 1.5-liter. —Christina Jelski 

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