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Interview: Banfi Vintners President And CEO Cristina Mariani-May And COO Rich Andrews

June 13, 2019

New York-based Banfi Vintners parted ways with Riunite, Bolla, and a number of other well-known Italian wine brands this spring, with those labels moving to Frederick Wildman & Sons. After building Riunite into a multi-million-case brand over the years, Banfi is now revamping its approach to focus sharply on the premium and luxury market, leading with the wines of its flagship Castello Banfi Brunello, as well as other offerings from Tuscany and Piedmont. Banfi’s volume now stands at approximately 1 million cases, according to Impact Databank. SND executive editor Daniel Marsteller recently spoke with Banfi president and CEO Cristina Mariani-May and COO Rich Andrews to discuss the new direction of the company.

SND: As you chart a new course for Banfi, where do you see the most opportunity for growth?

Mariani-May: It’s really a turning point for us, and bittersweet to say goodbye to Riunite after 50 years, but it’s also exciting. We decided that our strategy is to focus on more premium and luxury wines. Change isn’t always easy, but we’re now on a rapid path to consolidate down to our premium offerings and focus on our crown jewel, Castello Banfi, and the other Banfi wines from Italy.

Andrews: The greatest opportunities are within our Super Tuscan portfolio, where we believe we’ve just started to scratch the surface of the potential of those brands. We’re the top producer of Brunello coming into the U.S., with our flagship brand. And we have some early growth trends off a very small base in the Vermentino category with La Pettegola. We believe that Vermentino could potentially be the next big white wine category from Italy, after Pinot Grigio, and with a more premium positioning. It retails at around $18.

Mariani-May: After the success of coastal rosés from Provence, we predict the next wave will be these coastal whites of Tuscany.

SND: Are you on the lookout for more brands to add to the portfolio?

Andrews: Yes, we’re evaluating possible acquisitions of other premium brands that might complement our portfolio, and we’ve had a number of discussions with potential strategic partners. While Italian brands remain our core and our roots, we’re open to anything that plays in the premium category that would fit well.

SND: You also have the Pacific Northwest portfolio, including Pacific Rim, Sweet Bliss, and others. Are those part of the future of Banfi?

Andrews: We’re continuing to evaluate the portfolio. The first step was with Riunite and Bolla, and separating to get to a more premium place. We’re putting Pacific Rim through the same funnel, and the first test we look at is how premium the brands are.

SND: Are foreign markets part of the mix?

Andrews: When we look across our geographic footprint, we’re very heavy on Italy and the U.S. We view the U.S. as our most important market from a growth standpoint, but we’d like to see the mix become a bit more balanced. There’s a lot of opportunity in markets like Canada, the U.K., Germany, and Asia, too.

Mariani-May: The pie is not getting much larger globally, and everyone is fighting for their share of it. But the allure of Italian food and wine culture isn’t slowing down. Our focus, our resources, and our energy are devoted to getting the story of Banfi—and of what Tuscany stands for—out around the world to the 86 countries that we sell in. We’re protectors of this largest contiguous property in all of Italy, Castello Banfi, and our goal is to maintain it for future generations.

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