Cristina Mariani-May of Banfi Vintners on the secret to successfully running the 100-year-old company: 'It’s very important to have your wine when you get home!'

It’s been said that there’s no business like show business but if you ask us, there’s no business like a family business — and rings true the most when it involves a lot of wine!

Working your way up to be Co-CEO of any company is an impressive and rewarding feat, especially as a female in today’s corporate climate.

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But getting to do so alongside your cousin for your family’s company, which just happens to be one of the most beloved U.S. wine importers, is a feat that seems to be even sweeter than a cold glass of Moscato.

Just ask Cristina Mariani-May, Co-CEO of Banfi Vintners which is approaching its 100th year in business:

“I want people to know that [Banfi is] a company that’s been wine merchants for almost 100 years, so it’s something we're very proud of. But it’s a company that’s driven by making these wines from around the world that consumers fall madly in love with, at affordable prices, too. So some of the core mission is spreading the education of wine to consumers around the world so they learn to appreciate it, and then of course to educate them about the innovation and pioneering research that we do at Banfi to make some of the best wines in the world.”

Cristina represents the the third generation of leadership in the company, which she points out is the “turning point” of generations for the family:

“This is the turning point of the generations — this is my generation that there’s a lot of talent in but there's a lot of opportunity. Managing the family through that … is a full-time job. But it's a very important one, because making sure everybody is aligned and has communication and is involved in the big decisions takes a lot of effort. But it’s very important — the importance is to remain family-owned."

Her father, John F. Mariani, Jr., still serves as Chairman Emeritus of the organization, and Cristina accredits much of the success of the company to his hard work — something she admires deeply:

“ … My father was the second generation in the business, but really was the gentleman who built the business up to the success that it is today. He inherited a very small, little Greenwich Village imported company from his father and my father turned it into this global wine importing and producing company. He brought it to all new levels in the United States, plus he created this really pioneering research estate at Castello Banfi.”

Castello Banfi is the company’s vineyard estate located in Tuscany, Italy — a vineyard whose wines are exported to nearly 100 countries around the world, which has Cristina traveling more often than not:

“We sell in 90 different countries all over the world, so there’s always a demand for me to go somewhere … I love it because I get to go, and when I go into the marketplace, I get to work with the locals. I get to experience life as a local person, not just a tourist. My hosts are all local people, so it’s awesome.”

Riunite Lambrusco, Banfi’s most popular imported wine that hails from the Reggio Emilia in Italy, is also the #1 most-imported Italian red wine in America — and Cristina insists that it’s like no other:

“We started importing the wine into America in 1967 … since the day it landed off the docks from Italy to New York, consumers fell in love with it. It has this taste that is slightly sweet (a little bit effervescent) and it’s got this rich, dark red color and it is one of the most refreshingly satisfying wines you could ever have. You chill it, actually, as a red wine … it’s still going strong!”

But nearly 10 decades of success and tradition don’t come without hard work and, naturally, a ton of stress.

So how does Cristina balance it all and keep the company afloat? 

For starters:

“It’s very important to have your wine when you get home!”

But more importantly, Cristina knows the crucial nature of planning out ones week before it even begins:

“I try to align a Friday for the forward-thinking work because the workweek will already be behind me and I will have accomplished a lot. And then on a Monday I’ll dig more into the day-to-day stuff, the current issues, because those are the things you have to address, you know, put out the fires.”

She also makes sure to carve out separate time for her family:

“It’s early to bed and early to rise — that’s the life of any working mother I think, once I have to leave the office, I really have to pay attention to my home life.”

And of course, the only way to stay successful for generations to come is by continuing to be innovative, to continue to disrupt the industry even with a firm footing and established reputation.

And that’s exactly what Banfi is doing with its latest endeavor — patenting a hybrid fermenter that gives winemakers the best of both worlds when it comes to creating a wine that’s other rich as it is fresh.

Cristina, who’s been the guiding hand behind the new technology, broke down the science and rationale behind the new fermenters:

“Fermentation is one of the key processes during making wine, how you ferment the wine greatly affects the style of the finished product. Traditionally, wines were fermented in wood … or cement. Cement is not really easy to clean, and it can get very porous. Fermenting in wood is the most beautiful way to ferment wine (it gives this gentleness) … but unfortunately, wood can be very difficult to maintain — you have a lot of different grapes coming through, it’s hard to clean, you get elements that come into the wood that don’t always bring the best components to a wine.

What we discovered was that the best, and easiest, way to ferment is in stainless steel. It’s the cleanest, it’s the easiest to control and easiest to maintain. However, the stainless doesn’t add any added benefits to the wine like the wood does. So we did a research project and came up with a patent where you can blend a hybrid tank that’s half wood on the sides and the top and bottom are stainless steel.

It’s kind of like using the best of both worlds — you get the ease and controllability of having a top and a bottom of stainless steel. With the sides, they give this beautiful softness to the wine.”

The new technology has the potential to change the wine industry as we know it, and Cristina is just as excited as the rest of us to see where the technology, alongside other future endeavors, can take the family business:

“It’s very rewarding — it’s our pride and joy, it’s our sibling, it’s my child … business is part of the family.”

 

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