The Mariani family, founders and proprietors of leading U.S. importer Banfi Vintners and the renowned Castello Banfi vineyard estate in Montalcino, Tuscany, received the highly esteemed 2014 Cornell Icon of Industry Award at the sixth annual Cornell Hospitality Icon & Innovator Awards gala in New York City, June 3, 2014. The award, from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration (SHA), recognizes the Mariani family for its achievements not only as a preeminent wine producer and importer, but also as a leader in industry research and hospitality education.
Since its inception in 2009, the Cornell Hospitality Icon & Innovator Awards has grown to be the largest event on the SHA calendar, attracting more than 800 of the most influential leaders and innovators in the hospitality and travel industry from 17 countries. The gala raises funds to support SHA’s scholarships and programs.
This year’s awards ceremony was attended by influential industry leaders, including Wayne E. Chaplin and Mel Dick of Southern Wine and Spirits New York; Jay M. Davis and Tom White of Republic National Distributing Company; E. Lloyd Sobel and David Drucker of Empire Merchants; Robert Epstein and Benjamin Rubenstein of Horizon Beverage; Stew Leonard of Stew Leonard’s; and Sirio Maccioni of Le Cirque.
Actor, director and New York Times best-selling author Andrew McCarthy, hosted the affair and honored members of Banfi’s third generation of family management: Dr. John F. Mariani (’54), chairman emeritus of Banfi; Harry F. Mariani, president emeritus; James Mariani MBA (’91) and Cristina Mariani-May, co-CEOs; and Virginia Mariani-Kitt (’82), director of hospitality.
“The Mariani family is a leading wine producer and merchant, but—more importantly—a leader in research and education that elevates the entire global wine industry,” said Michael D. Johnson, Dean and E. M. Statler Professor of Hotel Administration.
Also recognized at the ceremony was Sandy Solmon, founder, president and CEO of Sweet Street Desserts, the largest manufacturer of frozen gourmet desserts in North America. The award is given annually by the Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship.
The 2014 event attracted more than 55 corporate sponsors. Exclusive Media Co-Hosts were Travel + Leisure and USA TODAY; Red Carpet sponsors were Banfi Vintners and Forbes Travel Guide; and Diamond sponsors were Delta Air Lines, InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott International and Sweet Street Desserts.
The Road to an Honor Well-Deserved
The Mariani family brings a rare perspective to the world of wine as producers of Castello Banfi wines, importers of both European and New World wines, and key stakeholders in VinMotion, producers of wines in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Steadfast in its heritage and family values, Banfi Vintners – with almost a century of expertise as America’s oldest family-owned wine importer – has consistently represented and produced best-in-class, wholesome wines that maintain longevity and respect within the U.S. market.
Banfi Vintners’ dedication to creating a finer wine world, coupled with the organization’s expertise on a wide range of topics – from innovations in the category to pioneering socially responsible and eco-friendly winemaking practices – has made the company a well-respected resource for the industry. Banfi Vintners leads the category in its portfolio of prestigious European and New World wines, identifying and successfully developing many high-profile and best in class brands beginning with Riunite in the 1960’s.
John Mariani reflects on the early days, “For wine to become popular in the United States, it had to become palatable. What we needed was wholesome wine that was enjoyable and affordable. We made a wholesome wine. It was called Riunite.” He goes on, “And like love it was pure and natural.”
Today, Castello Banfi and the Mariani family have gone on to inspire a renaissance in Italian winemaking throughout the Montalcino region, making them the true builders of a better Brunello. John Mariani explains, “When we first arrived in Montalcino, there were seven wineries. It was the poorest hilltop town in Tuscany.” He pauses, then continues, “Today there are 297 wineries. Millions of visitors. Montalcino is now the wealthiest hilltop town in Tuscany.”
Hugh Johnson, author of World Wine Atlas and creator of Vintage: The Story of Wine, affirms, “I remember when Banfi first invested in Montalcino – it was a revolution.”
In addition, Castello Banfi has pioneered wine country hospitality in the Montalcino region, offering visitors a well-rounded and fully accessible wine experience with the area’s first wine hospitality center.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, the family has always adhered to values of generosity and giving back. Banfi Vintners serves as one of the leading philanthropic champions in the wine industry through The Banfi Foundation, contributing to leading national charities and higher education through scholarships, fellowships and grants-in-aid, with extremely strong ties to the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. To promote greater knowledge of the fine wines of Europe and the U.S., the Banfi Foundation endowed the Banfi Chair of Wine Education at Cornell University and provided funding for a Chair of Economics at Colgate University themed to the American economy and the importance of the free enterprise system. In addition, each year the foundation provides scholarships for students at select hospitality and business colleges to travel to Italy for seminars on the nation’s wine and food culture.
“When I think about the people and organizations that truly model giving, I think immediately of the Mariani family and Banfi Vintners,” says Adam Grant, author of Give and Take. “The work that they’ve done to give back and help the next generation of students is exactly what we need to see in the world. When you succeed, that actually allows other people to succeed too.”
Rebecca fell in love with wine — Castello Banfi Brunello in particular — on a cliché semester abroad in Italy. A Texas native, she has traveled to wine regions throughout France, as well as to Portugal, South Africa, and across the U.S. In addition to earning a BA from Duke University (Go Blue Devils!) and an MBA from Columbia Business School, Rebecca holds an Advanced with Merit certification from the WSET and was a founding contributor of the popular wine industry blog Terroirist.