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Ezio Rivella: thinking outside the box is an extra added value to grow territories and communities

Brunello di Montalcino’s leading company, Banfi, the Mariani family, and wine experts honor Italian wine’s first “Business Captain”

Ezio Rivella was one of the “fathers” of modern winemaking. He was the first Oenologist-Manager of Italian wine, the role created thanks to him, and he was one of the most influential personalities on the Italian and International wine markets.  In 1985, the President of the Italian Republic, Sandro Pertini appointed him Cavaliere del Lavoro. More than anyone else, he worked to move Italian wine from an ordinary, soulless and often fake drink, which was often the case in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies of the Twentieth century, to the highest level in the territory, generated thanks to acknowledging and actuating Designations of Origin and Geographical Indications. He worked in all fields to train wine technicians as well as Italian and world oenologists. He led the winemakers association, Assoenologi, for a long time, and he was the first Italian to head the World Association of Oenologists. He managed the top Italian companies with UIV-Unione Italiana Vini and the highest level Wine Observatory in the world, the Office International de la Vigne du Vin (OIV). He was on the National Wine Committee at the Ministry of Agriculture, regarding requests for DO and TGI acknowledgement, suggesting precise, while at the same time, streamlined production specifications. He assisted designing modern, extremely practical, and perfectly equipped wineries together with the first engineering and wine consultancy company. The Banfi Empire was designed in the 1970s and 1980s by first the Italian and then the American Mariani family. Rivella started the success of Brunello di Montalcino building demand from the US market to the shelves of 70-80 Countries around the world. He envisioned the attraction of foreign tourism in Castello Banfi, which is now one of the most beautiful wineries in the world to visit. He was a pioneer and an authentic Master of the wine world. <B>If there were an entry in the prestigious Italian Treccani Encyclopedia, and there might be, for Ezio Rivella, who passed away in January 2024, perhaps it would be this WineNews tribute, read at “Ezio Rivella, Master of the Future - Oenology, Market, Organization”, which Banfi, the leading company of  Brunello and Italian wine, and the Mariani family held in Montalcino.</B>

<B>Cristina Mariani-May, at the helm of Banfi, emphasized,</B> “Ezio Rivella truly gave his life for this territory and for Italian wine. Without him we wouldn't be where we are today, because he always looked ahead, and it is thanks to his vision and continuing to work together that we have a bright future ahead of us”.  “He always repeated the same mantra, that is, building the success of a company is very difficult, while it is very easy to lose it, so we must continually nurture it. He was also very aware of the importance of communication”, <B>Rodolfo Maralli, president of Banfi and the Banfi Foundation said,</B> “Brunello  is one of the most important wines in the world today, and it will continue to be so, if  we continue to nurture it”. <B>At the round table discussion, moderated by Luciano Ferraro, deputy director of “Corriere della Sera”, he said Rivella was one of the personalities who contributed to the success of the symbolic territories of Italian wine around the world. He also called him a “Business Captain”,</B> that is, a person who has an exceptional and clear entrepreneurial vision of the future of his company, and for each territory in which he operates. Rivella had this vision when he created Banfi together with the Marianis, the ideal company, opening the world’s markets to Brunello, and others. “Rivella was leading the evolution of the territory in Montalcino, as he was always looking farther than the others. Two other giants of Italian wine were alongside him”, <B>Alessandro Regoli, Director of WineNews, said,</B> “the Biondi Santi family, at Tenuta Greppo, and Francesca Colombini Cinelli, at Fattoria dei Barbi. The fundamental fact was that the Knight, the Doctor and Lady Francesca, though they had different visions about running their companies and producing their wines, all shared the same thought about the most important thing: acting for the good of the territory. Sometimes, the merit of their cooperation was politics with a capital P, to make them dialogue and coexist in their diversity. And this is wealth, as a quote from Oskar Pfister, a Protestant Pastor and Swiss psychoanalyst , friend of Freud, “an intelligent opponent is more beneficial than a thousand incapable followers”. Thus, in the 1980s, the first wine “district” of the modern era was designed. It was a small, Italian “economic miracle”, confirmed by the record +4,500% revaluation of a hectare of Brunello over 50 years. Of course, projects and visions change. and must change continuously”, (as Rivella explained in a memoir he wrote on WineNews).
<B>Alberto Mattiacci, communication and business expert, Professor at the La Sapienza University in Rome and Director of Sanguis Jovis, the Banfi Foundation’s Alta Scuola del Sangiovese, said,</B> he “taught us that we must always think ahead with respect to the reality in which we live. Like all great minds, it is difficult to label him in a single role. Throughout his career as Manager he was always far ahead of his time. He said that he studied to be a winemaker, but he considered himself something completely different. The lesson to learn is that you need to have a solid cultural and technical starting base, but it must only be a base. In the times we are facing now, ambitious projects must be many things at once. The word I associate with Rivella is “rigor”. As a technician, he was a rigorous man, while in his capacity for vision he understood that the product was important, but would become less and less so to conquer the markets. Instead, communication would have a more and more central role, it would have to be constant, all year round, and strengthened on special occasions. He brought a vision of rigorous communication, which was truly a big change”.  “He had exceptional visionary abilities. He

knew how to look far into the future and transport it into reality”, <B>Attilio Scienza, Professor of Viticulture at the University of Milan, president of Sanguis Jovis and one of the leading wine experts in the world, said,</B> “he knew what would happen within the space of five years on the American and Asian markets, and he had the tools to say: “we have to start doing something now”. This was his great strength. It was an extraordinary lesson, because he understood that you need theory, but you also need a lot of practice”. <B>The Master of Wine, Gabriele Gorelli, said</B> that another characteristic needed to face tomorrow, “is relationship skills, meaning that one needs to be knowledgable in many fields, to be able to discuss matters with people who are not in your field. It is too easy to have merely vertical skills, that is, knowing wine but not knowing how to connect the dots when conversing with people in other fields. He truly set an example, when he decided to create and grow a company to make it global”.
Montalcino would have “probably gone in a direction that was not exactly the one Rivella had imagined, whose ideas were quite clear and different from the development over the last twenty years, so he would have set things up differently. When I met Rivella, Banfi was already an established company, and I saw that Montalcino was growing rapidly and strongly. The growth of this type of territory is more unique than rare. Banfi was giving positive results, and the local producers, my generation, added a push by joining the idea of ​​bringing Sangiovese to the highest levels in the world. Banfi’s driving force was decisive for its position on the market. Similarly, 25 other companies understood where the path was going, and gave a further push”, <B>Giancarlo Pacenti, at the helm of the Brunello Siro Pacenti winery,  commented.</B> “If we are where we are today, part of the credit is also his”, <B>Fabrizio Bindocci, president of the Brunello Consortium, concluded,</B> “great minds are not always understood in their homeland, but facts have proved him right. Today, everyone would like to have an excellent manager like him in their companies”.

“Ezio Rivella”, <B>Elizabeth Koenig, vice-president of Banfi, said,</B> “had the gift of synthesis. He was direct and always communicated directly and constantly. He has left us a whole series of maxims, such as “a clear understanding makes long friendships”. He also told us the important thing is to exaggerate, that life is like a theater.  He knew how to be on the stage, without prompters or notes, explaining the words of the sharecroppers and the marquises. He communicated to the entire world, even though he didn't speak English, but he spoke French very well because he had many friends in the French wine world.  The stage was a school of life that he made us get on, too.  The curtain has fallen on him, but, as he would have said, “the show must go on”.  The lesson he passed on to us is to give young people the opportunities that he gave us”.

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