Hanson Experiences “Fabulous” 2017 Banfi Scholastic Tour of Italy

Posted: Tuesday, August 22nd 2017 at 12:36 PM

May 27 – June 4, 2017, Professor Wally Rande and newly-graduated student, Karen Hanson embarked on what turned out to be another “fabulous” Banfi Scholastic Tour of Italy, an eno-gastronomic (aka food and wine) tour hosted by Banfi Vintners.

Banfi is an American importer of wines based in Long Island. Giovanni (John) Mariani, Sr. started the company in 1919. Over time, they learned what restaurants in the U.S. wanted. The Marianis were Italian-Americans and wanted to focus on Italian wines. By the early 70s, Giovannis’ sons, John and Harry, were running the business and decided to expand into the wine-making industry. Castello Banfi was the first of their wineries in Italy and they now have several wineries throughout the region.

The Scholastic Tour is funded by Banfi’s Foundation. Rande was invited initially because a friend at the University of Houston had been on the trip and Banfi was looking to expand the invitation to other wine programs. Rande invited Bill Whiting, wine education director of Banfi and grandson of Giovanni, to speak in his wine class for the first time in Fall 2009.

Rande’s been on the trip now four times. He is never quite sure when the invitation will come. This time, it came over a glass of wine. “Normally what happens is the years that we don't go to Italy, Bill speaks in class. When he was here in October 2016, we went for a glass of wine at the end of the day, and he said ‘Just to let you know, we have dates for 2017,’” Rande said.

For student selection, Rande and his committee have several criteria. Obviously, they want someone that has an interest in wine, demonstrated by having taken the wine class. As part of the application, students submit an essay expressing this interest and their understanding of who Banfi is. But they also look for students who are active at school and who will represent the NAU School of Hotel and Restaurant Management and their professors well. And of course, the trip is a reward and for 2017, they chose Karen as the recipient.

“When I told Karen Hanson that she was going to go, I thought she was going to have a heart attack right on the spot,” said Rande.

The 2017 itinerary brought them to Milan, Strevi, Verona, Reggio, Montalcino, Siena, and Rome and to the wineries of Castello Piedmonte, Sartori, Bolla, Riunite, Albinea Canali, Parmigiano Reggiano Dairy (for the making of Parmesan cheese), and to Castello Banfi. They are treated to an insider’s look at the wineries that few tourists are able to experience.

The trip includes not only Banfi-owned wineries, but their restaurants as well. Until the early 1900s, Italy was divided into city-states, and when they were united, they each had their own unique styles of wine and food. They follow the philosophy of “if it grows with it, it goes with it.”

“So when we started out of Banfi Piedmonte, you drink Piedmonte wine and you eat Piedmonte food,” said Rande.

The tour of Montalcino, home base of Banfi in Italy, ended with the Gala Dinner at Castello Banfi. The Castelo, originally Poggio Alle Mura, was acquired by Banfi in 1983. It included over 7000 acres and was carefully renovated by the family.  The Gala multi-course dinner included Tuscan favorites, and premier wines from the Banfi portfolio, as well as period entertainment.

John, now in his 80s, is still the company’s ambassador. He and his wife were in Tuscany with the group and gave them the tour of the winery and joined the group at the Gala Dinner.

“They are just really amazing people. They had lunch with us and afterwards, people wanted pictures taken with John. He was almost flabbergasted by that,” said Rande, but he sees the obvious. “First, he’s an icon in the wine industry and second, no other winery funds this kind of experience. His team bent over backward to make the trip extraordinary. John is just the most hospitable person. He was obviously proud of what he's done, but also trying to inspire young people to go into the wine industry.”

“It was beyond wonderful. It was fabulous,” Rande said.

Hanson agreed. “The Banfi Scholastic tour was a once in a lifetime trip. Not only did I tour multiple wineries and vineyards, but I learned first-hand about the stories, wines, and terrior of Italy. This helped me grow my knowledge of the fine wine of Italy and to be able to see each and every process in the making and marketing of wine. I also enjoyed networking and making friends with multiple students from hospitality schools around the United States,” she concluded.

More about Banfi

The company is named after Teodolinda Banfi, the great aunt of Bill Whiting. Ms. Banfi ran the household for Cardinal Ratti in Italy and when the Cardinal became Pope (Pius XI), he brought her to the Vatican to run his household there. She was the first lay person to be employed at the Vatican. She funded her nephew, Giovanni (John) Mariani, Sr. to start the company in 1919. In time, Giovanni handed the company over to his sons, John and Harry. Harry has since passed away. His son, James, and John's daughter, Cristina, now run the company.

Where the vineyards began

The Castello Banfi estate extends to the south of Montalcino, to the borders of the Val d’Orcia. This estate is where the Marianis decided to go into wine making business. Of the 7,100 acres of land, about one third is under vine in a constellation of single vineyards, the remainder occupied by olive groves, fruit trees (mainly plums), woods, and scrub.

Categories: banfi banfi scholastic tour of italy karen hanson wally rande students faculty bill whiting castello piedmonte sartori bolla riunite albinea canali parmigiano reggiano dairy castello banfi