The centuries-old history is one of the factors that has made Zonin1821 a leading Italian wine company, says the company’s Executive Vice President, Francesco Zonin. In conversation with Shalini Kumar, Francesco delves on his family’s wine heritage, their efforts to promote sustainable viticulture and the company’s success in facing the challenge of globalization under the new Zonin generation
Zonin1821 has come a long way since its founding by Domenico Zonin in 1921. Today it is the top private Italian wine company in terms of geographical size and 150 wine varietals. Among the most admired are Prosecco, Pinot Grigio, Moscato, Chianti and Montepulciano, and also wines from the South of Italy like Primitivo and Nero d’Avola.
The company’s success, tells its Executive Vice President Francesco Zonin, “is built on a variety of factors including a centuries-old history handed down for seven generations, a love for the land, wine enriched by years of experience, a deep knowledge of the sector, and an understanding of the connection between the historical, cultural, and human elements in each territory. These factors make up the precious heritage to be passed down to the new generation.”
Francesco is proud of the fact that he “grew up in a family of seven generations of vintners, and the love of the earth and the passion for wine are in my DNA.” His father, Gianni Zonin, joined Zonin1821 at the end of the 1960s alongside his ‘Uncle Domenico’ and became its President at the young age of 29. The company has not looked back since then.
Gianni, says Francesco, ran “the company since 1967, transforming it from a local dimension to being one of Italy’s most important wine producers and an established, well-known brand all over the world.”
THE BATON PASSED ON TO THE NEW GENERATION
In 2006, Gianni after leading the company successfully for four decades began its handing over to his three sons – Francesco himself and his bothers Domenico and Michele.
Ten years later, says Francesco, “with the company turnover almost tripled (sales in 2006 were worth 68 million Euros), and all the principal economic and financial indicators showing considerable growth, the generational handover was completed with the Board of Directors of Zonin1821 appointing Domenico Zonin as the new President, and the Vice-Presidential positions were given to me and Michele.”
Domenico Zonin, 43, had been functioning as the company’s CEO since 2014. He is also the President of Unione Italiana Vini since 2013.
Zonin1821 is the top private Italian company in terms of geographical size and wine-producing vineyards. It owns 2000 hectares of vineyards.
To expand its production base, Zonin1821 followed the strategy of acquisition of estates. This strategy, tells Francesco, “was based on carefully selected criteria to find only the lands with the highest vine-growing potential. This guaranteed that the entire process of cultivating grapes and wine-making as well as bottling, refinement, and conservation, could be completed at the place of origin, thus respecting both local beauty and environmental health.”
SHIFTING TO SUSTAINABLE VITICULTURE
To do business in an environment-friendly way, Zonin1821 has taken to sustainable viticulture. Informs Francesco, “For more than five years, Zonin1821, in its own profound care for the environment and land, has embraced two pilot eco-sustainability projects, directing its attention to governmental guidelines on the best agriculture practice with regard to its Magis and Tergeo vineyards.”
These projects focus on four different elements linked to the concept of eco-sustainable ethics: landscape, energy, viniculture and education. “These projects on the one hand will allow energy independence for the company in five years thanks to the commitment to renewable sources of energy, and on the other will promote the use of drip- irrigation techniques to help the vineyards avoid excessive water loss. In viniculture, first careful steps are being taken towards organic cultivation. The education element pertains to spreading updated awareness of the sector,” explains Francesco.
Francesco is in deep love with his job as “every day is full of new experiences related to wine and its rich and marvellous culture. In every glass you find the history of the place of origin of the wine, the churches, the museums, the gastronomic excellences of the area…. How could I leave such a terrific world?”
He divides his time between the different vineyards, from the Friuli region to Sicily, and the many trips in Italy and abroad.
SUCCESS IN MEETING THE CHALLENGE OF GLOBALIZATION
Zonin1821 does business in over 100 countries. Its major markets are the USA, the UK, Germany, Australia, and Canada. Talking about their approach to global competition, Francesco says, “Continuous research applied to the vineyards and innovative sales and marketing strategies allow the company to maximize its years of wine market activity and successfully meet the new challenge of globalization.”
Zonin 1821 pays “careful attention to trends and opportunities in the international market using ad hoc marketing strategies in each country. This allows us to spread quality Italian wine culture around the world and create awareness of the wide selection of quality wines categorized as DOC and DOCG in over 100 countries,” he says.
How does Zonin1821 view India as a market? “We have been in India since late 1990 because we strongly believe in the market potential. Indian wine production will help spread wine culture in the country. But all foreigner producers wish the tax to be decreased in India,” he says.
When asked about the changes in global wine consumption pattern over the past few years, Francesco sounds optimistic. “There’s an increased interest about wine outside Europe which makes us very optimistic on the long run. Furthermore, we can say that the thirst for sparkling, Prosecco in particular, has been the most relevant trend in the past five years,” he says.
In communication and media strategy, Zonin1821 has been setting new trends. Francesco throws light on this aspect of their business, “Zonin1821 has always been at the forefront of communication methods since the 1960s when it launched the first wine advertisements on television, and today it is one of the few wine companies which have a continuous publicity strategy.”
In communicating through modern tools of social media also, “Zonin1821 company was one of the first wine companies to come up with the blog, Wine is Love, reconfirming its dynamic and modern nature. This approach has led to the rebirth of all the corporate websites in the past years and constant and widespread activity on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, as well as creating interesting and innovative projects like tweet-tasting and Gastronomy Experiences,” says Francesco.
Young Gianni put Zonin1821 on a strong footing
The Zonin family has been connected to the world of wine since 1821 with roots in Gambellara, in the heart of the Veneto, Italy.
Zonin1821 founder Domenico Zonin was born in Gambellara in 1899. Second of ten siblings in a family of small viticulturists, Domenico demonstrated his talent for initiative from a young age. In 1921, after the hardships of the war, he began selling wine and founded Zonin1821, thanks to the vineyards and land owned by his family.
At the end of the 1960s, Gianni Zonin joined the company alongside his ‘Uncle Domenico’ and became its President at the age of 29. The company has grown year on year since then. Gianni embarked on expanding the company by following the strategy of acquiring Italian estates and vineyards with the potential of producing high-quality wines. He also formulated a modern sales and marketing plan to deal with the many demands and requirements of the market.
Following Gianni’s strategy, the company in the early 1970s began acquiring wineries in order to produce strong wines with its own grapes. The first was Tenuta Ca’ Bolani in Friuli, followed by Castello di Albola, Abbazia Monte Oliveto, and Rocca di Montemassi, all in Tuscany; Castello del Poggio and Tenuta il Bosco in Piedmont; then passing to the Mediterranean area with Feudo Principi di Butera in Sicily, and Masseria Altemura, in Puglia. At the same time the company also began its internationalization with the purchase of the Barboursville Vineyards in Virginia, USA.
Gianni’s three sons – Domenico, Francesco, and Michele – have been working at the company for a decade and the recent switch of the presidency to Domenico and the handover to the
younger generation from Gianni has been done successfully.