Menlo College Entrepreneurship Students Learn Business Savvy from Benanti Winery CEO

Professor Ron Kovas’s entrepreneurship capstone class, Launching a Venture recently welcomed guest speaker Salvino Benanti, CEO of Benanti Winery in Mount Etna, Italy. In his presentation titled, “Re-launching a Venture,” Benanti defined issues that he and his brother Antonio faced when they inherited Benanti Winery, a business that was started in 1988 by their father, Giuseppe Benanti who has a passion for fine wine.

Salvino reviewed their decisions on restructuring; dealing with the economic downturn in Italy; focusing on international markets; coming to terms with the credit crunch, and the absence of a venture capital/private equity culture.

The Benanti brothers were educated in Switzerland and London where they spent many years working in finance before they joined their father’s winemaking business.

When Giuseppe Benanti began the wine business, the grapes grown in the area were considered to be “obscure” grapes, since they weren’t grown elsewhere and the Etna Appellation was not well-known. The 11,000 foot Mount Etna is an active volcano near the sea in Sicily, Italy. The volcanic soil found there is similar to the soil found in the Napa and Sonoma wine country.

Giuseppe Benanti is credited with being the pioneer of winemaking on Mount Etna. Since the start of Benanti, many small vineyards have developed in Etna because of their regional branding for a global market. The Benanti Winery possesses international notoriety and has won numerous awards for their wine, including the 2007 Italian Winery of the Year, and a 2012 Top 100 Winery in the USA. Their wines are mentioned in top trade publications such as Decanter, Wine & Spirits, Wine Spectator, and Wine Enthusiast.

Since joining the winery in 2012, Salvino and Antonio Benanti have implemented a successful re-launch strategy. Focusing on their core Etna wines, they generated cash for infrastructure and working capital; reduced the supply chain complexity in a slow moving domestic market; hired a distributor instead of managing a sales force; employed an enthusiastic younger generation; invested in international sales expansion activities; and created new revenue lines to increase liquidity. Compared to 2012, in 2014 their sales are up 50% and their exports are up 100%. The consensus within the global wine critique world is that under the supervision of Salvino and Antonio, the Benanti wines have retained exactly the same classic, elegant style that has always been at the heart of their father Giuseppe’s approach to winemaking.

“My father’s good idea at Benanti Winery has never changed,” said Salvino. “It’s the change in our team that has allowed the winery to become a viable opportunity.  My advice to others in the same situation is don’t be afraid to make decisions. Make your venture your only job, and don’t attempt to juggle it with other careers. Have a clear strategy and tell the world what you’re doing.”