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In conversation with Matteo Lunelli

On Tuesday evening, we were lucky enough to attend a seminar with Ferrari President and CEO, Matteo Lunelli, hosted by the Italian Society of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

But it wasn’t only a humbling experience for us, but indeed for Matteo too, who, 10 years earlier, walked the halls of LSC as a student (he took a finance course in the summer of 1997).

Although he is the third-generation of one of Italy’s most prestigious family-run companies, Matteo never took it for granted that he’d one day reside over the estate.

From moving to New York to work at Goldman Sachs, to the course for Ferrari’s continued success into the future, Matteo spoke candidly about his entrepreneurial experiences, and the fascinating world of wine. Here, we share just a handful of the most interesting insights from the evening.

Matteo_LSE

ON changing anything if he were to start from scratch: Nowadays for my son I’d suggest doing some travel, and perhaps an undergraduate outside of Italy – being more international in your background is becoming more and more important.

ON the strengths and weakness of running a family business: In winemaking, many of the most successful estates are run by families. Especially in our sector, being a family business brings a strong competitive advantage – a family can have a very long-term progression, which is crucial if you want to make great wine. From the day you first plant a vineyard, it can take almost a decade to the time when your vines will begin to produce great grapes. And even then, the wine you’re making might take a few years to mature into a great wine. So this whole cycle can take almost a generation. Being a family business in this industry allows you to work on generational projects, that you’re setting up for the next generation.

But a family business doesn’t come without risk. This is especially true when the family puts their interests before the interest of the company and the people who work there. In my experience, what makes a successful family business is creating a set of rules and disciplines that define the relationship between the family and business. I’m thankful my father was a big promoter of creating a family constitution.

Another risk is that if the family doesn’t promote a good management culture inside the business, it’s difficult to attract talented people from outside to come and work with you. As a family, we’re by no means the smartest people out there, so we need to be able to attract those talented people to want to work with us.

ON the booming trend of Italian sparkling wine, and whether the growth is sustainable: Sparkling wine is growing; it is a very modern wine and is in line with the current lifestyle of people. Wine is about sociality and conviviality. Nowadays people are looking for light and elegant food, and sparkling wine matches perfectly with this. Sparkling wine evokes emotion and happiness – it is a very important wine, which is why it’s grown so much. There is certainly a bright future for sparkling wine.

The biggest trend I’ve witnessed in the UK market is prosecco. The success is immense – we’re talking about stunning numbers here. Data from 2009 showed that the worldwide trade of sparkling wine was £4.2 billion, and it’s now £6.2 billion – almost 50% growth in the last five years. Internationally, this growth has been dominated by prosecco and Italy. Nowadays the total export of sparkling wine from Italy is 273 million litres, while from France it’s 176 million. But when you compare France to Italy, the export value of Champagne is £3.3 billion, while Italian sparkling sits at £1.2 billion. Italians export nearly more than 60% more than France, but we have just around a third of their value.

Another important trend I’ve noticed is that an increasing number of customers are opening up to the idea that high-end luxury sparkling wine doesn’t only have to come from France. This doesn’t mean sales of Champagne will decrease, it’s still important. In my opinion, what will change in the next three years is that in restaurants you will find not only high-end sparkling wine from single regions, but you will find premium sparkling wine from the world over.

If you think about still wines…I love Burgundy and Bordeaux and this is where Europe’s wine culture started, but on the wine lists around London you’ll find many territories for still wines; nobody would ever think about doing a wine list only with Burgundy. So, why would you make a wine list of sparkling only with Champagne.

ON the contest between traditional winemaking, and what the consumer wants: We never change wines to adapt to the tastes of the customer. Rather, we always try to craft the best wine that we think is the expression of our own territory. In terms of winemaking we tend to be very traditional; however, this doesn’t mean we need to avoid innovation. Even if winemaking is old fashioned, you should still look for innovation in everything. It’s not about looking for one huge change, but rather lots of small steps. Excellence is not an act, but a habit. It’s not about finding one idea that changes your wine, but trying to make every single step better and better. The ability to match tradition and innovation is what sets a successful winery apart from the rest.

ON the biggest challenges that lie ahead: One of the main challenges is to balance growth, whilst still maintaining quality. It’s important that in the future, we grow only when we find the right grapes that will allow us to continue producing the type of sparkling that we do today.