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The Ferrari that’s guaranteed to be on the F1 podium

In 2021 decades of Formula 1 tradition were overturned when Italian sparkling wine Ferrari Trento replaced Champagne Carbon as the focal point of post-race podium celebrations.

Charles Leclerc, Scuderia Ferrari, 2nd position, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing, 3rd position, on the podium

Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images

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The word champagne had always been synonymous with the sport, and in the Bernie Ecclestone era that extended to one producer securing the rights to be an official partner of F1.

Moet et Chandon had the deal for many years, and subsequently, Mumm took over. In 2016 there was a brief move to sparkling wine with McLaren partner Chandon, but the brand was part of the French LMVH luxury goods group under the umbrella of Moet Hennessy, and arguably not such a huge step away from the traditional product.

F1 quickly returned to champagne with the nascent Carbon brand in 2017, and when that deal concluded after its fourth season a replacement was needed.

The F1 organisation decided to eschew champagne and make a long-term commitment to sparkling wine, a move that reflects a wider trend as makers worldwide seek to prove that consumers don't have to look to a particular region of north-eastern France for a quality product.

What makes the deal unusual is that the F1 organisation's "official toast" partner shares its name with Grand Prix racing's most famous team.

For the past three seasons, the Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren drivers have thus been spraying bottles with a "Ferrari" logo prominently displayed, unless they are at a Middle Eastern event where alcohol promotion is not allowed.

It's an unusual arrangement given the potential brand confusion, but Ferrari is the third most common surname in Italy, and it's hardly surprising that over time it has found its way into the names of very different organisations.

There is no connection between the winemaker and the car manufacturer, other than a friendly relationship that goes back to the early days of Enzo Ferrari.

In fact, the winery has a much longer history than the Maranello factory, the business having started in the Trentino region, close to the Austrian border, when Enzo was just four years old.

Founder Giulio Ferrari ran it from 1902 to 1952 before deciding to retire. With no children to take over, he decided to look for a suitable purchaser, eventually settling on local wine merchant Bruno Lunelli.

"Giulio Ferrari chose my grandfather," says current CEO Matteo Lunelli. "He thought that somebody from the region would be good to keep it strongly linked to the territory of Trentino. And my grandfather was distributing the wine of Ferrari, and he was in love with the brand.

"He was not the richest pretender, but Giulio thought he was the perfect one to bring over his vision and his values. And my grandfather had a strong entrepreneurial spirit.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin F1 Team, 2nd position, the Red Bull trophy delegate, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, Pierre Gasly, Alpine F1 Team, 3rd position, on the podium

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin F1 Team, 2nd position, the Red Bull trophy delegate, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, Pierre Gasly, Alpine F1 Team, 3rd position, on the podium

"So that started the history of Ferrari Trento under the leadership of my family, and now I'm part of the third generation in the company.

"We are still a family business, we have a strong management team and a team of passionate people that share the values and the passion for Ferrari with us."

Over the decades the Lunelli family has built the brand into Italy's predominant sparkling wine. Current boss Matteo worked in finance for Goldman Sachs in New York, Zurich and London before returning to run the family firm, and as such he has brought new energy and an international outlook to the business.

"We grew always without compromising the quality, but we grew significantly year over year," he says. "So with the second generation of my family, we can say that the Ferrari Trento has become the toast of Italy par excellence.

"And then lately we are more and more international, and we want to bring Ferrari worldwide as an ambassador of the Italian art of living."

That growth has been achieved against the background of the constant fight to convince consumers worldwide that champagne is not the only option.

Trentino's Alpine location, with sunny days and cold nights creating a big temperature shift that encourages the perfect maturation of the chardonnay grapes, is ideal.

"In 2003 when I started to go around the world to promote Ferrari Trento positioning a sparkling wine in the very high end was difficult," says Lunelli. "Because the high end of sparkling was a monopoly of champagne.

"Limiting sparkling wine only to champagne would be like limiting red wine only to burgundy. Burgundy is a reference for red wine, I love burgundy. But there are amazing red wines in many other regions, in Italy, in Spain, in California, in Australia. And nowadays, everybody's open on that.

"On sparkling wine this is also happening. Obviously, champagne will remain a reference in terms of historical relevance, but we have over a century of tradition in Trentino, and we have a very distinctive identity."

Promoting the brand internationally via F1 is a logical move in that context. In fact Ferrari Trento has some history in the sport as its bottles were briefly sprayed at Monza – by 1981 Italian GP winner Alain Prost for example – before Ecclestone signed the first season-long agreement with Moet.

The opportunity to take over that deal came when it emerged that Carbon, originally signed-up by then-F1 commercial boss Sean Bratches, would not be continuing into 2021.

1981 Italian Grand Prix.

1981 Italian Grand Prix.

Ferrari Trento general manager Simone Mase had previously worked at F1 partner Heineken as global marketing activation director, and his inside knowledge helped to open the door.

The arrangement is not just about the podium or a simple branding exercise, but also the annual supply of the Paddock Club, F1 Experiences and the other hospitality entities, although that aspect was on hold when the deal was discussed with the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting the sport.

"When we started our conversation with F1 they were asking themselves what would have been the consequence of leaving champagne, which was the toast for decades," says Lunelli. "And we tried to demonstrate first of all by presenting our products and showing the quality that we have.

"They also wanted to be clear on the relationship between us and Ferrari cars, because at the very beginning people were sceptical about having Mercedes toasting with Ferrari. That's why we always use Ferrari Trento, because we don't want to create confusion."

The vineyard also ticked all the right boxes for F1 on sustainability, thanks to its organic focus and carbon-neutral status.

The new deal was announced in February 2021. After skipping the season opener in Bahrain due to the alcohol restrictions jeroboams of Ferrari Trento were sprayed at the Emilia Romagna GP by Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton and Lando Norris.

"It was very emotional and very nice for us to start from Imola," says Lunelli. "That Grand Prix was dedicated to 'Made in Italy,' so celebrating an Italian wine on the F1 podium was particularly significant for us."

Lunelli is delighted with how the F1 involvement has paid off over its initial three years.

"I have to say that at that time was not an obvious decision, because it was a really strong investment and strong commitment for a company like us," he says.

Matteo Lunelli, CEO of Ferrari Trento

Photo by: Ferrari Trento

Matteo Lunelli, CEO of Ferrari Trento

"But it has proved to be very successful, also because we continued to invest during the pandemic because we were confident in the long-term opportunity.

"It's a partnership that is based on shared values. The values of tradition, because F1 is also about tradition, but at the same time innovation. In that respect, F1 choosing Ferrari Trento was an innovative decision.

"What also links us to F1 is the quest for excellence. Behind each one of the cars there is a huge number of people that are committed to excellence, and to making everything better and better and better every day.

"And this is what we try to do at Ferrari Trento, where I always say that a great wine is the result of a lot of steps done with care and attention by all the team, from the vineyard to the winery.

"For us F1 is a very powerful platform through which to communicate our brand worldwide, which is our main challenge for the future. We're very well established in Italy, but our goal is to really grow internationally. And F1 is the perfect platform for that."

The sport's recent expansion in the USA, Ferrari Trento's biggest international market, has been well-timed. The company had a huge activation drive in Las Vegas for example, with a high profile presence in many of the top hotels.

Key to the success of the F1 partnership is the fact that VIP race attendees can sample the drink, with some 60,000 bottles consumed each year at events. It's not just about the podium, although that remains at the heart of the deal.

"What I think makes unique this package for us is first of all that the wine becomes part of the show," says Lunelli. "Many sponsors are not as lucky as we are, because what we create goes in the hands of the drivers at one of the most iconic moments, which is also the most iconic celebration of the world of sports.

"So that's very important, but what we really appreciate is also the fact that the guests can taste Ferrari Trento throughout the weekend."

One trait that the company shares with the other Ferrari is that it is a high-end brand and there's a limit to its production levels, not least because millions of bottles spend years maturing in cellars and thus there's a long lead time involved. So how much room for expansion is there?

"It's like when you have a restaurant and you have all the tables full, it's always good," says Lunelli. "Sometimes for some of our labels, the demand of the market is bigger than the production.

"But that's a very good problem to have if you want to be a luxury brand having a demand which is much higher than the production is good. So we want to grow the demand more and more.

Matteo Lunelli, CEO of Ferrari Trento

Photo by: Ferrari Trento

Matteo Lunelli, CEO of Ferrari Trento

"We are moving some allocation out of Italy into the international market because we think that strategically becoming more international is very important for the brand.

"It's important for us to maintain our strength in Italy, because it's our local market, and we're very proud to be the toast of Italy. But I think that if you want to be a luxury brand nowadays, you need to be international, you need to be served in all the best places around the world."

The other challenge is to maintain the brand's own identity in the face of its high-profile automotive namesake, but there is one easy way to distinguish between the two.

"Everybody in Italy would know what is Il Ferrari, which is the wine, while La Ferrari is the car," says Lunelli.

"We have a very beautiful letter that Enzo Ferrari wrote to my uncle, mentioning Il Ferrari and La Ferrari – because for Enzo and for all Italians cars are female!"

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