Matteo Lunelli admits to sometimes being a little disappointed. After all, his product, considered to be Italy’s finest sparkling wine, may be seen in the hands of some of the world’s biggest sportsmen — who certainly look very happy at the time — but what do they then do with it?
They spray it everywhere.
“I want people to taste our wines but the celebration on the podium in Formula 1 is a moment of joy, and that’s a positive emotion to be associated with,” chuckles Lunelli, CEO of the winemaker Ferrari Trento, whose Jeroboams (3L bottles) are those all shook up on the podium to mark Grand Prix success. “And once they’ve done the spraying the drivers typically take it to their teams and that’s when they all start drinking. You know, we have the bubbles, so the spraying works well, but I like people to drink it.” Even if, as some drivers do, it’s from their own sweaty shoe.
Yet, in being the wine so sprayed, it’s still a win for Ferrari Trento. After all, with some 70 million people around the world watching each Grand Prix on TV and even more seeing the podium moments on social media — especially when Lewis Hamilton decides to spray the wine in the face of the nearest podium girl — it’s a huge deal, at least from a publicity standpoint. And it’s a deal that requires a lot of backroom deal-making. It’s why Ferrari Trento has recently extended its contract with Formula 1 through to 2025 when this particular sponsorship package is open to competition again.
Lunelli will wax lyrical about the synergy of values between his brand and Formula 1 — the pursuit of excellence, the passion for craft, the importance of innovation, etc. And yes, since Italy is synonymous with luxury sports-car manufacturing, it’s a nice touch to have an Italian wine to fit in alongside all the Pirelli tires, Kappa and Giorgio Armani uniforms and Alfa Romeo engineering. Indeed, if you’re Italian, you’ll likely already associate Ferrari Trento with being the toast of other major sports events, the likes of the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli sailboat racing team for America’s Cup, the Juventus soccer club and the Italian Open tennis tournament. For many years it was also the official toast of the Emmy Awards.
But this is ultimately a strategic decision: The increasingly buzzy Formula 1 is looking for a company that can provide large volumes of high-quality wine. As Lunelli points out, the racing aside, Formula 1 is a juggernaut of corporate hospitality, commanding high ticket prices for high rollers, so quality matters. No doubt keen to assess the wares of the 2020 Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year at the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships, the Formula 1 team was careful to conduct tastings of Ferrari Trento’s tipples…even if they stopped short of assessing its spray-ability. And in selecting Ferrari Trento for its hospitality, it also selected a sparking wine, rather than the more traditional Champagne.
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Meanwhile Ferrari Trento — which will provide plenty of wine for free as part of the deal, but which also sell some 60,000 bottles at Grand Prix events over the 2022 season — sees Formula 1 as the ideal global launchpad for a wine that’s a household name in Italy, but needs to make a bigger splash abroad. Ferrari Trento was not given details of the other winemakers competing for this prestigious slot but Lunelli says there were many.
“Of course, we’ve been thinking about Formula 1 as an incredible opportunity for us for a long time and it’s a very important investment for us, not least because [those podium moments] are among the most iconic moments in the world of sports,” says Lunelli, who started long negotiations with Formula 1 back in 2019. “The competition [for the sponsorship deal] wasn’t just who could pay the most, but about providing the right standard of product. But you don’t know who you’re up against or what they’re offering. The deal wasn’t easy [to pull off] but we managed it. The Formula 1 [sponsorship] team was very demanding.”
The History of Formula 1 Champagne
Other brands have been here before: For over 30 years it was Moet & Chandon, followed by a 15-year run for G.H. Mumm, both brands well-established around the world long before Formula 1 existed. Less well-known, Argentine sparkling winemaker Chandon was the spray of choice for two years, before industry newcomer Champagne Carbon won the contract. They’ve also seen the marketing potential in the tradition; G.H. Mumm even added an additional, upside-down label to the bottles it provided so the brand name would remain easily readable when the drivers inverted them to drink.
Indeed, the first instance of a connection between Champagne and the podium goes way back to Formula 1’s creation in 1950, when Moet & Chandon donated a bottle to Argentine racing legend Juan Manuel Fangio; he was the winner of that year’s French Grand Prix, which had been held at the Gueux circuit in Reims, deep within Champagne territory. Spraying it, however, was another thing entirely. The story goes that when Swiss driver Jo Siffert was handed his bottle as the winner of 1966’s Le Mans 24 Hours race, it had been sat in the sun and the cork popped of its own accord, dousing those standing nearby in the process.
What a great idea, thought the American driver Dan Gurney, winner of the race the following year. He became the first driver to spray a bottle of celebratory champagne deliberately; he was, as he once described it, “Beyond caring and just got caught up in the moment.” In the process, he created a tradition.
A few caveats to the tradition: Champagne isn’t opened, let alone sprayed if a driver has been killed or seriously injured in the race. And in those countries where alcohol consumption is restricted, particularly in the Middle East, sparkling fruit juice or rosewater is the usual replacement, although Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff claimed that at the Turkish Grand Prix in 2020 it was Sprite.
It’s even become a political statement on occasion. When Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello found themselves on the podium of the United States Grand Prix in 2005 — a problematic event in many ways — they simply clinked their bottles and walked off, leaving third-place driver Tiago Monteiro, unaware that he was enjoying the only podium finish of his career, to spray to his heart’s content.
“I think spraying wine like this works precisely [in the context of the podium] because popping the cork itself is an action that creates energy. It’s something that’s joyful in itself,” argues Lunelli. “You know, it’s the whole idea of bubbles. Bubbles are happy, they move themselves, they don’t have any order. Open a bottle and seeing those bubbles is like seeing a wine clap its hands.”
Ferrari Trento Steps on the World Stage
But can it put Ferrari Trento on the international map? As Lunelli concedes, “Compared to other brands in the Formula 1 world, we’re very small. So to keep up with the pace set by Formula 1 will be a challenge”. And, he adds, not every one of those watching the races on TV “will be paying attention to every detail of the podium celebration. But, you know, the bottle tends to be a strong protagonist in those moments,” noting that since 2017 there’s even been a ‘bottle cam’ attached to it. And Formula 1 also provides the opportunity for thousands of people to try these wines, perhaps for the first time.
Ferrari Trento has been quick to produce a limited-edition Jeroboam that’s an exact replica of the one used on the Formula 1 podium. It’s sold out. Other special editions, linked to specific race tracks — Monza, Silverstone, Mexico City and now Miami — have followed, with more in the pipeline. In others words, Ferrari Trento is not missing any opportunity to drive the association with Formula 1 home.
There is even, well, that name. Some of you may be familiar with another Ferrari, a carmaker or something… But actually, the two Ferraris go way back, with Ferrari Trento used at Ferrari events, too: When Enzo Ferrari first struck up that relationship, he pointedly underscored the fact that the distinction between the two brands is clear, given that Italian grammar has the car as feminine (la Ferrari) and the wine as masculine (il Ferrari).
“In Italy Ferrari is a common name. And of course, we’re happy to share that name with such fantastic cars. We don’t want to create any confusion, but often people think we’re something to do with the car and then look into it, so the name creates curiosity,” says Lunelli. “Of course, we know that people around the world, when they think about the Ferrari name, they probably think about the car and not a sparkling wine producer.”
But with this unusual F1 tradition, that may change.
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