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Missions, martyrs and American culture … Ask a Marianist

1:03 PM  Mar 8th, 2011
by Brother Erik Otiende, S.M. ’10

Brother Erik Otiende, S.M. ’10 recently returned to Nairobi, Kenya, after more than two years at UD in the educational leadership master’s program. He previously taught secondary school in Zambia. In Nairobi, he is working in the formation house, where brothers who have made their first vows live while attending college. It is the same house where Otiende spent his early years as a Marianist.

What do you think is the most important ministry the Marianists in Nairobi do, and can you tell us a little about the makeup of the Marianist family in Nairobi? —Sister Laura Leming, F.M.I., UD Professor

All the ministries in Nairobi and the Region of Eastern Africa are very important because all of our ministries are options for the poor. We have schools that provide good education to the poor, the Maria House for single mothers, a kindergarten for their vulnerable kids and technical schools that empower youth who cannot afford to go to universities. All these ministries allow the poor to gain their voices and positions in the society; thus all these ministries are important. In Nairobi we have both religious Marianists and the lay Marianists; so far, we haven’t been blessed by the presence of Marianist sisters, so somehow the family is not complete, so to speak.

How can we, as UD students, be involved in supporting your mission? —Daniela R. Abreo, UD fifth-year senior

Some UD students have been generous with their time and have come to do voluntary work here with our projects and in our schools. I also know some who save money and send it for sponsorship of kids here. I think that is how you and other UD students can be involved.

Is there any memory of Brother Roman Wishinski’s service and murder in Africa? Why isn’t he considered a martyr? —C. W. Grennan ’57, Orange, Calif.

The Region of Eastern Africa still remembers and appreciates the seed that was sown by Brother Roman Wishinski and other Marianists who first came to Africa, but the issue of martyrdom and sainthood is considered in the church only when the cause of death is a matter of faith and not just a civil war in the country. Brother Roman was killed in Nigeria’s Biafra War. This war and the perpetrators of this war did not target him because of what he believed in.

What change have you noticed in yourself since the first time you served people in need? —Rafael Carbonell, UD first-year student

In serving people in need, we share our talents and resources with them. Thus, we uplift them. For me, serving in any way gives me joy and peace of heart, especially when the people I am serving are in great need. Once I did voluntary work in the hospital, and since then I have appreciated my health more than ever before.

What disappoints you most about the American culture? —Steve Shiparski ’88, Findlay, Ohio

I wouldn’t say that something disappoints me. Each culture is valuable to the people practicing it. However, a few things here and there were shocking to see and hear. I was shocked by the idea of suing. People have become so money-minded so as you cannot help each other for fear of being sued. There is also too much wastage in the U.S. because some people don’t care much about how they use what they have.

What countries have missions staffed by Marianists from the American province? Do other provinces also have missionaries? —Ernest Avellar ’49, Hayward, Calif.

The Marianists of the United States had lots of missions: District of India, Region of Eastern Africa, Region of Korea, Mexico, Ireland, Japan and the Philippines. Notice I generalized “United States” because, when the brothers began the missions, there were five U.S. provinces: St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pacific, New York and Meribah. Now there are only two, the United States and Meribah. The U.S. province still has missions in the Philippines, India, Mexico and Ireland. The regions of Korea and Eastern Africa have both become independent. Other provinces have missions. For example, the province of France has missions in Ivory Coast and both Congos. Currently, we have Marianists working in countries that are not their homeland; I guess they can be called missionaries in that sense. As Marianists, we are all missionaries according to our founder Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, but that will be a topic for another time.

Did your experience in Dayton give you any new ways of looking at things? —Father Dave Fleming, S.M., UD professor

I think if we are open to growth and God’s graces around us, any experience in life gives us new ways of looking at things. UD being an international university allowed me not only to mingle with people from all walks of life but also to share my culture with them and to experience theirs. My stay in Dayton connected me to a bigger world and not just the United States of America.

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My Old House 1998: 339 Kiefaber

10:02 AM  Mar 5th, 2011
by Seetha Sankaranarayan '12

As eight students learned during their stay at 339 Kiefaber, sometimes the greatest lessons in problem solving and resilience happen outside the classroom.

Five men, three women and a pet cat lived in this landlord-owned house from the summer of 1998 until they graduated in 2000.

“We had bats in the attic the first summer we lived there,” Lisa Lee said. “We also had mice. That’s why Christine [Williams Mulholland] got the cat.”

Fortunately, the spacious, two-story brick house, centrally located near the corner of Kiefaber and Lawnview, provided many areas to escape the critters.

“Honestly, it is a maze,” Jeffrey Pierson said.

All eight students had their own bedrooms — women upstairs and men downstairs — and shared several kitchens and bathrooms throughout the house. One of the men had a cubbyhole of a bedroom off the front living room, while Christopher Johnson occupied the back bedroom and bathroom with floors that slanted ominously toward the basement. On the lower level, a wall separated the front and back of the house.

“We were so sick of having to go up the back stairs and down the front or out the back door and in the front to get back and forth,” said Brian Lepa, now a shop operations manager for GE Transportation. One night, the roommates began hacking away at a wall until they had created a hole large enough to walk through, which they hid from the landlord with tapestries.

Matt Berges, who currently works as a general contractor in northeast Ohio, eventually confessed to the landlord, who agreed to let him build a doorway connecting the lower level. The upstairs kitchen was repainted, and from that point onward the rear kitchen, one of the smallest rooms in the house, became the preferred area for hanging out.

“We put a couch and TV in the kitchen, and that made it a great space,” Pierson said. The kitchen chairs in turn made their way onto the wrap-around stone porch that the roommates unanimously agree is the best in the neighborhood. “Best place to be,” Lee said. “Best times of my life.”

 

Visit the house with today’s students here.

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Tennis, sharp dressers and a tale of two families … Ask a Marianist

3:34 PM  Dec 30th, 2010
by Brother Al Kuntemeier, S.M. ’51

Brother Al Kuntemeier, S.M. ’51 knows what he teaches. Brother Al earned first place in the Texas State Fair Classic tennis tournament, where the lack of competitors in his 80-year-old age bracket required him to win against opponents in their early 70s; last year, he coached Nolan Catholic High School to a boys doubles state title.

Tennis is a very cerebral sport. What life lessons learned in tennis carry over to daily life? —Eric Mahone, UD tennis coach

Yes, a lot of it is in the mind. I have the mindset that I’m going to play my best, and if my best is better than my opponent’s, I’ll win. If I don’t win, it’s not because I didn’t play my best; it’s because my opponent played better. I ask my players after a match, “Did you lose, or did you get beat?” If they played their best, they didn’t lose, no matter what the outcome. My attitude is that I can and will win when I play my best. And that’s what life is all about.

How do you continue to be so good at golf after 63 years of being a Marianist? —Father Bert Buby, S.M. ’45, Dayton

God, and my mom and dad, gave me good genes. I take care of my body, and then it’s practice, practice, practice. Actually, my game is more tennis. Golf takes too much time and it’s too
expensive.

How do you relate your athletic coaching to your life as a Marianist? —Brother Phil Aaron, S.M. ’54, Dayton

Student athletes have a gift, a talent and a corresponding responsibility to do their best. I say, “Play your best, and if you do, I’m satisfied and I’m proud of you.” I want to teach a Christian message. I ask them to accept the gifts God gives them and to use them well. St. Julian of Norwich said, “The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live joyfully in the knowledge of His love for us.” I try to live that. I hope that whatever I do — teach accounting, counsel, coach — reflects my dedication, my living my Marianist vocation.

The Marianists were founded by Father Chaminade in Bordeaux, France, in 1817. The Marist order, also the “Society of Mary,” operates Marist High School in Atlanta and other schools throughout the world. They too were founded in France about the same time. How did this happen? It is extremely confusing. —Charles Werling ’58, Suwanee, Ga.

My favorite is when someone asks, “Are you a Marist brother?” The answer: “No, I’m a Marianist — we’re longer than they are.” Father Champagnat, a Marist father, founded the Brothers of Mary in France in 1817. The Marists are also known as the Society of Mary. The religious vows — poverty, chastity and obedience — are essentially the same. Maybe it’s like having two Jones families — name’s the same, but oh so different. We Marianists have our own history, charism, culture, spirit. We are known for community, for family spirit, our special devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. We take our vow of stability, which is a marian dedication to the mission and person of Mary. We live together, brothers and priests, in equality.

Why don’t Marianist brothers wear habits anymore? —Ernest Avellar ’49, Hayward, Calif.

Actually, we never did wear a “habit.” Chaminade ordered that the Marianist dress should differ little from that of seculars. At the time, they wore a chestnut brown Prince Albert coat, then a black Prince Albert coat. That lasted until 1947, when we switched to a short coat, double-breasted black suit, white shirt, black tie. My profession group, 1948, was the first to wear the short coat. People would see a group of us and wonder if we were going to an undertakers’ convention. Very few of us wear the black suit any more. We dress like the professionals of today. One of my claims to fame is that I do dress coordinated. Some of my colleagues call me “GQ.”

What is the key to the kingdom of God? —Francisco Alvarez ’88, San Juan, Puerto Rico

You get into the kingdom of God when you know Him, love Him and serve Him. Sound like the Baltimore Catechism? If you want the kingdom of God, follow the Commandments. And following the Commandments is broader than just “don’t kill” or “don’t miss Mass.” Love God, and show that love by the life you live. Do that and you have the key to the kingdom of God, the key to heaven. I don’t know where heaven is, but I believe in it, and I want to get there.

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The matching of wine and food (a common-sense approach)

3:32 PM  Dec 30th, 2010
by Bill Whiting ’90, Banfi director of wine education

Wine is the lifeblood of food. Water submerges the taste of food while chemical concoctions shield it. There is no mystique to the art of matching wine and food and no collection of ironclad rules.

There is not one right wine for any particular food. A well-made wine, no matter where it comes from, will enhance the appropriate food no matter what its ethnic origin.

What the person who enjoys food (be it a sandwich, chicken wing or roast beef) seeks is palate enjoyment — a fusion of two different taste experiences that create a third that is greater than each individual taste.

Wine is a natural, complex, yet easy-to-appreciate beverage. The primary consideration for a proper marriage is that the character of the wine and the food should not overwhelm or suffocate each other. Wine and food are not meant to quarrel.

General rules to harmonize wine with food date to the days of ancient Greece and Rome. While rigid, specific rules about appropriate wines and foods were written in the 1500s and followed for centuries, today’s consumer drinks and eats what pleases the palate.

Consider compatibility and incompatibility in wine and food just as one does before taking the vows of matrimony.

Red wine with red meats makes gastronomic sense. The tannin in the wine marries with the proteins in the red meat, causing digestion to begin almost immediately. Drunk with certain seafood, however, a tannic red will play havoc with a fillet of Dover sole, and the wine might even acquire a metallic taste, although fresh salmon, swordfish or tuna, being rich in natural oils, marry well with light-bodied reds.

White wine with white meat and seafood is also a good general recommendation. Certain white wines might be overwhelmed by beef or lamb but will rise to gastronomic heights when married with sole, shrimp, lobster or grilled breast of chicken.

Salads do not impart any characteristics to wine, but if dressed with vinegar, they inhibit the palate’s assessment, robbing wine of its liveliness, making it taste flabby and dull. Lemon juice is preferred, as citric acid blends well with wine’s makeup.

Cheese and wine are ideal combinations — just take care not to serve rich, piquant cheeses with light-bodied wines and vice versa.

Spicy foods can be a problem, but when served with a spicy or very fruity wine, the two meet their mates (Lambrusco from Italy, Riesling from Chile).

Chocolate may also upset the taste of wine. Some claim that an old Cabernet will do the trick. An excellent, delightful combination with chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is Rosa Regale — the wine has fruitiness, crispness and the right natural acidity to balance rich chocolate desserts and keep the palate fresh and clean.

Remember: Wine in moderation.

This article is a sidebar to our Winter 2010-11 feature “Wine & Family.”

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Imagining new beginnings

3:24 PM  Dec 30th, 2010
by Daniel J. Curran, President

Some call Blessed William Joseph Chaminade a “pragmatic visionary.”

Others, like Brother John Samaha, S.M., view the founder of the Society of Mary as a humble priest whose “peaceful life turned into the stuff from which the plots of adventure movies are developed.”

For me, he’s a fellow sociologist.

As the University of Dayton celebrates the 250th anniversary of Chaminade’s birth throughout 2011, I’m inspired by how his life story continues to fuel the University’s upward momentum.

When Father Chaminade escaped the bloody French Revolution and went into exile in Spain, he imagined a new beginning for the embattled Catholic Church in France.  This was a time of radical social, economic and political upheaval in his homeland. The monarchy had collapsed. During the Reign of Terror, priests and other church leaders were harassed, imprisoned or killed. Society was in chaos.

Yet Chaminade saw a path forward — a way that would re-energize the church and create a new religious movement empowered by the laity. When he returned to Bordeaux, he brought together an eclectic group of merchants, priests, teachers, chimney sweeps, former soldiers and others from all walks of life who drew their inspiration from Mary, the mother of 
Jesus. A community of believers, they treated each other as equals and shared a deep sense of mission.

Father Chaminade viewed the world with a sociological eye. He saw that in the midst of social change, which can be radical and disruptive, institutions can remain vibrant and grow. New times, he believed, called for new methods.

That philosophy guides us every day as we live out the Marianist mission on campus. As a community, we read the signs of the times and act boldly and imaginatively.

That’s why we purchased NCR’s former world headquarters and are transforming it into a riverfront center for research, graduate studies, continuing education and alumni outreach.

It’s highly unusual for a corporate giant such as General Electric to build a $51 million research facility on a college campus (Pg. 5), but we see that move as the future for leading research universities. When the University made its first large land purchase from NCR in 2005, we worked with regional leaders to secure the federal and state funds necessary to make that land, largely a brownfield, vibrant again. We envisioned attracting strong companies that could spur 
additional research, serve as real-world classrooms and spark economic development for the region. Today, that vision 
is coming to fruition.

As we look outward, the University of Dayton will welcome a more diverse and academically prepared student body from all socioeconomic walks of life and from all over the world. Our academic reputation as a top-tier Catholic research university will gain greater recognition. More alumni and friends will invest in our shared future.

We will make a deeper mark on the world while remaining true to Chaminade’s ageless philosophy.

We educate for adaptation and change. We develop technology that benefits mankind. In a fragmented world, we encourage dialogue between faith and culture. We foster community, and we remain deeply committed to the common good.

An 18th-century priest still imparts lessons for a modern-day university. That’s worth celebrating.

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Conventional wisdom not always wise

3:17 PM  Dec 30th, 2010
by Thomas M. Columbus

Red wine should be served at room temperature. That advice, according to Banfi’s website, predates central heating. “Light-bodied red wines,” Banfi advises, “are optimally served at 55-65°F. Full-bodied red wines show best between 62 and 68°F.”

A bottle of wine having a screw top and not a cork is a sign of an inferior wine. Although corks may conjure up romantic days of yesteryear, advances in technology are leading many wine people to see screw tops as highly effective in keeping wine from deteriorating.

If Champagne is in France, where is Cabernet? Some wines — such as Cabernet and Chardonnay — use varietal designations for their names; that is, they are named after grapes. Others — like Bordeaux and Chianti — are named after the place where they are produced. Countries such as France and Italy prescribe what kinds of grapes can go into wines having place names. If a wine drinker needs a topic of conversation, talking of how the grape, the weather and the land (even which side of a hill the vine is on) affect the nature of a wine can provide hours of entertaining, sometimes contentious, conviviality.

This article is a sidebar to our Winter 2010-11 feature “Wine & Family.”

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An author’s note on Brunello and its friends

10:25 AM  Dec 30th, 2010
by Thomas M. Columbus

I was delighted when I was assigned to do a story on Banfi and its UD connections. I like wine. And my wife and I had taken a wine course taught by Tom Davis, who is more often employed teaching statistics here. With a semester’s worth of study and the memory of numerous tastings from wine Davis had collected over the years, I had gained “a little learning,” which, the poet Pope tells us, “is a dangerous thing.”

But it’s fun, too.

And besides I was familiar with some of Banfi’s wines, such as the Col di Sasso and the Centine served by our favorite local Italian restaurant. I did not know of the huge number of wines that Banfi imported from other producers, such as the Chilean giant Concha y Toro. And I did not know of the wines that Davis, when I told him of my assignment, mentioned in tones of ecstasy — the great Brunellos of Castello Banfi. The first that he had tasted — a Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino — was 30 years old when he drank it in 2001.

“It was an eye opener,” he said.

From a man who has amassed thousands of bottles of wine and a lifetime of knowledge, this was impressive.

The Marianis, according to Davis’ course textbook (Wine for Dummies), “are leaders in research into the grapes and terroirs of Montalcino.” (Coming from the French word for land, terroir refers to the characteristics of a wine coming from elements such as soil, sun, altitude and weather.) Brunello di Montalcino traditionally must age for years and aerate for hours — and is hugely enjoyable.

For those wanting to drink a wine before it’s decades old, Wine for Dummies recommends Rosso di Montalcino as “a great value, offering you a glimpse of Brunello’s majesty without breaking the bank.”

This article is a sidebar to our Winter 2010-11 feature “Wine & Family.”

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World’s greatest treasure in paper and ink

10:03 AM  Dec 30th, 2010
by Cameron Fullam

In the love of a friend, treasure greater than riches and pride appeared to poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.

And so the writer put pen to paper — the flyleaf of an original edition of Oak and Ivy, his first book of poems — and said so.

And now we are richer for it.

In February, Cincinnati resident Patrick Orsary called Dunbar scholar and professor emeritus Herbert Woodward Martin to say he had an 1893 first edition of Oak and Ivy and would sell it for $50.

Martin could hardly believe his good fortune — he’d been searching for an original Oak and Ivy for decades. He also found inscribed on the inside cover of the book a personal Dunbar poem, written and signed by the poet himself. The unpublished poem was addressed “To My Friend, Joseph S. Cotter, December 18th, 1894.”

“To have a poem written by Dunbar, in his own hand, to another African-American poet who was his contemporary is truly exciting,” Martin said. “I’m touching something that Dunbar touched. I’m connecting with that history.”

Martin’s research on Cotter, a poet living in Kentucky, revealed that he was a friend of Dunbar. Cotter founded the Paul Laurence Dunbar School in Louisville, Ky., in 1893 and became the school’s first principal. Dunbar visited Cotter the next year and possibly gave him the book as a gift, Martin said.

How the book came into the possession of Orsary’s family three generations before him is unknown.

“I’m just real excited that it ended up in the right place,” said Orsary, who contacted Martin through the University’s Dunbar website, http://dunbarsite.org. “You never know what you’re going to find hiding on a bookshelf or in a basement.”

The African American Review, the Modern Language Association’s journal of black literature and culture, recently published the Cotter poem. The book and the poem remain with Martin.

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Wine & family

10:02 AM  Dec 30th, 2010
by Thomas M. Columbus

The pope trusted her. She taught the family. And now they teach us.

Most of those in the room in South Korea were young Americans, still in their 20s. Their beverage of choice was more likely to be beer than wine; their emphasis, more on quantity than quality. But the commander of those F-16 pilots of the 80th Fighter Squadron planned to do something about that.

“I wanted to broaden their education,” said Lt. Col. Jack Sine ’90, an engineering grad, of his pilots stationed in November 2009 about 150 miles south of Seoul at Kunsan Air Force Base, on the west side of the Korean peninsula by the Yellow Sea.
“I wanted to make them into officers, not just pilots.”

He knew the man for the job.

Sine’s senior year college roommate was Bill Whiting ’90, one of 10 grandchildren of John Mariani Sr., founder of an import company by the name of Banfi Vintners, which grew into the leading wine importer in the U.S. as well as into a producer of some of the world’s finest wines. Whiting, a marketing major while at UD, now serves as Banfi’s director of wine education, lecturing at schools, coordinating events such as winemaker dinners, and educating Banfi’s sales force and its distributor network. “I work the market,” he said.

“I’d seen Bill the last time I was in Washington,” Sine said. “Squadrons and their families look for social things to do together. I told Bill, ‘If I ever command a squadron, I’m going to make you come out and do a wine tasting for the squad and their families.’”

Sine got his command. But since it was in Korea, a remote assignment, and squad members were away from their families, Sine told Whiting, “You don’t have to come out here.”

But Whiting said he was coming, and he did. Banfi’s distributor in Seoul provided the wines. Food to pair with them was another matter. Olives and cheese in Korea are about as rare as kimchi in Italy. But with a little help from their friends, Sine and Whiting put together the ingredients for a tasting.

Sine marveled at his old roommate’s ability to connect with his audience. “This wasn’t,” Sine said, “a culinary institute or a fundraising event” — more typical venues for a director of wine education. Nevertheless, Sine observed, the young pilots did not focus on how much they could drink but sat and listened and learned.

“One of the men was getting married and going to honeymoon in Thailand,” Sine added. “He asked Bill about getting him one of the wines; he wanted to have it in his hotel room in Thailand. But, when Bill didn’t get back to him, he assumed he was too busy.”

Whiting is indeed busy, on the road 200 days a year. “Sometimes when I wake up,” he said, “I don’t know whether I’m home or in a hotel room, whether, when I try to get out of one side of the bed, I’ll hit a wall.”

But when the young pilot and his bride arrived at their Thailand hotel room, there waiting for them was a bottle of the wine.

“Bill’s just a class act,” Sine said.

Whiting is one of four sons of Joan Mariani, the only daughter of Banfi founder John Mariani Sr., whose sons, John Jr. and Harry, built a successful import business into one dominant in its field. One of Whiting’s cousins (one of Harry’s four children), Katy Mariani Goodrich ’85, is a UD commercial design grad who now has her own interior design firm. At UD she introduced her future husband, marketing major Marc Goodrich ’84, to wine. Today, he is executive vice president and chief operating officer of Banfi Vintners. The company’s executive committee comprises Goodrich and co-CEOs Cristina Mariani-May (a daughter of John Jr.) and James Mariani (one of Katy’s brothers).

Whiting likes to say, “Facts tell. Stories sell.” Banfi sells a lot of wine. And it has a very good story, beginning with why the company is named Banfi and not Mariani.

 

John Mariani Sr., who established the firm in 1919, was born in 1895 in Torrington, Conn. He had an aunt. But Teodolinda Banfi was not just any aunt.

Mariani’s father died when John was 9; his mother — with her six children — returned to Italy. They lived with John’s mother’s sister, Teodolinda Banfi, who took an active interest in educating the children. At the time, Teodolinda directed the household staff of the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, Achille Ratti, whose mother had adopted Teodolinda, orphaned at an early age.

In 1922, following the death of Benedict XV and a conclave that voted 14 times, Cardinal Ratti was elected pope and took the name Pius XI. History recognizes his concern for social and economic justice, his condemnation of racism, and his urging of the involvement of laity in the church. During his papacy, in 1929, the Lateran Treaty established the Vatican as a sovereign nation. Pius XI’s attitude toward Italian secularism and the rise of the dictator Benito Mussolini appears to be represented in the pope’s establishing the feast of Christ the King.

Among Pius XI’s early appointments as pope was his selection of a manager for his household. His request that Teodolinda be appointed was, according to the telling of the story on Banfi Vintner’s website, “viewed with amazement — and ignored for months — because never before had a woman, other than a nun, lived in the Sistine Palace.” The pope repeated his instructions. And he kept repeating them until Teodolinda arrived to head his household staff. As in Milan, part of her responsibility in Rome was the selection of wine for the pope’s meals.

During his days with his aunt in Milan, the young John Mariani Sr. had received an extraordinary education on fine wine. He returned to the United States to found in 1919 in New York City’s Little Italy a company that bears his aunt’s name. Since 1919 also saw the 18th Amendment to the Constitution bring Prohibition to the U.S., the Banfi firm imported olive oil and other Italian foods until the 21st Amendment in 1933 repealed Prohibition and allowed John Mariani Sr. to make use of his knowledge of fine wine.

 

Despite a major interruption caused by World War II, Banfi established itself as an importer of fine wine. The company took a step beyond that in 1967 when John Sr.’s sons, John Jr. and Harry, went to Italy in search of a new product. They met with a growers’ cooperative whose grapes produced a fizzy Lambrusco. They encouraged the growers to experiment with blends and techniques, eventually finding a combination that produced a wine that was sweet, that had a low level of alcohol and that offered a market used to carbonated drinks a wine they could embrace.

Banfi had a new product. And it was a hit.

“In 1969,” Goodrich said, “Banfi sold its first case of Riunite. In 1981, it sold 11.5 million cases.” Riunite — with its “On ice … so nice” campaign — was the No. 1-selling imported wine in the U.S. for 26 years. It still has annual sales of 2.5 million cases. By 1980, Banfi was importing more wine from Italy than France and Germany combined were exporting to the U.S.

In 1988, Banfi acquired the import rights to Concha y Toro, selling 90,000 cases a year. A decade later, sales were 3 million cases. Banfi also introduced the brand Walnut Crest, which was produced by an affiliate winery of Concha y Toro. Walnut Crest became Chile’s No. 2 brand and also one of Banfi’s, and America’s, top imports. Other Banfi imports include Bolla, Cecchi, Château Tanunda, Fontana Candida, Sartori and Trivento as well as three niche categories: Marsala from Florio, Wisdom & Warter sherry from Spain, and Stone’s Ginger Wine from England.

But the founding of the company and its growth as an importer are just part of the Banfi story. There is also the tale of Castello Banfi.

 

In the 1950s, John Jr. and Harry Mariani had realized that most Americans were not drinking wine. With Riunite, they changed that; they got Americans to fall in love with wine. But the brothers also realized something about the American market for the Italian wine then being produced. Although sales had grown large, further growth in the market had a handicap: Italian wineries in the middle of the 20th century were just not in the same class as the French. When people thought of fine wine, they thought of Burgundy and Bordeaux, not of any region in Italy.

The Mariani brothers were going to change that.

Much of the profit from the Riunite bonanza was invested in a new project for Banfi. Banfi was going to produce fine Italian wines of its own. The brothers would start from scratch, planting new vineyards, building a new winery and conducting the clonal research to bring Italian wines to world-class level.

The Marianis turned to the land of Tuscany and a grape of ancient origins but, in the mid-20th century, not for the most part of particularly high regard. The name of the grape, Sangiovese, reputedly comes from the Latin for “blood of Jove.”

Sangiovese traces its origins to the Etruscans, inhabitants of the Italian peninsula before the Romans. Among the explanations for its lack of regard in the mid-20th century was that it was often blended with inferior wine. On the other hand, one of its many clones, Brunello di Montalcino, had achieved a reputation as a very fine wine; but it also had become very rare. Winemaking is a very complicated blend, not just of land and weather but also of genetic research and careful attention to production — and of timing.

Banfi’s timing was again superb.

In 1978, the Marianis established Castello Banfi, which comprises 7,100 acres (and, indeed, a castle). The firm did extensive research on Sangiovese, starting with a possible 600 clones of the grape, concentrating on 180 of them, and selecting a final complementary 15 clones. Where the various clones are planted (the Tuscany land of Castello Banfi has 29 major soil zones) and in what proportion help determine the composition of the final product.

Both the process and the product have been successes.

Castello Banfi is the first winery in the world, as its website notes, “to be awarded international recognition for exceptional environmental, ethical and social responsibility (ISO 14001 and SA8000) as well as to be an international leader in customer satisfaction (ISO 9001:2000).”

Banfi also has received Winery of the Year recognition from both Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits Magazine. And among Wine Spectator’s Top 10 Wines has been Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Poggio all’Oro.

The winery makes several other Brunellos and sells a line called Banfi Tuscany, wines —such as Centine and a variety of Chiantis — that are more widely available and less expensive but also have been well-received.

 

Working with Banfi’s Italian operations and traveling to Italy four times a year is part of Marc Goodrich’s job. After graduating from UD in marketing, Goodrich worked at NCR Corp. and later had his own consulting firm. Compared to his earlier work, his job now, he admitted, “has a certain amount of romance.”

And, he pointed out another bonus coming from his work: “It’s nice to sit down and taste your own product. And it is enjoyable to be in a restaurant and see other people enjoying your product.”

But however enjoyable the job and the product, producing and selling wine is a business.

Banfi is big; for three decades, it has been the U.S.’s leading importer of wine. But, as Goodrich pointed out, it has customers — such as Kroger, Costco, Wal-Mart — that are huge. And some of its competitors are divisions of immense companies. “Giant companies can bring in a lot; and what sells, sells,” he said.

Banfi’s approach is different. “Everything in our portfolio has a strategy, has a purpose. We try to avoid overlap among our suppliers. We have to be selective.”

And, he said, “we keep looking for new products, new ideas. Ten years ago nobody drank Malbec; now it’s hot. Riesling was big in the 1970s; it’s now making a comeback.”

Katy Goodrich, as one of the 10 grandchildren of Banfi founder John Mariani Sr., has seen dramatic changes in wine and in Banfi. She also saw, a couple years ago when she and her husband, Marc, came back to UD for Reunion Weekend, dramatic changes in the University of Dayton. But, she said, “Sitting on a porch at 2 a.m., you realize some things don’t change.”

 

Businesses and universities change, but it is change that evolves around human beings, people whose nature is to gather, to talk, to remember, to plan, and to eat and drink together.

Tastes in wine change. Tastes in food change. But human beings continue to sit down together as family and friends for meals of food and wine. The wine business is, in many cases and in many ways, a family business. Katy Goodrich points to families running the companies of some of the wines that Banfi imports — the Sartori family whose wine bears its name and the Guilisasti family of Concha y Toro. “It goes beyond the companies,” she said of their relationships. “We see each other, do things together, vacation together.”

The Mariani family has now for three generations been part of an experience that dates back millennia. Although the business has grown large, Katy Goodrich said, “it looks like it will stay in the family.”

A number of members of the fourth generation, she said, are interested in the business. The oldest of the fourth generation — Marc and Katy’s son, Robert — has prepared by graduating from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and is now working at Empire Merchants, a large wine distributor. “He’s in the industry, learning about it,” Katy said. That’s much the same experience Katy’s cousin, Bill Whiting, had when he worked at Dayton’s Heidelberg Distributing.

Many a family business has had a rocky or fatal transition from one generation to the next. But, Katy Goodrich said, “We’ve been wise with long-range planning to ensure it can go smoothly.”

Mariani planning in the past has been highly successful. Wine in the U.S. used to be just something to drink and that only occasionally. But the Mariani family changed that.

“Now,” Marc Goodrich said, “wine is part of the meal, part of the culture.”

Thomas M. Columbus, retired editor of this magazine, is spending his newly found time away from the office stomping grapes in his garage.

Continued conversations

BANFI
Facts on the company, the wines it imports and the wines it produces — as well as a highly informative section (under Banfi Vintners) on wine in general
www.banfi.com

‘RIUNITE ON ICE … THAT’S NICE’
Videos of ads from the hugely successful advertising campaign of the ’70s and ’80s
www.riunite.com/americas_best.html

WINE TASTINGS
One of the best places to learn about and enjoy wine is at a wine tasting. The Dayton area alone has dozens each week at wine retailers, grocery stores and restaurants. If you live in or will be visiting Dayton, you can find information in the wine blog of the Dayton Daily News.
www.daytondailynews.com/o/content/shared-gen/blogs/dayton/wine/

WINE FOR DUMMIES
An easy-to-read, very useful text used by UD’s Tom Davis in UDI 350 — History and Evaluations of World Wines; Davis also points to the Dummies series’ books on red, white, French and Italian wines.

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First in sisterly support

9:56 AM  Dec 30th, 2010
by Seetha Sankaranarayan ’12

Pi Beta Phi is known for being an organization of firsts: the first national women’s fraternity and one of the founding members of the National Panhellenic Council. The most recent first comes from the University of Dayton’s own Ohio Iota Chapter: the Ebeling-Ross Pi Beta Phi Scholarship fund, the first scholarship endowment by a UD sorority.

When fully endowed at $25,000, the scholarship will benefit at least one sister each year who demonstrates Pi Phi values as modeled by the women who founded the Ohio Iota Chapter, Martha Ebeling and Lois Ross.

“Mrs. Ebeling and Mrs. Ross were chosen to be honored because of their outstanding leadership in the community, both locally and nationally, and because of their spirit of generosity — of their time, talent and treasure,” says Heidi Azaloff ‘94, chief of the scholarship endowment committee. “The endowed scholarship celebrates their qualities and encourages Pi Phis to always aim higher.”

The Dayton Alumnae Club of Pi Beta Phi matches each gift donated to the scholarship, up to $5,000. They expect to reach the endowment goal by June 2011 and award a sister a scholarship for the next academic year.

“The scholarship is a tremendous example to students of how they can give back and make a difference,” says Joan Schiml, director of annual giving.

Current sorority members hope the scholarship will continue to strengthen their ties.

“We consider ourselves sisters,” says Tonica Johnson ’12. “Having a scholarship to help those in need is a great way to secure that bond that we have with each other.”

For more information, visit http://www.supportUD.piphi.udayton.edu.

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