2013 Lifetime Achievement Award: Gianni Zonin

The visionary head of the largest private wine enterprise in Europe has one foot firmly planted on American soil.

In 1967, at the age of 29, Gianni Zonin became president of his family’s firm. 

Today, it’s the largest private wine enterprise in Europe, producing 40 million bottles in 2012. Three-fourths of the production is exported, with the U.S. being a primary market. 

One of the most influential personalities in the Italian wine world, Zonin’s wine career had humble beginnings. 

Zonin began working as a cellar hand at the family’s winery in 1957 after he earned his diploma in enology. He would later add a law degree.

“I did everything, from racking wines into different vats and barrels to loading trucks,” he says. 

After three months, he started to help with winemaking and soon climbed the company ladder. He was also influential in opening up new markets in Italy and expanding sales and production. 

Although Casa Vinicola Zonin’s roots stretch back to 1821, Zonin took the business to a new level when he became president. Besides expanding sales and production, Zonin made the crucial decision to acquire property outside of the family’s home region of Veneto, purchasing Friuli’s Tenuta Ca’ Bolani in 1970.

Domenico Zonin, Gianni’s oldest son and a vice president of the company, says that his father was the first person in the Italian wine industry to invest in another region. 

“Today, it doesn’t seem like a big deal,” Domenico says, “but in 1970, Italian winemakers only focused on their own individual areas and wines, so this was really a radical decision for the time, and showed courage and intuition.”

Zonin purchased property in Tuscany, including the stunning Castello d’Albola in Chianti Classico, as well as estates in Sicily, Piedmont and Puglia. 

The firm has two divisions, Zonin the brand and Zonin Estates, the latter counting nine estates in seven regions in Italy for a total of 4,942 acres under vine. All Zonin Estates wines are made with estate grapes and under the supervision of the firm’s in-house team of 32 agronomists and enologists, supported by famed consultant Denis Dubourdieu. 

Zonin has even expanded his vineyard holdings to this side of the Atlantic. In 1976, he purchased the Barboursville estate in
Virginia, where, among other varieties, he grows Barbera, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. 

Besides reflecting his pioneering spirit, Zonin’s acquisitions demonstrate remarkable business acumen. Case in point: when he bought Barboursville and planted vines, there were no wineries in the state—now there are more than 275.  

It’s because of such vision demonstrated over seven decades that Wine Enthusiast names Gianni Zonin as the winner of its 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I’m very proud and honored to learn that I’m going to receive this prestigious award and to join the ranks of the celebrated names from around the world who have won before me,” says Zonin. 

“It’s not just an honor for me, for my family and for those who work with us, but also for Italy,” he says. “It’s a confirmation of how well Italians are working in both viticulture and winemaking.”

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