The name Gulfi on the labels of famous Sicilian wines indicates the places associated with the adventure and the passion of the Catania family, in Chiaramonte Gulfi, a magical setting, a hill near Ragusa, in the far south of the island.
Vito Catania is the keeper of the family tradition of wine and oil making, and the founder of the Gulfi Vinery. He has expanded the land he inherited and introduced innovative working practices. The vineyard is the result of a project begun in 1996 with the collaboration of Salvo Foti. Today the vineyard consists of about 70 hectares of vines in the best parts of western Sicily. The greatest commitment is to safeguard the land and to continue making wine in a way that respects the environment and is in balance with the surrounding ecosystem. The indigenous vines, which over centuries have adapted themselves to these lands, the non-irrigated alberello cultivation and organic agriculture, are fundamental in respecting what is a fantastic heritage.
Matteo, you are “the next generation” of the company, which was founded by your father Vito. Yet at only 31, you have brought Gulfi abroad, as Export manager of the company upon completing your studies. Please tell us how you brought Sicilian wine to the Indian and Chinese markets?
With perseverance, professionalism and above all, knowing that you have a big potential for reward if you can find a way. That's it. Paradoxically, in the mature wine markets, such as Europe and America, it’s easier to find people who are open and competent in the search for terroir-wines, that are looking for products coming from local grapes in peculiar lands, and therefore unique and inimitable. In China and India, things are changing if slowly, but as far as today, the market was divided into either low-cost wines or famous and expensive wines. For the producers in the middle, witch are focused on quality wines but not in the “mythical range”, the battle is still tough.
What are your main types of foreign customers now and how is your export split between different countries?
In our opinion the goal for export is to deliver a high-quality Made in Italy product, to reach a positioning that can allow the wine enthusiast to afford a good bottle without too much expense. In Gulfi, the labour cost in the vineyard of our Cru vineyard San Lorenzo and of the other vineyards from which we make NeroJbleo is the same, but the price is very different. It’s not only a matter of quality in the production, it’s also a matter of a smaller portion of the vineyard with a lesser productivity, but with a peculiar expression of excellence, that in the first case reaches a greater complexity. In Gulfi we don’t really look for a certain “right type” of consumer, but we try to tell our story through the wine and to reach all those who are willing to listen, meeting their curiosity and expectations.
We started with 50-50 sales between Italy and abroad, but now we are moving on 60-40 also for bureaucratic reasons. I can say that America and Japan are giving us great satisfaction, but recently also Russia and Brazil. I should not forget the special mention for Belgium in Europe, that is doing very well. We revised a bit in recent years the entire sales network abroad, and now I can say that our choices are giving us the signals of a conscious growth, with great prospects for the future. The key for success in export? It’s a kind of personal philosophy: choose the people and not names or companies.
What is the thing that foreign customers in new markets love most bout your wine?
It’s simple: the purity and not the overwhelming fruit-jam, the beautiful freshness accompanied by complexity, and the clean sensation, which remains in the mouth after sipping. And also the price, which offers very good value. It's like buying a Ferrari for the price of a BMW.
What are the most difficult obstacles to overcome in export to new markets? Bureaucratic reasons, religious, or just the fact of their newness?
I could say none of the three listed, but distrust, clichés and somehow a certain kind of ignorance. And with regret, maybe I'll put also on top the poor capacity of cooperation amongst producers. I think that this has always been an Italian problem, because the French don’t fight each other, they become stronger when they work together.
What are the things you like most and least about travelling for your business?
What I love about traveling is meeting people with different lives and experiences and thus new cultures, new worlds: a fantastic way to open the mind, discovering that often what is true for one culture could not work for another. For example, you should not make the mistake of thinking that if a Chinese shakes his head up and down while you talk to him, it means that he is agreeing and accepting what you propose. For an American you could. It’s important to understand different cultures, because this can give you a competitive advantage over others. The thing I hate is that I cannot make durable choices for my lifestyle “at home” because I’m often abroad for long times. An example? I approached the Triathlon as a sport, but it is virtually impossible to train consistently. Fortunately, when you love your job and you believe in what you do every day, it makes all easier!
Interview by Chiara Giovoni