For the past 300 years the wine business has been based on human to human contact. So how did this Italian winery transform their business to effectively respond to the #pandemic and social distancing? With Microsoft of course! #workingremotely #Evolve #Changingthegame
June 25, 2020
On a 5,000-acre estate of rolling hills and lush forests in Montalcino, Tuscany, stands a 17th-century palazzo. In the cool, stone cellar is a row of enormous wooden barrels filled with the most celebrated, long-aging wines of the Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona winery. This remarkable cellar is a testament to the historic nature of the place, and to the reverence for tradition at the heart of this small family business.
Microsoft Teams is revolutionary for us and represents an entirely new way to promote our wine. Not only are we are saving time and travel but we now have a new way to share the unique experience of visiting our cellars and tasting our wines.
(Video provided by Microsoft)
Virtual solutions in response to an unexpected crisis
For three generations, the Bianchini family has been creating exceptional wines on their idyllic estate. It’s a balancing act, maintaining the traditions of a historic estate while staying one step ahead of the latest developments in the world of wine. The recent COVID-19 pandemic put that ability to adapt to the test. With trade shows postponed and international travel impossible, everything changed for small wine producers—and the Bianchini family business was no exception.
In a normal year, the release of a new vintage is accompanied by international trips and face-to-face meetings with distributors and critics as well as cellar tours on the estate. This year, facing an impending lockdown, Gabriele Gorelli, wine designer and consultant, and the rest of the Ciacci team had to develop a new way to share their latest vintage with wine lovers around the world and grow their business through the crisis. The Ciacci winery responded by turning to Microsoft Teams. The result was a perfect balance of tradition and technology.
Using the communication hub in Microsoft 365, Ciacci employees moved quickly to replace in-person gatherings with virtual wine tastings using Teams meetings. Family members also used Teams to work together and connect with partners and suppliers, to keep the business thriving. “Microsoft Teams is revolutionary for us and represents an entirely new way to promote our wine,” says Alex Bianchini, Head of Production at Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona. “Not only are we are saving time and travel but we now have a new way to share the unique experience of visiting our cellars and tasting our wines.”
Early investment and a key partnership
With the help of Microsoft partner Si-Net, Ciacci accelerated a preexisting investment in Microsoft 365 to recover from the crisis with digital tools. “Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona had already embraced Teams,” says Fausto Turco, CEO at Si-Net. “They had been using the tool to communicate among themselves and with external parties, including distributors.”
(Image provided by Microsoft)
“We saw the value in Teams early on. When the pandemic hit, the tool did a fantastic job of helping us communicate with our distributors, critics, and even restaurants,” explains Bianchini. Today, he hosts virtual wine tastings in Teams with importers and distributors based in Spain and the United States to great success. Not only are the digital tastings keeping business moving during the lockdown, they also create a closer connection between Ciacci and the people who enjoy their wine.
“Our world is traditional, it’s all about human contact,” says Bianchini. “Virtual tastings in Teams help us create a space to share even more aspects of our business with customers. Normally only one person makes a sales trip, but with Teams we can also introduce buyers to cellar masters and technical experts. It is a much more dynamic way to showcase the wine.”
Reducing travel while maximizing connections with distributors
Ciacci is saving time and costs associated with travel by using Teams. “I used to take 50 flights per year,” says Gorelli. “Thanks to Teams, I travel less, so I’m more focused and effective in my work and I have more time to devote to the business.” A typical international sales trip takes at least a week, but with Teams, Ciacci simply ships the wine to the distributor and sets up a two-hour meeting to discuss the product. “With Teams we can do the same job in a fraction of the time without sacrificing the personal connection we make with our distributors,” says Bianchini.
Reimagining customer relationships to expand the business
While everyone eagerly awaits a return to normalcy in Italy, Ciacci is reimagining the future of its business. The ability to connect virtually with wine lovers across the globe has opened up a wealth of opportunities to expand its customer base. Ciacci is already thinking about using virtual tours to invite fans into the rarified realm of the traditional Italian wine cellar. “The world will not be the same after the pandemic,” says Gorelli. “It doesn’t make any sense to work the way we used to. Wineries will have to concentrate on using digital tools like Teams to build a bigger market.”
Ciacci plans on using Teams to create a direct line to customers, instead of relying on selling to distributors. “With Teams we have the best of both worlds,” says Gorelli. “You can stay connected with distributors and experts, but also create relationships with new customers, especially if you have your own platform for business to consumer.” In fact, the lockdown has created a taste for what Gorelli calls “comfort wines,” something the winery is well placed to share with new customers through its e-commerce site and the interactive potential of Teams.
(Image provided by Microsoft)
A new frontier for a heritage winery
The Ciacci winery may still age its wine in barrels in a historic cellar, but above ground, the business is embracing leading-edge technology to thrive in uncertain times. A previous investment in Microsoft 365 and Teams in particular meant this family-run business has been able to adapt to a new reality. The result is a revolution in digital wine promotion and a new vision for the future. “The shift to a virtual tasting was very sudden,” says Gorelli. “But, it has been a great success. We’ve had so much interest in what we’re doing. This is undoubtedly a new frontier for our business.” That’s something wine lovers the world over can raise their glasses to.