Winemaking, at its best, involves collaboration. Making vermouth adds a layer of complexity to winemaking and therefore requires an extra dose of collaboration along with added alcohol, sugar and botanicals. Martini, also known as Martini and Rossi, is the top-selling vermouth producer globally.
In the building known as Department 54 at Martini near Turin, Italy, winemakers and herbalists
collaborate to blend wine with botanicals. These include such herbs as dittany from Crete, a purported aphrodisiac, and the bitter artemesia. Also in the mix are flowers including roses and violets plus such fruits as raspberry and lemon. Martini winemakers and herbalists also include woods including quassia from Jamaica and cascarilla bark from the Bahamas plus many roots and spices.
Many of these ingredients lined tables at San Francisco’s Dirty Habit restaurant a couple of weeks ago where I joined Martini Master Blender Giuseppe Musso, Operations Director Giorgio Castagnotti and Head Wine Maker Franco Brezza as they explained the intricacies of vermouth blending and production. The Martini team was in San Francisco to introduce Gran Lusso, a new vermouth celebrating the company’s 150 years.
As Giuseppe described the woods, herbs and other botanicals, twenty or so writers and guests sipped
vermouths. Giuseppe has spent his entire 30-year career with Martini. His emotion bubbled to the surface as he described how Martini people treat each another as family and how the company emphasizes sharing skills and techniques from one generation to the next. Since 1992, Martini has been part of Bacardi Limited, the largest privately-held, family-owned spirits company.
Most vermouths use white wine. For the new Gran Lusso vermouth, Martini blends red wine from Barbera grapes with white wine from Trebbiano grapes. To extract the botanicals, the winemakers and herbalists have created a new method for Gran Lusso. They combine grape must from Moscato di Canelli grapes with a natural spirit, and then they age the mixture for a year before adding botanicals. They then add a “secret ingredient” called “extract 94” which originates from a Martini recipe reportedly from 1904. The result is a bitter sweet vermouth with aromatic complexity.
What struck me about the Martini team's formal presentations and informal discussions with guests is the lack of marketing bravado and genuine love for their products and company which they constantly referred to as “family.” At dog-and-pony shows staged by less collaborative companies, people pepper presentations and conversations with empty superlatives such as “Our products are best-of-breed” or “Nobody can do what we do.”
In The Culture of Collaboration book, I call this Superlative Syndrome. It’s a manifestation of what the Greeks called hubris or excessive pride. Superlative Syndrome often masks defects and can ruin a business as trust evaporates. Customers, financial analysts and the media become conditioned to doubt the company’s messages. Team members learn to cut corners and lie. In contrast, Martini delivers its message with sincerity and cultivates long relationships with business partners, customers and team members.