Turning a Passion for Wine into an Omni-Channel Business

Studying and tasting Italian wine was once just a hobby for Luigi Cattaneo, an information technology veteran of 25 years. But when Cattaneo realized that he could transform his passion for fine wine into a successful omni-channel business, he and his friends created the wine bar and e-commerce site Bibentes.

A few years ago, Luigi Cattaneo was frustrated with his career in IT. He had handled projects involving B2B and B2C, direct and indirect sales, brand and product management, and more.

Over the years, he had worked with a diverse range of people at several companies. But, says Cattaneo, “The products were starting to feel more or less the same. I was losing drive. I wanted to do something new.”

Cattaneo had always been interested in Italian wines – from the sensory experience of tasting wine, to learning how different vintages are made, to experiencing how wine enhances cuisines. When he saw an opportunity to put his experience in IT to use in the wine industry, he jumped in.

How did you transition from the IT industry to the beverage industry?

I saw firsthand in IT how e-commerce had changed the way we buy and sell things over the past 15 years, but the wine industry had yet to change so concretely. I want to transform the way we consume wine – from buying it only in restaurants or stores to purchasing it online. I shared my plan with like-minded friends and colleagues in IT who also had a passion for wine and good food. We spoke the same “languages,” both of e-commerce and wine.

Before we started to sell online, we opened Bibentes as a wine shop here in Milan.

How did you develop an expertise in wine?

I have always been curious and adventurous when it comes to trying new food and wine from other cultures. A Chianti made at one vineyard in Tuscany won’t take exactly like a Chianti from a neighboring vineyard, even when made in the same year. I find that fascinating.

I began to study and train to become a sommelier in Milan to specialize in wine and food pairings. I went to school during the evenings twice a week and became a certified sommelier.

What are some challenges of running an online wine business?

We are pushing people to change the way they buy wine. We need to make them comfortable.

Our customers need to know three things: That we know wine intimately and they can trust our choices; that it’s safe and secure to purchase products on our site; that their purchase is guaranteed to arrive on time and in excellent condition.

It’s also a challenge to expand internationally. We must have the right structure in place to comply with the local regulations and tax rules for each country to which we sell.

That process would need to be automated and easy.

How do you convince customers to trust Bibentes with selecting the right wines for them?

We treat wine seriously. We know our winemakers’ history, philosophy and products. One challenge – and not such a bad one – is that we buy from 160 different vineyards that together make 1,200 wines, and I try to taste all of them. I visit a winery at least every two weeks, and others here do the same.

What is your vision for the future?

Our vision is to transform an old market into a new one. The world is changing, and the beverage space has to change along with it.

Describe your relationship with UPS. How has UPS changed the way you do business?

When we met with the commercial and marketing people at UPS, were impressed with their knowledge of our industry. They upgraded our packaging and treatment during shipment. They are helping us figure out how to best export our product. UPS handles the logistics so that we can focus on our core business.

Luigi Cattaneo is a certified sommelier and CEO of Bibentes. He is based in Milan.

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