Mario Andretti’s name is synonymous with car racing, with few drivers having achieved the titles and name recognition he has. Now retired from driving and focusing on business ventures, such as a thriving wine brand, Mario’s love for cars and racing are still at the heart of his existence. Over the years, he’s managed to create a world for himself that balances his passion for life with his love of family.
Born in Italy in 1940, the Andretti family moved to the United States after World War II when Mario was fairly young. His Italian roots would later play a big part in his taste for wine, but his enthusiasm for cars blossomed in his youth. Both he and his twin brother, Aldo, loved cars as little boys prior to leaving Italy. Before they really understood what cars were, the Andretti twins ran around the house yelling vroom! vroom! as though driving high-powered autos.
As Mario grew into adulthood, he embraced his love for cars and connected with his family’s heritage and taste for wine.
“I’m a child who was born and raised in Italy. Wine was at the dinner table every day. That’s part of life there. It was a natural thing for us,” he says. In Italy, the Andrettis grew their own grapes and fermented their own wine. “My grandparents had a small hotel near the train station. These were their house wines.”
It took a while for Mario to respect his family’s expertise when it came to wine. “Did I appreciate that? No!” he chuckles. “I thought soda pop would have been a lot better.”
Things changed once Mario grew up and began to understand the finer things in life. His racing career helped in his evolution when it came to appreciating fine wine. Oftentimes after a race, Mario and the crew enjoyed a nice dinner. “That’s the natural thing to do,” he says. “You always look for a reason to celebrate and if the reason is there, you win a race, you obviously try to relax and what’s better than to have a great meal among friends and enjoy some good wines. That’s the best way to close a successful day.”
Throughout his racing career, Mario Andretti has had much to celebrate, so good food and wine were abundant. And because his high-speed occupation took him around the world, he received a fine education when it came to food and wine. “As you grow and as you travel all over the world like I have, you experience the different wines that are offered and different continents and different countries, you develop a taste and appreciation for it. To have it around it is a matter of pride.”
In addition to wine, Mario would occasionally enjoy other types of spirits, too, though his Italian heritage looms large when it comes to his tastes. “I love a little glass of grappa every now and then,” he says. “It’s part of the area where I came from. I used to enjoy some malt liquors, but I was never a big social drinker. I enjoy beer, as well. But primarily, I’d rather have a glass of wine to relax than just about anything else.”
Now out of the cockpit, Mario’s extensive knowledge of wine has led him to a successful second career. His insight into the nature of success comes from experience in both driving and the wine business, but it can be applied to nearly anything. He works closely with his wine makers, but knows his expertise doesn’t translate into the actual process of making the beverage. He surrounds himself with a team of experts, just as he did in his racing days. “That’s a lesson I’ve learned from teams I’ve driven for. There are experts in every area,” he says. “And really make it a point of trying to get the best people that you can to be able to be part of your team. That’s the only chance you have to excel.”
In Mario’s case, his team also included his family. He thanks them, especially his wife, for creating a solid foundation that enabled him to excel in his careers. “Never lose sight of things like the family,” he says. “With all the travel I’ve had to endure throughout my career, I had the most wonderful person, my wife—she was a rock. She handled what the family had. We stayed together properly. You look at your priorities and try to keep that in mind. It all matters. If you have a tranquil life, you will be able to enjoy what you’re doing.”
Looking back, Mario Andretti recognizes he’s had an extraordinary life. His success is not lost on him and, in fact, he’s humble and grateful for his good fortune. “I’ve been a very blessed individual,” he says. “Even as a young lad I had very ambitious dreams from the beginning of the time I could reason. I worked very hard to try to accomplish that. Somehow, I was able to. I’m just a guy who has enjoyed his life and gave 100 percent. That’s me.”