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Italian Wine Market: In Spite of Everything, Still Selling at the Time of Coronavirus

Wine production slows down, events are cancelled, trade and tourism are collapsing, but wine consumption in Italy has increased thanks to the lockdown

Vineyards in Tuscany, Chianti area. Le vigne in Toscana, nella zona del Chianti

Maybe a new tendency will be born that will discover the online market of Italian wines, and new opportunities will emerge for those businesses that will bet on the market and invest in the economic growth.

In Italiano

The wine market is divided into many sectors: production, trade, restaurants and tourism. As the situation is worsening in Italy, wineries and wine businesses have been hit very hard. After the fear in February, caused by the American threats to the European wine tariffs, now the wine industry is fighting a new issue that is already causing much damage to the economy and to people who are losing their jobs.

But wineries are still taking care of their vineyards and looking after the 2020 vintage. Also, they’re keeping their wine inside the barrels, to mature and become ready for the next release. “While the whole country has come to a stop, the vineyards have not. Sales have clearly slowed down and will certainly affect the entire industry, but we will still release all of our wines at their usual dates, hoping for a better second part of 2020,” said Axel Heinz, the Ornellaia Estate Director.

However, difficulties are clear and wineries, under as per the government’s disposition, have taken preventive measures to reduce the risk of a new contamination among their employees. “The challenging situation in which we are involved these past few weeks has required us to put into place every possible procedure to safeguard the health of our staff and colleagues, which entails both internal and external measures to limit, even unconsciously, the spread of the virus” Lamberto Frescobaldi, President of Frescobaldi Group and 30th Generation Leader, declared.

Usually, in this period of the year, wineries are opening their cellars to the public to host their customers for a visit inside the vineyards or a tasting of the new wines released from the previous vintage. But now they are closed to the public and they can’t host people, they can only wait out the end of the pandemic to keep contributing to the growth of Italian tourism. Relations within the hospitality and restaurant structures have stopped. In addition, importers, exporters, trade agents and promoters, who every year work very hard to sustain the worldwide sales of Italian wines, have stopped as well.

In Italy, for many wineries the export represents a huge part of their market. They’re waiting for an increase of the market to keep selling their wines worldwide, but for now the bottles are still inside their cellars. “For us, the export represents a big part of our sales towards the European, American and Asian markets. This health emergency has hit our trade relations for one or more reasons.[…]This moment is very delicate. Fine wine consumption represents a social trend tied up to the luxury and tourism sectors, therefore we suppose that the recovery will be slow and complex,” stated Simone Nicòtina, owner of his family winery called Poggio alla Meta.

Tara Empson CEO of Empson&Co, which is a business based on the export of Italian fine wines inside the U.S. market, stated that, “It has touched my heart to see how unified such a beautiful country can be under such dire circumstances. Our fragile economy has been hit very hard.[…] This has brought us to our knees. Our hospitality and restaurant industries are paralyzed, and these are just a few of the things that make Italy’s heart beat.” We are worried about what will happen in the coming weeks in Europe and in the U.S.

Tourism has collapsed and trade relations have stopped, but the wine consumption at home by Italians seems to have increased during this phase of the lockdown. Indeed, an increase in retail sales has been noted, despite the fact that wine currently can only be purchased at supermarkets, via e-commerce, or through the wineries themselves, which are delivering their products directly to their customers’ houses.

Matteo Ascheri during the presentation of the first tasting at the BBWO in New York

Matteo Ascheri, president of Langhe’s Consortium, suggested that, “It will take time to recover and go back to ‘business as usual’. In the Langhe, our wineries are coping well. Despite the lack of cellar visits, producers are taking advantage of this forced slow time to plan, organize, supervise the work in the cellar and in the vineyards, and do everything they cannot normally do because of the frequent travelling. On the other hand, what we have noticed so far is that people have increased their wine consumption at home due to the lockdown. As with every crisis, there are and there will be opportunities.”

Marco Magnocavallo CEO of Tannico, one of the biggest online wine retailers in Italy, confirmed Ascheri’s words. “Within the first days of March we noticed a small growth in our sales. But then, during the last weeks, when every business was shuttered down, we had a growth of a 100% of our monthly sales.” What we are living through is a historical event that will surely change our habits from now on. Maybe a new tendency will be born that will discover the online market of Italian wines, and new opportunities will emerge for those businesses  that will bet on the market and invest in the economic growth.

Wine, as we know, brings people together to celebrate happy moments. It brings some welcome relief in  Italian families that at this time are unable to leave their homes. That’s why a new movement of digital solidarity was born on social media among wine lovers, by using the hashtag #idrinkathome – #iobevoacasa, which is helping people who love wine to get through this difficult situation as a community.

More businesses want to be part of this movement online and keep the producers in touch with their customers. This is how the Smart Tasting has started. It’s a new way to taste wine during this period, using live calls to connect producers and customers from their houses. At least in this way customers can still enjoy a glass of wine with their beloved producer.

Filippo Galanti Co-Founder of Divinea, an Italian online startup which works in the tourism sector, stated that, “This idea was created to fight the difficulties of a historical moment which is very hard for our wineries. That’s why we invented the Smart Tasting.[…]We saw many advantages from this new kind of tasting that we haven’t considered before, for example the possibility of connecting producers and people who aren’t able to leave their home. Many clients require the smart tasting right now, especially in Europe and in the U.S., so we decided to keep this project going even after this health emergency will come to an end.”

Considering the time in which 2020’s grapes are growing, the wine that will born from this vintage will touch us, and maybe it will be a little hard to swallow. But this wine surely will have a lot of stories to tell. Incredible stories about people who fought very hard, and stories about a beautiful country unified more than ever, that soon will rise again. This is the power of stories and this is the power of wine.

We want to share a reflection about this moment we are living in, offered to us by Alice Feiring, a journalist and writer who dedicated her entire work to promoting artisanal wines, mostly made by small wineries in Italy and worldwide: “[…]during this time people will make wine and the wine will find its customer. It is one of life’s essentials, after all. But getting that bottle into the hand of the consumer will probably look a little different. When we get to the other side of the crisis, I think the wine world will finally find some idealism, integrity and values (at least for a while). Perhaps we’ll all find out what really is important about wine. For a while a bottle’s cult status, rarity or bragging rights, will be unseemly. In its place will be the need for nature, honesty and the way wine brings people together. Goodness, after all of this seclusion, we need it.”

 

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