The coronavirus epidemic has been a constantly changing picture, difficult to decipher and even more to predict, as in the past week, Italy – at all levels – has understood, at its own expense. It is putting the entire country’s daily life and its economy into serious difficulty. Obviously, this includes the wine sector that lives thanks to exports, and is not in the ideal condition to offer promotions, either at home or abroad, where traveling is becoming nothing short of impossible. So, Veronafiere’s decision to take a step back, realizing the very challenging moment, and to reschedule the most important of Italian wine fairs, Vinitaly, to be held from June 14th to 17th, could only have been welcomed positively by the entire wine world. The sector is eager to start up again, though well aware of the seriousness of this period and the priorities, it is also confident that, by the date of the fair, Italy will have left behind an unparalleled, at least in recent years, health emergency. It is likely to cause serious consequences on the economy of the whole country, starting with the damage to its image that certain information, especially abroad, is having on the whole agro-food sector.
It is necessary to start up again, starting by communicating “positive” information, the Veronafiere CEO Giovanni Mantovani told WineNews, “and it is great that the sector has responded in a positive and unanimous way to the new dates. Vinitaly in June is a significant change, but I believe it will actually prove to be an opportunity to re-launch the wine / markets relationship, which, right now, from the US to Asia, are not connected, as well as the continental and Northern European markets that are currently struggling to relate to our country. I am confident. It will be a month full of events, during which Made in Italy intends to start up again. The sole efforts of Veronafiere or Vinitaly will not be enough, though; we expect to see the efforts of a country system”.
Of course, it will be necessary to “reorganize”, as Bertani Domains’ new CEO Ettore Nicoletto said, “since Vinitaly is a major fair for Italian wine producers and for buyers all over the world. It is also necessary to rebuild the image damaged by ignorance and bad information, but I believe Europe and the US will soon realize that the problem is worldwide, and Italy was only the first victim. Ignorance and unwillingness to understand its international reach have spread. This suspension will force wine businesses that have been unable to move beyond the fairs, to work and focus on the domestic market, which they have neglected for years. And then”, Nicoletto concluded, “we will take this opportunity to analyze our business model, to be ready to start when this emergency is over”.
Everyone agrees, even the new CEO of the Santa Margherita Group, Beniamino Garofalo, referring to the delay, which is “obligatory, given the general picture, but we are in the middle of an exceptional situation that requires an adequate response. The first response must come from the Verona system, which will face a truly extraordinary challenge in June. It will have to reconcile the largest wine festival with the biggest, and the first, number-wise, open-air opera festival in the world. Dates coincide, space is limited and services (hotels, restaurants, transport, etc.) are for both events. Verona must tell us in advance if it will be able to handle this situation and how. The second, which we cannot predict”, continued Garofalo, “must come from the Italian and international wine system, intended as the buyers, distributors, Ho.re.ca employees and large retailers. That is, what availability will they have in June? Will the system – mainly bars and restaurants – hold up against the lack of business right now? We do not know, just as we do not know whether there will still be restrictions on air traffic to and from Italy in June. Therefore, we are not playing it by ear, but as Santa Margherita Gruppo Vinicolo we have developed more scenarios that from positive could also turn negative. We are rooting for the first scenario, of course, but it is also good to consider the second, as well as to think about how to support our clients in Italy and around the world. For the foreseeable future, we will make decisions and establish action plans that will allow our community – our wineries, and our business partners – to continue doing business effectively so that new opportunities will arise from this crisis”.
Caution, instead, seems to be the word that expresses the sentiment of Renzo Cotarella, CEO of Marchesi Antinori, according to whom, “making predictions is hard, but the choice to postpone Vinitaly to June is intelligent and precautionary, hoping that everything will be over by then. It is an odd date, at the beginning of summer, when the wine will likely suffer from the heat. At this time, the important thing is that it goes well, because Vinitaly is important and it commands respect. It is even more important, though”, said Renzo Cotarella, “that Italian wine returns to its old habits; i.e., traveling and promoting itself around the world, beyond the wine fairs”.
Everyone is hoping that it will be “an excellent Vinitaly”, as Matteo Lunelli, head of the Trentodoc Ferrari brand said, “but we must presume that there will be fewer foreigners. A lot will certainly depend on how the spread of coronavirus evolves in the coming weeks. It is tricky to make predictions, but postponing the fair until June was the right thing to do. We cannot hide the fact that it is a critical situation, but I think that the signal to not cancel the fair was also a sign, even though it overlaps with the Salone del Mobile (furniture show), and will not be easy to manage, but I understand why the decision was made. The message that we, as a wine sector must give is one of a world that does not stop, while maintaining an elevated sense of responsibility to keep the distribution of virus under control. People’s health is the main concern, we must be rational, even though”, concluded Matteo Lunelli, “there will be fewer social moments and sharing that will impact wine consumption, especially in bars and restaurants, and the complications will reverberate for a while”.
Everyone hopes that “the wave of panic that was unleashed in Italy and on its business partners will be resolved as soon as possible”, said Andrea Sartori, president of Italia del Vino (which unites 21 wine companies totaling a value of 1.2 billion euros in turnover)”, but should tourist flows return to normal in Verona, the Vinitaly dates of June 14-17 could present critical issues. On the one hand, it could be an advantage, as fairs are also “recreation”, and Italy starting up again, with tourism driven by Vinitaly, is a positive idea. After all, we are used to Vinexpo, which has always taken place in June. It is not an impossible month, and we hope that our foreign partners will be able to manage their agendas, but”, concluded Sartori, “we must be positive, and not criticize each other”.
Piero Mastroberardino, president of the Istituto Grandi Marchi, sees the situation as more complex and said “the decision is understandable, but it is complicated to predict whether it is right or wrong. The other fairs are also being postponed. I don’t know whether the situation will be resolved by June, but right now, the psychosis is manifest, the airports are empty, and I would add that if the spread of coronavirus outside Italy is starting now, I have the feeling we will have to continue to deal with the situation. Furthermore, The issue concerns not only trade fairs, but in general the entire wine sector. An analysis should go beyond Vinitaly and Prowein and ask what it would do if it were forced to sit still for six months. We need to open a serious debate, systemic, as it is not enough to think about just postponing a fair, but we must put on the table vine management, deadlines for investments, CMO Promotion, all the interconnected aspects, which are part of a broader framework, and need to be part of the Institutions’ discussions”.
Alessio Planeta, head of the Sicilian brand, also said that it was the “right decision, and maybe it will be a smaller Vinitaly, but we will be giving the right sign, that life goes on but you can’t pretend that nothing is happening. The dates are perhaps not perfect, but we will be keeping up our contacts with the world and not canceling the fair. I hope that the city of Verona will help out and we can all start up again together. It will be a toned down Vinitaly that will reopen the communication channel with our clients, while closely monitoring the situation. There may be fewer participants, but we are open to the world”, concluded Alessio Planeta.
Matilde Poggi, head of FIVI – Italian Federation of Independent Winegrowers, spoke about how the situation plummeted so quickly, “which led to Vinitaly deciding to postpone the fair. It was a good choice, even though it will be challenging for many winemakers to be there, because there is a lot of work to do in June in the vineyard, and calendars are full of commitments, but the desire is to be at the fair, mainly because those who had booked confirmed hotels and spaces with no problem. I don’t think it will be the usual fair, but neither will it be subdued, because there are positive signs and there is also time to reorganize business trips. The buyers, at least those from the USA and Canada, are responding positively”, concluded Matilde Poggi, “so unless something else develops, we cannot know what will happen”.
The wine sector, however, cannot do everything by itself, because “the situation concerns the country system as a whole”, said Marco Caprai, at the head of the historic Sagrantino di Montefalco company, “and if the economy and consumption do not start up again, it will be difficult to make a stand for wine. We must be positive, and hope that Italy will restart, so we will be ready for Vinitaly, remembering that in our world of wine, it is the countryside that dictates the times; the vineyard goes on, so we cannot do anything but support it and work in synergy with the Italian system, of which wine is only one component”.
Finally, the unconditional support of Fabrizio Bindocci, director of the historic Tenuta Il Poggione di Montalcino and president of the Brunello Consortium, who is convinced that “ everyone will participate at Vinitaly in June. We are a Made in Italy flag around the world and there is all the more reason to reiterate it in a moment like this, in support of the Verona fair. It is clear”, adds Bindocci, “that the crisis caused the dates to be moved, but it is equally evident that Vinitaly could not realistically have guaranteed adequate business standards in April. However, beyond pragmatic reasons, we believe it is essential to be there to give a sign to the world that our country and our productions are starting up again. It is a sense of responsibility that, we are certain also our companies share, accustomed as they are to overcoming critical phases in history”.
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