Sunday, April 17, 2016

"Our wine is better than French wine" - Italian Prime Minister Renzi at #Vinitaly2016

From Ripley's "Believe It or Not!" desk

Photo from Palazzo Chigi Youtube
25 Years ago, writing about the 25th Vinitaly in Civilatà del bere, journalist James M. Johnson devoted ten pages to the wine exhibition. Along with that Pino Khail, editor of the magazine, issued an editorial to the growing problem of too much wine produced in a world of diminishing wine exports. The US had just fought a short war in Iraq and the economy was teetering. (View editorial HERE, complete article HERE, the photos are a veritable who's who of Italian wine in the early 1990's).

25 years later, fast-forward to a new world. Italian wines are growing and are indeed respected worldwide. Matteo Renzi, one of a breed of young, entrepreneurial global politicians, elicited thundering applause from a packed room at Vinitaly when he remarked at a session that "Our wine is better than French wine." Italy also produced more wine in 2015 than France or Spain. And in dealing with the quantities of wine available to a thirsty world, Italy is looking again (to China, not Japan, this time) to help assuage a potential glut of wine.

Photo montage from Civilta del Bere April 1991 and Palazzo Chigi Youtube
In a world which has traditionally been run by white, middle-aged men, to see a more diverse rendering of the power structure is heartening - if even a small crack in the door- good news. Looking at the pictures of 25 years ago were dominated by suited-up men, shiny ties and natty suits.

Italian wine perceptions will change when people of other cultures ( and more women) are better integrated in the process of changing the story and ultimately the direction of Italian wine. It isn’t good enough to be just “better than French wine.” One must be able to navigate the new global wine economy. Having a New Yorker and an Asian-American (and a woman) at the helm of Vinitaly’s International outreach is a welcome change from the traditional white-male dominated model. Say what you want, this is a huge step forward.

Photo from Vinitaly 2016: Donne del Vino
Logistics aside (reports have surfaced that some of the problems from last year have been addressed and improved upon) there are still critics of the Fair in General. This year the black sheep is Olivero Toscani. His voice and his presence are much greater than yours truly, and I’m grateful to him for taking on the task of attempting to move the minds of the powerful politicians of the Veneto. But Luca Zaia is part of the old guard, a middle-aged white man in power. Neither he, nor Vinitaly, is going to be moved by Toscani’s outcries. So, grin and bear it. And keep on moving.

I stated my case a year ago, and have moved forward. If I was heard (and I was, even if some folks didn’t like what they read) then let's give thanks for the improvements and move towards the future. The past is dust. The future is the stuff of dreams.
Photo from Palazzo Chigi Youtube

So, now where do we go in the next 25-50 years? Ettore Nicoletto of the Santa Margherita group thinks Veronafiere and Vinitaly need to reach towards a more international event and in addition to the exhibition, a symposium that addresses the greatest issues of the wine industry in Italy.This is my takeaway from Vinitaly 2016 - let's hope Vinitaly leadership take Ettore's calm entreaty under advisement.

This past Vinitaly we saw Prime Minister Renzi showing his support for new platforms and new export markets (Alibaba and China) and this is great news. Being based in America, I see a home-grown generation coming up who are heading deep into wine country and who are starting to have the earning power, the influence and the sheer volume of numbers (of population) to drive Italian wine business in America even higher.

Photo from Palazzo Chigi Youtube
I did not go to Vinitaly this year. And no, I was not boycotting it. Anyone who reads this blog regularly (hey, I post once a week, every Sunday, like clockwork, it’s not a lot of reading one has to do here) knows that I am recovering from a physical episode a few months ago. Like I said, nothing major, but getting in an airplane and being exposed to possibly more germs (and infections) didn’t seem the prudent thing to do. I’ll be at Vinitaly next year.

But I am very interested in the next 25 years. I’ve seen a lot of change in the past 40. And change is accelerating. Italians are very good with the transformation process – they are often agents of change. So let’s give the organizers and leadership of Veronafiere an “Attaboy” for the modifications they did put in place and let’s hope along with infrastructural progress in and around Veronafiere (and Verona) the nagging issues will become a thing of the past. And let’s really look at this claim that Renzi makes, this "Our wine is better than French wine" claim, and take that message even deeper into the heartlands of China and America and anywhere else where that message will be heard. Let's make Italian wine "better than Italian wine is today." And let’s hope especially that message will be embraced in Italy, in which Italian winemakers and wine drinkers (and leaders) will buy in to this, heart and soul.

I know from this little spot in flyover country, we’ll be doing our darnedest to keep the Italian wine flag waving.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Irene Graziotto said...

Dear Sir,

thanks for you article: a foreign perspective is always useful in order to have a better view of the whole thing. Nevertheless, it is very difficult for me to understand why Oliviero Toscani's proposal would have been so positive.

As far as I know, Mr Toscani's oucry to move the fair from Verona to Milan originated from his frustration for parking fares and having problems in finding his car one evening at the closing hour of the fair. He basically would like to move the fair to Milan because "the city is easily reachable by planes, trains, metro".

I hardly doubted once the fair will be moved to Milan they will allow people parking in front of it (or probably Mr Toscani will be able to do it anyway. After all, this is Italy and here you can avoid rules thanks to "friends"). Instead, they will probably organize public tranpsortation. The same kind of transportation they had organized this year in Verona.

It is true: logistics remain a core problem of Vinitaly but this year they improved it a lot. Personally, I can say that on Sunday evening I managed to get out of the fair by car from a parking near the main entrance at 7pm (exit rush hour) in only 15 minutes. Monday was the busiest day (leaving with the car from Soave at 8am it took me one hour to reach the fair). As for public transportation, I took the bus to Piazza Bra (Verona centre) and the train station on two different days and both at rush hour. In both occasions, it took me just 15 minutes to reach my final destination. In addition to these free rides, there were many others linking the fair to nearby parkings around Vinitaly where you could park at an expense of only 10 euros o even for free.

I know Mr Toscani is a producer so he may need to transport inside the fair heavy stuff so public transport is not the ideal solution, but if they move the fair to Milan I hardly doubted they will allow cars nearby the fair.

As for circulation around Milan - we are not speaking about the city centre - just the other day the opening of a supermarket caused a two hour traffic jam. Will things be different with Vinitaly?

Finally, unfortunately Milan is one of the few Italian cities far away from wine production (at least one hour by car, without traffic). Probably we'll miss a little bit of the suitable atmosphere for a wine fair. This year they organized a lot of things in the centre of Verona and on the villas in the surrounding hills and vineyards.

Ganerally speaking, things have improved inside the fair as well (separated toilets for producers were quite a good idea, many found the thing useful) and the increased cost of tickets keept away drunkers.

Many things have still to be improved - women participation amongst them. The one who have important roles are foreigners, they are highly regarded. Looking at the consortium, you can count women with important roles on one hand (Olga Bussinello of Valpolicella Consortium and the recently elected Assoenologi President Gabriella Diverio - whose role seems to be more hypotetical than real) and just a few others amongst producers (Marilisa Allegrini of the Allegrini Estate, Donatella Cinelli Colombini of Casato Prime Donne). many women are getting into the wine world but it will be a hard battle to have them conquering important roles.

In conclusion, I do not believe moving the fair to Milan will hepl solving any of the above mentioned problems.

Irene Graziotto
Wine Writer

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks Jeremy and Irene,

It does seem things have improved. Thank you both for your comments

Irene Graziotto said...

Hopefully Next year things will be Even better. And Hopefully you Will judge by Yourself

thomas tucker said...

Yes, Italian wine is better than French wine. Yes, it is.

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