Sunday, April 16, 2017

An introvert’s guide to surviving Vinitaly

Amor litteras ad Vinitaly
My dear mom was an extrovert. Being around people recharged her batteries, not that she needed them to. She was a perpetual motion machine. But as a child of hers, who came into the world as an introvert, the opposite happens when I am around a crowd. Thus, when I visited Vinitaly after a year’s absence, I imagined all the other people who might have to brave the endless pavilions of Veronafiere and are also introverts, and thought to make a plan for all of us.

That said, it was with some trepidation that I returned to Vinitaly this year. Two years ago I was pretty harsh about the state of the condition of the fair and was, for an introvert, uncharacteristically candid about it. It set off a firestorm in the Italian wine community. Way too much attention was aimed in my direction, and so I let the little bird free and backed away into my little corner of invisibility.

Last year I was unable to come to Vinitaly with a series of throat issues which ultimately resulted in having my tonsils removed in the summer. But enough about me. Let’s dive into an introvert’s guide to surviving Vinitaly.

1) Get yourself registered early. Sometime around the first of the year, if you are in the wine trade (and really this is not a consumer event – there are those available which I will note later in this post). When you do get registered, make sure you download the ticket before the cutoff date. Save it as a pdf. Make sure you do it, because if you don’t you will have to go through some heavy machinations at the fair, waiting in long lines, to beg forgiveness for not following instructions. Introverts don’t like lines – they might have to talk to a stranger or worse yet, get jostled in the line.

2) Arrange your accommodations well in advance of the event. Like years. Really. But if this is your first (or only) time to go to the fair, try and arrange to stay in Verona or somewhere nearby where a cab, or a shuttle (God, no!) can take you to the fair. Don’t skimp on the price. You get what you pay for. Do this now. And make sure you ask for an interior room, not one facing a the street where a wine bar is, where people bleed out into the street drinking until 2AM and talking loud, smoking and singing soccer team or old Lucio Battisti songs.

3) Download the Veronafiere Vinitaly map. Those 18 buildings (yes, I said 18!) represent your world for four days. Make a plan. Oh, and wear comfortable shoes. Even if they look dorky. And try and find a way to not have to spend so much time traveling from one building to the next. Not an easy task, by the way. But there will be crowds, and among those crowds you will encounter:
• People strolling like they are in a park.
• People smoking, especially in the spaces between the halls.
• People in first stages of foreplay – advanced by not spitting their wine out.
• Crowds – and at times – SURGING crowds.

When you must walk from one building (called Pavilions) to another try and walk around the perimeters. This will prove to be less populated (also less smoke) and also offer the introvert a change to recharge in the light and the air and the relative calm of the fair.

4) If you plan to see producers, make appointments. If the producer is famous, try and make the appointment early (before 10AM) or later (after 4PM), avoiding folks who again, surge the booths around lunch time. Allow at least an hour for an appointment.

5) Know where the good bathrooms are. I have already covered this in another post, but I need to amend that piece. Last year Veronafiere and Vinitaly previewed new “Producer” bathrooms. The participants of the fair who exhibit have access to clean, quiet, uncrowded stalls. To an introvert, 2 minutes in one of those is like plugging a Tesla into a charging station for 20 minutes. Find a producer who will give you their access to those bathrooms. They are lifesavers.

"What a pair!"
6) After hour events. While it sounds good to cap off the day with a dinner, plan these very carefully. After a day on your feet, probably the last thing an introvert wants to do is to take a long drive in the countryside, often on a crowded bus with other tired people, to go to a dinner with 300 other people. Because once you get there, there will be:
• Speeches – and Italians don’t give short speeches
• More wine
• More people (and names) you will never remember
• And endless courses of food (with the wine) that will force you to make small talk at the table with people you will never see again in your life.

Resist. Get yourself a salad and a glass of wine somewhere, early, before you go to your room, to power down and recuperate.

7) Transportation. The best suggestion I have heard was from Lars Leicht. He and his colleagues have arranged a car and a driver to pick them up in the morning and at the end of the day. No waiting in lines for a cab, no shuttles from the fair to downtown Verona. Quiet, clean, cars. Worth every penny. I made the rookie mistake of jumping on a shuttle at the end of the day that I thought was going to Verona. It was filled with throngs of young, wine marinated sports fans. And while I can appreciate the unbridled enthusiasm of wine-besotted youth, as an introvert, it is death by a thousand cuts. Don’t do it. Walk back to your room if you don’t have a personal car and driver (hence the reason to wear comfortable shoes).

8) Off-site meetings. More and more importers and winery groups (importers, etc.) are doing their events in conjunction, nearby. Summa in Trentino is a haul, but a wonderful event to attend. It’s in and around an old castle and the vibe is Woodstock meets Burning Man with good food, good wine (and good coffee). As well, some importers, notably Marc de Grazia, do their events in a villa near the airport and is a laid back, mellow event where the noise levels are low, the buffet is good and one can have meaningful conversations with producers one is doing business with. This is not to take away from Vinitaly and the huge strides they have made to improve the wine fair. But it’s also a way to get a jump on the events before and during the show in Verona.

The folks at Veronafiere and Vinitaly have made valiant efforts to mitigate the crowds at Vinitaly. And they have initiated consumer friendly events in and around Verona city. One of them is Opera Wine, in conjunction with the Wine Spectator. Normally, an introvert would stay as far from that kind of event as possible. But, if you plan it correctly, you can get in and out relatively unscathed. The rooms do fill up, eventually, but an early arrival will allow one to sample and meet some great producers. So, buck up, get your smiley face on, and do it.

Regardless of our endless grousing about the shortcomings of a fair as large as Vinitaly (or Prowein or Vinexpo),  when it all comes down to it, if you are in the Italian wine trade, you must eventually make your way to Verona. It’s not as mellow as it was in 1984 (when there were only 6 – 6! – pavilions) but Italian wine has gotten bigger and more important in those 30+ years. Nothing (and no one) is perfect – introverts are often harsher arbiters of events with so many moving parts – because they want everything to be neat and orderly (they can also be a little OCD). But when you see another introvert struggling to get through another 15 hour day, it offers some small reassurance that we aren’t alone in this world – even though it might be an introvert’s penultimate wish to be so.

With huge thanks to another introvert - "grasshopper" - for his invaluable input with this post

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

1 comment:

foodtravelculture said...

Very good tips! It's not easy indeed to move around in Vinitaly!

Real Time Analytics