Sunday, February 23, 2020

On the brink of a pandemic – how will it affect Italian wine?

Photo from and Getty images
I was on the phone Friday with an Italian colleague, who asked to remain unidentified, and he sounded worried. “It’s starting here,” he said, his voice shaking. “I’ve cancelled, indefinitely, any trips to mainland China.”

I asked my friend about all the Italians coming to America. We have the Slow Wine Tour already in motion in America, and the James Suckling Wine Tour will be here in my hometown on Wednesday. These are Italians who usually travel freely around the world. Places like Chengdu, Seoul and Tokyo are commonplace visits for many jet-setting Italian wine celebrities, whose wines routinely garner high 90’s scores from the many publications who tout the 100-point system. It’s a familiar 21st century occurrence to be in a Shanghai on Friday and an Austin on Monday.

Where have they been? Where are they going? Is it safe to be exposed to them?

These were some of the questions friends and family were asking me over the last few days? The following are outtakes from recently published pieces (not fake news) from established and bonafide news sources:
From NBC News

Ten towns in northern Italy, with a population of around 50,000, were locked down Sunday two people died from COVID-19.

The rise in cases comes as Milan is holding its annual fashion week.

From Reuters

Regional Welfare Councillor Giulio Gallera told reporters, “All those who have tested positive are people who on February 18-19 had contacts with the emergency room and the hospital of Codogno,” Gallera said, adding 259 people had been screened in the area in the past two days and 35 had tested positive.

“A contagion rate of 13% is quite strong,” he said.

Regional Governor Luca Zaia said the administration was considering whether to suspend Carnival of Venice events. (Update: Zaia has suspended Carnival in Venice.)

Luca Zaia oversees the Veneto region, which is where the annual Vinitaly wine exposition is held. And in recent years the show has been heavily promoted in Asia, especially in China. Trade between China and Italy is growing, and there are initiatives being readied for the 2020 Vinitaly to spur on even more interest and trade with China.

Last year, the Chinese news source Xinhuanet reported on Vinitaly and wine trade between Italy and China:
The Asian market, and especially China, was a major focus at Vinitaly for both management and exhibitors.

A new multi-channel permanent 'Wine to Asia' platform to promote Italian wine in Asia was launched on the closing day on Wednesday by Veronafiere and its Chinese partner, the Shenzhen Taoshow Culture & Media company, belonging to the Shenzhen-based Pacco Communication Group.

"The Far East is an area that has to be monitored constantly. Therefore, we have set up a permanent initiative in the wake of more than twenty years of activity in the area," Veronafiere President Maurizio Danese explained.

The initiative, scheduled in 2020, aims to strengthen the promotion of the variegated world of Italian wine in Asia.

"As Veronafiere-Vinitaly, our priority is to serve as a catalyst for the promotion of Italian wine in China, because we do believe our world of wine needs to present itself under the same umbrella, and all together," Danese told Xinhua in a separate interview.

The goal is to significantly increase the market share in the Far East, where Italy today ranks fourth among the largest foreign wine exporters, far behind France -- its direct competitor at global level -- and also behind Australia and Chile.

Will Vinitaly again post record numbers of foreign visitors in 2020, or will it look like a deserted town out of a spaghetti western? People are concerned and asking questions.

Already tourism to Italy is down. Italian tour guides report on their Facebook pages that bookings are down up to 40% for spring and summer tours.  And xenophobia directed towards Asians and Asian businesses has become a real threat. Attendance in popular Chinese restaurants in America has plummeted on fears of the Coronavirus. and Sinophobia in Italy is, shamefully, rising. The toll on world economies and attitudes towards people of Asian appearance has, unhappily, become a by-product of this outbreak. 

This latest headline by Juergen T Steinmetz, writing for eTurboNews, a tourism B2B news portal:
Milan and Venice on high alert for Coronavirus
U.S. Embassy issues Alert for portions of Italy

A scenario where COVID-19 could spread in two major Italian Cities and travel destinations, namely Milan and Venice would turn this situation into a disaster not only for Italy but for world tourism. Italy is on high alert after Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced the emergency plan late on Saturday as the number of coronavirus cases rose to 79. Two Italians people died. Police, and if necessary, the armed forces, will have the authority to ensure quarantine regulations are enforced.

The regions affected are the provinces with Milan and Venice as capital cities.
I’m committed to going to Vinitaly this year, which is held in Verona, in the Veneto region. If the Coronavirus turns into a pandemic, will regional governor Luca Zaia also consider to suspend Vinitaly,  which is slated to take place from April 19-22? (Update: Veronafiere and Luca Zaia gives the go-ahead for Vinitaly

Before Vinitaly will come Prowein in Germany from March 15-17, followed by another large event for the wine community, the annual En Primeur Week 2019 Vintage in Bordeaux from March 30th to April 2nd. These two events might prove to be barometers for Vinitaly, depending on the progress of the virus.

Sure to say, many people in Italy, and in the world, are holding their breath right now. Trade once again is facing disruption, this time by a force greater than any government. Definitely something to keep an eye on. A lot can happen in the next two months. Stay tuned. Stay alert. Stay fearless. Stay tolerant.

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