Sunday, January 02, 2022

Advice to the Italian wine trade – don’t come to America now

Well, here we are, another new year. Another new variant in the coronavirus. And with the new year, the wine trade in Italy and America is raring to get back in gear. Oh sure, not until after the Epiphany and La Befana, and the ski trip to Cortina d’Ampezzo or the tropical island trip to the Seychelles. But eventually, someone is going to tell their export director to get back on the road. But I’m warning you – DON’T!

Oh, I know, the p.r. lackeys out there will tell you not to pay any attention to my warning. And because you’ve been holed up all year in Italy, you’re probably itching to go somewhere exciting, and get back to work. Make some money. Get your life back. Get on a plane. Make reservations at a nice hotel in New York or Los Angeles. Sit down at a restaurant that’s pouring your wine. Maybe even set up some wine dinners and work withs with your importer or distributor.

I get it. You’re tired of Covid. You’re bored. Your life needs some deeper meaning than a zoom call or another virtual wine dinner in Cleveland.

So, how are you going to pull the rabbit out of the hat in 2022? What would I do?

Let’s say I have a winery that produces about 60,000 bottles of wine a year. I depend on America for a large part of my export business. My business in Italy is flat or down, because of Covid, but also because tourism in Italy has dropped dramatically in the past two years.

I also had good clients in Western Europe, Scandinavia, Japan and China. But America has always been the bullseye. I’d go there twice a year.

First, I’d get out my address book (My Contacts) and plot a graph. Break it into the time zones of the US. And I’d start working the phones. No, not email. Not social media. Not Instagram, for this exercise.

No, I’d do something very olde school. I’d talk to people, one on one. I’d find out what is going on in their world. Where their business has gone to. What the price points are that are currently trending up. And the flavors people are searching for. And I’d become a really good listener.

In social media, the medium is one where there’s a lot of push. The telephone requires one to pull. It’s really the other side of the coin, but the dynamic is different. Instead of it being about me, it would be more about my customer, my client, some of them, my friends, even. I’d become more analytical in that I would be searching to unfold the commercial dilemmas my clients would be telling me about. I’d want to be part of the solution. Again, not about me. About my client, first and foremost.

Sure, I’d do the occasional educational zoom presentation. But not depend on it. Zoom fatigue. Yes, it’s very real.

It’s a back-to-the-basics approach. It’s hands on. And it is most definitely one-on-one. I’ve gotta connect with my end users, with my ambassadors, with my peeps. And I have to be sincere and empathetic. They’ve seen enough pictures of me lounging in the summer on a beach chair in Sardegna and a ski lift in  Le Christomet. They known I’ve been eating (and drinking) well. They’ve seen me in my party dress or my Fendi quilted ski pants and mink gilets. They know I’m living my best life.

Now it’s time to get back to the rest of my life. And that is making sure those grapes find their way, in bottle, to people around the world, so they can also return to their best life too.

I cannot emphasize more than this. Stay home. Work the phones. Stay in touch. Reach out. Listen until your ears bleed. Really, really, really. Time to put on your compassion pants and be the conduit from the vineyards near Verona to the cafés in Kankakee.

So that’s my advice. Stay home. For now. But stay in touch. Keep calling. Keep listening. We’ll get through this.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Chris Collina said...

great post, AC.

I can't imagine Slow Wine/Gambero Rosso/Vinitaly going forward, at this time, with large tastings in the US, in the short term future. What have you heard?

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks Chris,

I'm not up to speed on the various road shows that are scheduling tasting events in America in 2022. I just dont keep up with it as much anymore. I've talked with few Italian producers (one who called me up after he read this blog post) and they think it is still too early to be venturing out while Omicron is still very transmissible.

I guess we'll just have to see what happens, eh?

JaneK said...

Could not agree more, Alfonso. But your advice goes beyond the present Covid era and the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. There are new and better ways of doing business, not to mention that information is more readily available and accessible now than it has ever been. Not to say that market visits should cease, but definitely cut back. Times have changed and Covid has brought with it greater awareness of alternative and often more effective ways of doing business,

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