Sunday, April 17, 2022

#Ciao, #Vinitaly2022, #WellDone!

That was the conveyance via the social media thoroughfares on Wednesday April 13, 2022 as the most recent iteration of Vinitaly was winding down. For those who did go to “the show,” the reactions were varied. Some were relieved, that they got through it, Covid or not. Some were simply exhausted. Some were ecstatic. And some left shaking their heads, saying, “We waited two years to come back to the same ‘ol, same ‘ol?” Was the show a success? Or was it a dinosaur, restored, bone by bone, and put on display to exhibit that some things never change? 

I talked to a friend who is deep into watches, which, like wine, can cover the range of products from the good and dependable, yet veritable values (like Timex or Swatch), to the upper crust, large commercial production, but top of the game (like Rolex and Omega), to the brands that are smaller in production and are now stratospherically priced, if not initially than most definitely in the more active secondary market (like Patek Phillipe and Audemars Piaget). He attended trade shows in his field (architectural engineering), just like folks in the Italian wine trade and folks in the horology business. He’s also a huge wine lover and aficionado. Here’s what he had to say about those industries Vinitaly-like trade shows:

“I too think this type of event has now outlived their need and usefulness overwhelmingly. The watch industry lost BaselWorld prior to Covid with Swatch, Rolex and others pulling out of an event held since 1917. At its peak, BaselWorld had over 1,500 exhibitors at a cost of over $1M for one square meter of space, plus hotels and food cost being tripled, TRIPLED for the week. Swatch stated their cost was well above $50M to attend and with the ability to communicate directly with their clients through social media the decision to exit BaselWorld was an easy one to make. This year’s Watches &Wonders show had less than 50 exhibitors and a more ‘like kind companies’ bunched together. Case and point, look Swatch and their moon watch release! What did they spend on that? Nothing… they just let the blog, horology websites and social media frenzy drive insane lines being formed 48 hours before their release.

“The largest trade organization/ trade show I was personally involved with (well over 100 years old) hired a new executive director in 2019, my last year on the board. He replaced the outgoing executive director that held the role for 27 years. His first comment while being interviewed was, ‘I’m not sure about the need for your annual trade show. Can you explain the thinking going forward?’ He had my vote with that thinking / comment!

So, how does this square with where the Italian wine trade is with their annual trade show in Verona? Are they content to recommence where they were halted, back in 2020 with Covid? Will the show go on? Or has Vinitaly become just one more industrial relic? Who would benefit from the perpetuation of Vinitaly, ad infinitum? The wine producers? The importers? The distributors? The consumers? Or “the powers that be running the show (who) have a lot of money riding on the Vinitaly brand,” to quote a long-time Vinitaly attendee?

Look, I’m out of the trade. Sitting in the balcony, a spectator. I don’t have a dog in the fight. I’m done with that part of my life. But I have been, and still am, an active observer and lifetime student of human nature. I miss my tribe. Along with most of us on earth, I’ve been isolated from friends and family for the past few years. And just as we seemed to be having the fog of Covid lift from us, a new variant emerges. And if that wasn’t enough, a madman in Russia initiates carnage and genocide upon his neighbors and the world. We are living in hellacious times. What does it matter if a wine show goes on or not?

Well, in the grand scheme of things, I think we all know the answer to that question. But that never held the humans back. There is life to be lived, wine to be bottled (and sold) and money to be made. So, the show will go on. With or without you and me, and anyone else who goes in another direction.

As for those other directions, I think we’re already beginning to see emergent pathways. And what (vin)Italy needs now, which Italy excels at, is providing a new spirit and an exigent and vigorous energy to the promotion of Italian wines.

One of the greatest of living Italian (or otherwise) wine experts, Ian D’Agata, gave a series of sessions at Vinitaly, sequestered from his office, thousands of miles away, in locked-down Shanghai, China, where Covid was spiking ferociously, according to Western news reports. His sessions, called Micro Mega Wines, were widely “attended” from folks all over the world. You didn’t have to fly to Verona, try and find an (overpriced) hotel room, fight the crowds in a country where the new Covid variant was surging, in a region where the variant was up trending. You didn’t have to wear uncomfortable shoes, or look for a bathroom or eat a dry panini, or try and find a parking place. Although, with attendance lower in 2022 than in previous years, a parking place was not that difficult to find.

But the point is, wine folks, like the watch folks, are already figuring out how to pivot. Time is money. Travel is never easy, now even more so. And the fragility of the world, in terms of health and peace, is heavily challenged.

1991 (above) and 2016 (below) - almost demographically identical

Yes, we miss our colleagues. Yes, we miss our old lives, the ones we used to have. I reiterate what a Ukrainian colleague told me, when she realized she wouldn’t be leaving Kyiv to go to Verona: “Now, we have more important things to attend to: Our Existence.”

A journalist, a long time Vinitaly attendee wrote me. I’d like to share their words, they so well mirror many of the sentiments I’ve heard from others, and have had as well:

“Vinitaly was a sad, drab place this year. (Not to mention the fact that Monica Larner was diagnosed with Covid after one day at the fair. You probably saw her Facebook posts).

“At first, I thought my disillusionment was just the lack of seeing old journalist buddies from around the world. Then, I realized that Vinitaly is no longer an important venue for journalists. For some twenty years I did Vinitaly reports for Decanter and other magazines, in which I talked about the fair itself and about sales trends. I set up interviews with producers from regions I was unlikely to visit in the upcoming months (principally Calabria and Liguria). I tasted and wrote about “the new vintage” (which was often silly because producers had to bottle early in order make the Vinitaly date).

“I realize that writing about “general trends” at this point in time is ridiculous as the market is so fragmented there is no “trend” that encompasses the wide world of wine.  I also realized that if a journalist really wants to do an interview with a producer who does not live next door…then there is Skype, which will allow a leisurely interview in a relaxed setting. Covid has made this normal. If producers want their wines to be tasted by the press…they can set up tasting through their importers in specific markets or send bottles directly to journalist.  This too has been made normal by Covid. 

“Vinitaly is now a place for buyers to come, show their faces to their producers and make deals. And even that can be done electronically. If importers want to taste the new vintages, then they can come directly to their producers when the wines are ready or arrange for the wines to be sent to them directly. This in many cases would be cheaper than splashing out for the annual Vinitaly extravaganza: travel expenses, hotels, meals, etc. Not to mention the issue of tasting after a long dehydrating flight. I remember talking to importers who literally hit the ground running. You can’t taste properly when you are tired, we all know that.

“I spoke to a number of producers who are not planning to return to Vinitaly for some of the same reasons mentioned above. A smart producer can zero in on his/her target and spend money where it can do the most good, as opposed to throwing it out the window and hoping it attracts a useful person.”

What I read from my journalist friend echoes from what my architectural engineering/watch enthusiast friend wrote in his email to me:

“Anyway, seems savvy veterans within your trade are as well seeing the Disney World like shows as becoming ineffective and a colossal waste of income that could easily be reallocated for more effective results and perhaps with even more appropriate social consciousness within our world today.”

So, again the question: Who really benefits from Vinitaly?

·       The wine producers?

·       The importers?

·       The distributors?

·       The consumers?

·       The powers that be running the show who have a lot of money riding on the Vinitaly brand?


And, finally - to all of those who have benefited from Vinitaly - where do you go from here? 




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