Vinitaly, one of the world’s largest wine fairs and Italy’s most important wine event, recently celebrated its golden anniversary. The fair, which ran in Verona from April 10-13, was not merely a trade show but “an international wine exposition” with 130,000 professionals from 140 countries attending. Of these nearly 55,000 were international attendees, representing a sizable 37% of total visitors.
Wine is one of the bright lights of the country’s economy considering the tremendous international growth of Italian wines in recent years. In the words of Maurizio Danese, President of Veronafiere, owner of the Vinitaly trademark and organizer of the exhibition, “Vinitaly has been the event that, more than all the others, has marked the evolution of the wine trade on a national & international scale, helping to make wine one of the most exciting and dynamic realities in the primary industry sector”.
Recognising the importance of the Italian wine sector where exports alone accounted for more than 5.4 billion euros in 2015, the 50th Vinitaly was inaugurated by none other than the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella, a first for the International Wine & Spirits Exhibition. Other notable visitors to the four day long fair included the Italian Prime Minister, Metteo Renzi and Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba. The glamour quotient was made up by musician Sting who owns a vineyard in Tuscany and Italian television personality Valerio Staffelli of Striscia La Notizia.
So what was different about the 50th edition of Vinitaly which many claim was its best ever? For one, it was much more business focused with 28,000 accredited buyers and 4100 exhibitors from 30 countries attending the fair, according to Stevie Kim, MD of Vinitaly International. The mission banner stated “Wine business in the exhibition centre, wine festival in the city”.
Under “Vinitaly & the City”, the municipality organized events in the “fuorisalone” (outside the salon) format, featuring music & cultural programmes, wine tastings and food stations in the heart of Verona, the centro storico. These events helped in luring wine lovers away from the already crowded Expo halls, allowing producers, buyers, trade & marketing professionals, sommeliers & press to focus on sales and B2B meetings. To keep non-trade people away from the fair, fewer free tickets were doled out and the price of a day-ticket was increased from €50 to €80
The link between Vinitaly & women was highlighted by the representation of Associazione Nationale Le Donne del Vino (National Association of Women of Wine) one of Italy’s most interesting & active expressions of women entrepreneurship with focus on the role of women in the wine production chain, from vineyard to cellar and from the table to communication.
Another highlight was VinitalyBio, an area dedicated to organic wine producers focusing on natural or craft wines made by independent winemakers. Other than the big producers many small wineries celebrated this year’s edition like ViVit (Vigne Vignaioli Terroir) or Vineyards Winemakers Terroirs – small producers who want to express themselves in transparency, authenticity & individuality and FIVI (Federazione Italiana Vignaioli Indipendenti) or the Federation of Independent Italian Winemakers. For many of them, even though the fair does not lead to business, it helps the producers become more visible by offering them an opportunity to display their brand to the public.
While hundreds of Italian wineries presented their wines at the fair, there are several producers who have stopped exhibiting at Vinitaly and prefer holding B2B meetings outside the fair, in surrounding areas of Verona amidst beautiful landscape. They feel that most visitors coming to the fair are non-trade people who are there just to enjoy a glass of wine and so Vinitaly is not the best place for serious business discussions.
Certainly on the day that the Italian Prime Minister visited the fair, the place so crowded that it was difficult to move an inch leave alone taste wines at the stalls and discuss their technical details. The only island of sanity was the Sala Stampa or Press Room for both national and international press, where I would escape now and then to recharge my batteries and that of my phone.
Among the most crowded stalls were Trento DOC, Franciacorta and Prosecco pointing to the growing popularity of bubbles in the world of wine. Figures indicate that Prosecco alone has shown a 24.5% rise in value & 23% rise in exports over the past year. One of the most beautifully decorated stall was that of Bottega Gold, where a golden Vespa featuring the Bottega logo drew a large number of curious on-lookers.
Halls 6 which featured wines from Fruili Venezia Giulia & Alto Adige and Hall 9 featuring Toscana were full of milling crowds. The visit of the Italian PM to the Allegrini stand threw things out of gear for a few hours, with order being resorted only after he left. Frescobaldi chose Vinitaly to launch their Tuscan estate Pomino sparkling wine, which proved to be a huge success.
As at any event of this size with infrastructure stretched to its limits, there was understandably some amount of mismanagement. But then Vinitaly is completely Italian, right down to a streak of “Latin anarchy”! Beyond the chaos one gets a clear sense of the Italian passion for wine coupled with the country’s efforts to enhance the presence & prestige of Italian wines in foreign markets.
Outside of the fair some memorable moments will always remain with me – a night-time stroll across Piazza Bra in the historic city of Verona, the sight of the beautifully lit up arena; the wine theme at most shop window displays; the concert “Luce & Music” at Teatro Nuovo at Piazza Viviani and the sight of hundreds of people partying on the streets till 2.00 am outside Bottega del Vino, one of Verona’s most popular eateries.
Vinitaly is truly an extravaganza of Italian culture and wine.
By : Lavina Kharkwal
This article first appeared in the June-July 2016 edition of Sommelier India Magazine. Copyright: Sommelier India