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2024, a turning point Vinitaly.

Lorenzo Biscontin

I am among the last to draw conclusions from Vinitaly which ended last week because I wanted to think about the many things seen, heard, and read during the fair and in the days immediately following.

The summary of my impressions is the title of this article and derives from many different signals, which I will analyze below.

We have the control room of Italian wine, it’s called Vinitaly.

How many years have we been hearing that Italian wine needs a control room? Minimum 10, but in this decade, it has not been possible to go beyond good intentions. Going deeper into the reasons would be long and, today, essentially useless because now this direction exists, and it is Vinitaly – Veronafiere.

That Vinitaly was the brand capable of representing Italian wine is already evident from the name. Equally clear is that its role as the reference fair for the sector at an international level made it a key player in any hypothesis of structure/scenario/strategy.

What had not yet been fully accomplished was the Vinitaly Veronafiere management’s awareness of the power/want/duty (you choose the verb you prefer to play this role. Until recently, Vinitaly’s growth had always stopped within the scope of trade fair service provider.

The current management of Veronafiere and all the Vinitaly staff must be acknowledged for the step taken to go beyond the “simple” fair and, as declared by President Bricolo on the occasion of the presentation of Vinitaly 2024 to the European Parliament, “Vinitaly in the latter two years it formed, for the first time, the unitary team for the promotion of Italian wine by sharing the know-how of the brand with that of the Government, the Ministries of Agriculture and Made in Italy, Embassies, bodies and structures of promotion – Ice Agency first of all – activating an increasingly dense agenda of sharing with the players in the sector on a global scale”.

The results were seen during this edition of Vinitaly, beyond the excellent numbers (97,000 visitors, of which over 30,000 from abroad), in the cohesion and energy of the wine system that could be felt this year in Verona.

Operators have realized that the world has changed.

The world of wine has changed since well before COVID, just think of the signal represented by the boom in sparkling wines in the last decade, but the system as a whole has been able to pretend not to notice it and continue to grow using the usual model of business.

At Vinitaly 2024 we saw a sector aware that without a change in the approach to the market, not only growth is at risk, but the very survival of large segments of operators.

Compared to the recent past there is not only agreement on the need to change, but also on the urgency of doing so. Let’s hope that this time there is also the courage to move from intentions to facts.

Changing consumer behaviour.

One of the main factors that has led to the awareness of the need for change is certainly the decline in consumption at a global level.

If the decline in China, whose imports fell by a third compared to the 2012 peak, contributed substantially to the red wine crisis, the real alarm bell was the two consecutive years of reduction in consumption on the US market.

Regarding this problem, the common feeling is the need to recover the consumption of younger consumer groups, but this could prove to be a false aim.

Research on the American market shows that the age at which wine becomes the preferred alcoholic drink is 60 (Silicon Valley Bank Wine Industry Report) and, to stay in Italy, ISTAT analyzes on alcohol consumption show that in the groups under 60, occasional consumption prevails.

In other words, the narrative of wine as a drink for experts not only alienates a large part of younger consumers, but has already alienated large segments of middle-aged consumers.

In the words of Michele Antonio Fino “wine must return to being a pleasant drink to drink, not an exam to pass.”

De-alcoholized wines.

Probably the most debated topic at Vinitaly this year. The question is actually quite simple since it is a production already regulated at community level and therefore the request of the institutions representing the wineries to be able to produce it in Italy is acceptable.

In fact, in the current situation the only result is to deallocate Italian wine abroad, with greater cysts and loss of added value.

However, it would be wrong to think that wines with low or no alcohol content are the solution to wine (consumption) problems. There is no single panacea and among the cultural changes that the sector will have to make there is also that of abandoning it re the current homogeneity of the proposal.

In fact, wine communication is currently focused on the same values (craftsmanship, tradition, history, etc.) whether it is a cellar with a few tens of thousands of bottles or millions of bottles are produced.

To fully grasp the potential given by the variety of wine, it is necessary that this variety is expressed in the various brand proposals, therefore not only in communication, but also in the characteristics of the product.

Today the industry’s reasoning on the sensorial profiles of wines is based on the indications of wine lovers, i.e. passionate consumers. My recommendation is to also listen to people who are occasional wine consumers today because this is the audience we want to recover and their requests, even in terms of taste, could be different.

See you again at Vinitaly 2025 to see how much of this year’s energy has been converted and how.

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