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Keti Mazzi: Italy will be the centre of consumer interest

Italy has outgrown its quaffable Pinot Grigio image and will be at the centre of consumer interests for years to come, Keti Mazzi, founder of Hong Kong-based branding agency Certa, believes, as Hong Kong’s wine trade pushes for more visibility for a broader range of Italian wines.

Keti Mazzi, founder of Hong Kong-based company Certa

Speaking to dbHK ahead of Vinexpo from 29 to 31 in Hong Kong last month, Tuscan-born Mazzi was still visibly excited about exhibiting for the time at Vinexpo, representing four different companies under the Certa umbrella including Italy’s Ceretto, Argiolas, Tasca d’Almerita, and Castello di Ama.

“We are here to drive exports and understand the positioning of the brands, support totally the market. It’s not easy but we work a lot on wine knowledge such as staff and sommelier training, tasting,” said Mazzi on the mission of her branding agency, which was set up in 2015.

Stating it has not been easy is an understatement. When Mazzi first moved to Hong Kong in 2011 “for a new challenge” after years of working in Italy the first six months in the city, as she put it, were like “driving a car and crashing it into a wall”.

Hong Kong’s fast-paced lifestyle, result-driven business working model and completely different culture from Italy was more than overwhelming for her. As a result, the first six months in Hong Kong, “killed me”.

“It was challenging …trying to understand the culture, the right approach, but then I told myself, if I survive the first six months, I am going to stay, [and] I am going stay for a long time,” she recalled.

So far, Mazzi has been living in Hong Kong for more than seven years, working her way up from promoting Italian wine previously with ProWine to now heading her own company Certa, which translated into Italian means ‘I am sure’.

The nature of Certa’s main role as she describes is a “360 degree job,” that takes on all around responsibilities for the wineries the company represents – from branding, communications, marketing to exports in the Asia Pacific region.

This philosophy has helped the company to expand its clientele within a short time of three years. From working closely with just Ceretto and Tasca d’Almerita, two wineries that also invested in Certa at the beginning to current a portfolio of four leading Italian wineries.

Looking back, the challenges in promoting Italian wine in a city still dominated by French wines were disheartening at times, especially when consumers’ interest was lacklustre and knowledge about Italian wine was limited when she first started. “I took it very personally,” she confessed, speaking of the chasm of knowledge in the market.

Certa team in Hong Kong

“I was shocked when I arrived here. I came from Tuscany. It’s a magical region, all the hills, the landscape, everything made for Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti Classico was excellent…When I arrived here, I remember people don’t know the difference between Chianti and Chianti Classico and thought they were the same,” she exclaimed.

Admitting the confusion was partly caused by miscommunication from Italian wineries and wine associations and the lack of education concerning denominations, geography and grape varieties to name a few, she explained: “I realised the communications we made in the market unfortunately were not the best if you compare to France or others.

“Champagne is very good at denomination, and people can’t just call any sparkling wine Champagne etc. And speaking of Italian wines, the big mistake for Italians is that they do not communicate wines in a proper way.

“It’s one of the classic Italian problems that people did not work together to achieve the same goals and prospects. This is what Certa wanted to create by putting together different wineries with the same vision of promoting Italian wines.”

Education, naturally, is key, she stressed, adding that educators such as Ian D’Agata from Vinitaly International Academy and the Great Wines of Italy tasting event launched by American wine critic James Suckling in Asia have been essential in raising Italian wine’s profile. “I think everything is working in progress…I believe for the next 20 years, Italy will be in the interest of the people. We are at the right time right place to be successful,” she commented.

Gradually by immersing herself in local dining culture and lifestyle, she learned over time to tailor-make wine promotions and sales experiences. “It’s a business oriented culture. They are drinking wine while working, while we drink wine while relaxing. So that’s one thing I learned here and approached wine from a business and corporate angle,” she said.

Admittedly, Italian wine’s share in Hong Kong is still relatively small, around 5%, according to HKTDC, and less than 6% on the mainland. Despite this, there’s a growing undercurrent for sommeliers and importers in the city to look past the known regions and names for “new regions, new denominations,” Mazzi observed, citing examples such as Sicily and Sardinia.

Consumers on the other hand should be encouraged to experiment with different wine styles with Cantonese food without feeling intimidated by pedantic technicalities. “We need to be more comfortable in terms of food and wine pairing…Cantonese food is fantastic, you have a lot of opportunities to experiment.”

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