The latest news from Italy’s wineries and wine groupsBy Phoebe French
We spoke to a selection of Italian wineries and wine groups to find out their latest news and how they are coping during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Consorzio delle Venezie DOC Pinot Grigio
The Consorzio delle Venezie has revealed that in the first quarter of the year, the number of certifications and wines bottled under the DOC label has grown by 6.9% compared with 2019, and does not yet reflect the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak. The consorzio describes the coming months as the “great unknown”, and while it is concerned, it is trying to remain positive. President Albino Armani welcomed measures from the Italian government that guaranteed “the necessary liquidity for businesses” to overcome the effects of the virus. Following the cancellation of ProWein and Vinitaly, the consorzio has turned its attention online. It will be hosting digital tastings of new vintages on its website – dellevenezie.it – which will be published on social media, along with webinars targeting buyers in the UK and US, and companies interested in its work.
Paolo Lasagni, managing director of Bosco Viticultori, says the company has been fortunate in the sense that 80% of its turnover is generated from the off-trade. The company, therefore, has not been affected in the same way that others that rely more heavily on restaurant sales have been. Lasagni foresees that there could be problems for the 2020 vintage because tanks at some wineries “are still quite full”. He says the Italian government is considering a voluntary alcohol distillation sale for those who are unable to sell their 2019 wines and older bulk stock. Bosco Viticultori is already working on its Christmas projects, and is also promoting its new organic line that had been scheduled to launch at ProWein. The range, called Bosco dei Cirmioli Organic, comprises a Prosecco, a Pinot Grigio and a Merlot.
Zonin’s Sicilian wine estate Principi di Butera is launching its prestige range in refreshed packaging this spring. These include its Nero d’Avola (Amìra); Syrah (Butirah), Grillo (Diamanti) and Inzolia. All of the wines are now packaged in Burgundy bottles and feature labels in contrasting colours. Zonin’s Asti-based producer, Castello del Poggio, is set to unveil a vermouth later this year called Ambrosia Vermouth di Torino Rosso Superiore. The aromatised, fortified wine is flavoured with botanicals including marjoram, citrus fruit, thyme, gentian, rhubarb, coriander, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, clary sage, vanilla, grapefruit and almond. The producer recommends serving the Italian tipple neat with ice and a slice of orange peel or as a base for cocktails including the Manhattan or Negroni.
Mazzei, which owns Chianti estate Castello di Fonterutoli, Belguardo in Maremma and Zisola in Sicily, continues to operate during the crisis, but at a “reduced rate”. Vice-president and CEO, Francesco Mazzei, said that sales have been affected by the downturn of the hotel, restaurant and café sector in Italy and around the world. However, sales were “improving” in the off-trade, especially online. Mazzei is in the process of preparing modified goals and strategies for 2020 factoring in the influence of Covid-19. Francesco Mazzei said that it was obvious that this year will be “pretty difficult”, with reduced sales and margins, but he said that it would be “useful to rethink our business model and improve it”. The wine group is also planning to launch a new project in the summer, which is says will drive more attention to its Fonterutoli brand.
Chianti estate Tenute Piccini launched a major television advertising campaign over the Easter weekend. The 32-second video has been transmitted on all Mediaset television and digital channels. The advert includes images of empty cities and rows of vines conveying the message that the winery is waiting patiently for normality to return. Piccini has actively supported the local community during Covid-19, donating 30,000 masks to authorities in Tuscany, Lombardy and Liguria and taking part in online retailer Tannico’s charitable project, and has donated €1 from every bottle sold to the Sacco Hospital in Milan. Piccini has been able to keep all production sites open and has not needed to make use of the country’s redundancy fund. Operational staff have been divided into two teams, which are isolated from one another to reduce the risk of spreading disease. CEO Mario Piccini said: “Together we will succeed in overcoming this difficult time, and at Piccini we want to give a sign of hope to the whole of Italy. Together we will start again.”
Enoitalia has announced that its Alberto Nani organic Prosecco has been certified vegan. Made from grapes grown in the Prosecco DOC area without pesticides, insecticides or herbicides, the wine is sold in Asda in the UK. The largest privately owned winery in Italy will also launch its Pendium Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC in Asda this year. The Pendium line also includes a Prosecco, sparkling rosé and Moscato. Packaged in a diamond-cut bottle, the Pinot Grigio is vinified in stainless steel and is described as “fresh and crisp with flavours of white stone fruit and balanced acidity”.
Prosecco producer La Marca has continued to operate during the Covid-19 pandemic, but has had to make changes to its logistical and organisational processes. It has followed government health and safety advice and has sanitised staff work spaces and provided workers with masks, gloves and hand sanitiser where needed. Those that can have worked from home. The company has also donated €50,000 to support frontline workers in hospitals in the Veneto region. La Marca owns nine wineries and 14,000ha of vineyards in both the Prosecco DOC and Prosecco DOCG areas.
Like other wine producers, Masi has had to adapt its practices so that it can continue to operate in line with government guidelines. The company is continuing to fulfil orders, particularly for export, which were already in place prior to the health crisis. It has launched two Veronese whites: Lunatio Lugana DOC 2019 and Beldosso Lugana DOC 2018. Both wines are organic and are made from Trebbiano grapes grown in hills to the south of lake Garda, between the provinces of Verona and Brescia. Lunatio 2019 is pale yellow in colour, and according to the producer has “touches of pineapple and citrus with lively citrus and grass flavours on the palate”. The Beldosso 2018 is aged for four months in oak barrels, followed by a year in stainless steel, and is sold in the second year after harvest. Described as a “bold and significant white”, the wine has aromas of “passion fruit and light notes of vanilla and citrus on the palate”, according to the producer.
Like other wineries, Villa Sandi has implemented stringent sanitary measures since lockdown was enforced. Those that can work from home have been encouraged to do so, and the winery has been regularly communicating with clients via video conferencing. The winery has created a special ‘home aperitivo package’, featuring a bottle of Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut and a Pan da Vin, a bread created by catering school Dieffe to accompany the fizz.
Feudi di San Gregorio
In response to the Covid-19 crisis, Feudi di San Gregorio has improved its online store to make it “more focused on the needs of its customers”. It has also increased its presence in other online retail channels including Tannico, Vivino and wine.com, and is engaging with its social media followers using the #feudilovers hashtag. However, the winery is not neglecting its longstanding customers, and is providing them with social media and e-commerce material, as well as creating customised proposals including special wines and ‘game boxes’.
After annual trade fair Vinitaly was cancelled this year because of Covid-19, Sicilian specialist Planeta hosted a virtual event called Vinitaly#StayHome in Asia from 19 to 30 April, presenting the new vintages of its estate wines. The event forms part of the winery’s #PlanetaComesToYOU campaign, in which owner Alessio Planeta presents the winery’s new vintages accompanied by a series of virtual panoramic tours, interactive experiences and tastings. The winery’s other plans include a displaced dinners series, social media competitions and even a wine and yoga series, with positions and pairings designed to mirror stages in the cycle of the vine.
Franciacorta producer Bellavista has continued to release wine despite the challenges it faces. It has released the 2013 vintage of its top-tier wine Riserva Vittorio Moretti, after the launch of the 2011 vintage two years ago. Usually released seven years after the vintage, the wine is made from an equal blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Nero using traditional method. The wine is fermented in small oak casks followed by an extensive period of lees ageing. Bottles are then riddled and disgorged by hand. CEO, Francesca Moretti, said that it was not easy to operate in such circumstances, and “to speak about wine, which is a pleasure connected with happy moments”.
Abruzzo-based wine group Masciarelli has decided to focus its attention on online promotion and communication. It has launched a social media video campaign to convey the message that “Italian food and wine is healthy and doesn’t carry the coronavirus”. Workers continue to tend to the group’s vineyards, observing the social distancing rules as required.
Montefalco-based producer Arnaldo Caprai has adopted the ‘keep calm and carry on’ approach. The winery has reported “positive trends” in online retail and large-scale distribution in Europe. The producer stresses the importance of working together and communicating with all members of the distribution channels. Like many others, it is also carrying out periodic digital tastings.
Group president Lamberto Frescobaldi says the company has implemented “every possible procedure to safeguard the health” of its staff, including “both internal and external measures to limit the spread of Covid-19”. He says that he is confident the company will emerge quickly from the health crisis. Where possible, staff are working at home while strict social distancing is observed in the office, including a ban on gathering around the coffee machine. Different shifts eat at different times in the cafeteria, while tractors are driven by only one assigned driver, and must be cleaned and sanitised at the end of each day. In the vineyard, workers tend to the vines while keeping two empty rows between them. All staff have their temperatures measured every morning on arrival at the winery in order to stay safe.
Barolo producer Fontanafredda is also ensuring those that can work from home do so. Production line staff are divided into two shifts to guarantee “regular supplies to our partners all over the world”. The wine group has reported an increase in off-trade and e-commerce turnover, and as the Asian markets slowly reopen, it has noted a trend in so-called ‘revenge shopping’ in China, in which consumers go on a buying spree after lockdown measures are lifted. Roberto Bruno, the chief commercial officer at Fontanafredda, says that producers and restaurants “are working closely” to maintain cashflow. “I am sure that this worldwide pandemic will be a great opportunity for new partnership models to be created and even more solid alliances forged,” he says.
Wine group Allegrini continues to tend to its vineyards, which are located in regions including Valpolicella, Bolgheri, Montalcino and Lugana. The Allegrini family has increased its collaboration with major players in online retail, both in Italy and internationally. It is reviewing its partnerships in 80 different countries and updating its communication strategies for the different brands within the group. The group’s Valpolicella home, the Villa della Torre, has launched a home-delivery wine service and is communicating with its customers via regular newsletters.