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The images and news reaching us from Italy in recent days and weeks are disturbing. No other European country has been so badly affected by the Corona crisis, has so many deaths to report. But Italy would not be Italy if it did not face such a difficult situation with warmth, solidarity and humour: The hashtag #tuttoandrabene (everything will be fine) dominates the social networks; the musical flash mobs on balconies have moved the whole world to tears. The poem "La primavera non lo sapeva" (Because spring did not know) by the Italian journalist Irene Vella has given hope to people all over the country (the German translation from Click here to learn more about Katrin Walter. Katrin Walter here). Once again, the Italians prove that they stick together especially in crisis situations and don't let it get them down.

Of course, we at Wein-Plus are also interested in how the Italian winegrowers are doing. How do they compensate for the cancelled fairs and events, what alternative strategies do they have to sell their new vintages? How are they coping with everyday life in a country that has almost come to a complete standstill. We spoke to winemakers from South Tyrol to Sicily on the phone or interviewed them by email and summarised everything worth knowing below.

Markets collapse

Italy lives from tourism. Some regions more, some less. The lack of holidaymakers is not only a problem for hotels, guesthouses and restaurants, but also for winegrowers. The South Tyroleans are hit particularly hard, as their turnover is heavily dependent on direct sales and Italian gastronomy. First the winter sports season had to be cancelled prematurely, now the Easter holidays are completely cancelled and with them wine sales. The longer the crisis lasts, the more the regions in central and southern Italy are affected, where the season traditionally starts a little later.

Since Corona now has the whole world firmly in its grip, Italian winegrowers are gradually losing markets both at home and abroad. This means that both appellations that live mainly from exports, such as Brunello or Chianti Classico, and those that are consumed almost exclusively in the country itself, such as Franciacorta or Trento DOC, are affected.

The majority of the vintners surveyed reported lower demand from importers in March. Great uncertainty is spreading. It is not only the European countries that are causing sales worries, but above all the US market, which is of immense importance. Although demand from Asia seems to be slowly recovering, it cannot compensate for the shortfall in the historical markets.

The winegrowers confirm that shipments at home and abroad continue to be relatively problem-free, but at home sales have virtually come to a standstill for most, with the exception of very small quantities ordered by Italian online traders.

The alarm is also sounded by the consortia and umbrella organisations, for whom the measures taken by the Italian government to support the wineries do not go far enough. They fear that most farms will soon no longer be able to meet their financial obligations, that the lack of liquidity will bring many to their knees. Larger wineries with established brands will understandably find it easier to cope with the lack of sales than smaller, lesser-known wineries.

Almost all over the world, the only option at the moment is to consume wine at home. Although winegrowers can send their wine to end consumers in Italy, sales from the winery have been banned by decree. However, direct sales via mail order are far from being able to compensate for the lack of orders from the trade and gastronomy.

Therefore, various initiatives have been launched. The campaign #iobevoitaliano (ichtrinkeitalien) aims to boost domestic wine consumption. The first successes have already been achieved. According to surveys by the market research institute Iri Infoscan, sales could be increased by 11.9 %. The hashtags #iolaperitivolofaccioacasa (i take my aperitif home) and #shareitalianwine are also intended to raise consumer awareness.

No fairs - what to do?

For most Italian wineries, ProWein and Vinitaly are the most important events of the year. In Düsseldorf and Verona, they maintain contact with their customers from all over the world, but also make new business connections. Making up for these missed opportunities and orders is difficult. For winegrowers who have a lot of small resellers, sending samples to dealers and importers is not a sensible alternative, too costly, too impersonal they say.

On the other hand, those who already have a sophisticated network of importers can very well find a way to present their new vintages. In other words, maintaining consolidated business relationships in this way is realistic, but gaining new customers is almost impossible.

There are currently efforts on the part of the Verona Trade Fair, but also by the organisers of the Milano Wine Week (3 to 11 October 2020) and the Merano Wine Festival (6 to 10 November 2020) to support the Italian wine sector. After all, 1.3 million jobs are at stake in Italy, in vineyards, cellars and distribution.

Alternative strategies

Social networks are more important than ever in times of Corona to maintain contacts with customers with whom it was not possible to talk in person because of the cancelled fairs.

Online trade, both in Italy itself and abroad, is currently the only ray of hope for many wineries. Those who already worked intensively with internet providers before the crisis have suffered fewer losses than producers who mainly sell their wines through traditional distribution channels. Winemakers with their own internet shop also have better chances. Many producers appeal to their customers with direct mailings to support them.

Quo vadis Italia?

It is still very early to make predictions, but it is likely that some wineries will not survive the Corona crisis. This depends, among other things, on the amount of state aid and rescue funds made available by the EU and on when social life can resume. On when tourism will be possible again in Italy. When the bars and restaurants will open again. Some are talking about a relaxation of the conditions in mid-May, but there are also rumours that there will be no improvement before the summer.

What can we do?

We can support the Italian producers by continuing to buy their wines, maybe even a few bottles more than usual! We can specifically defend ourselves against fake news that claim that the Corona virus can also be transmitted via wine! Let's fight together against such lies by communicating the scientific facts. Now more than ever, let us be loyal to the Italians. If we can't visit the winemakers in person and spend our holidays in Italy, let's show them in this way that we appreciate them and their great work.

In this sense: #iobevoitaliano!

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