The skies of Vinitaly 2024

by Filippo Bartolotta and Raffaele Mosca 

The 56th edition of Vinitaly was a sparkling event in one of the most challenging times for the Italian wine industry in recent years. Several factors led to a market contraction in 2023 after years of steady growth.

While maintaining its leading position in the global, Italy recorded a 6.2 percent decrease in sales of PDO wines and a 4.3 percent decrease in PGI wines. This is the third drop since the beginning of the millennium after the one linked to the sharp decrease of on-premise sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and the other major shock caused by the economic crisis of 2008-2009.

Vinitaly, constant growth

Vinitaly, however, continues being a highly coveted event by international professionals.

The organization reported comforting data on overall attendance, with over 97,000 visitors and a significant increase in the number of foreign operators, which rose to 30,070 (+31% in 2023), including 1,200 top buyers (+20% over 2023) from 65 nations.

The United States are the first foreign country by number of attendants with over 3,700 buyers having joined the fair (+8% over 2023). Germany, UK, China and Canada follow up (+6%), and there has also been a surge in the number of Japanese attendants (+15%).

OperaWine

#Operawine

While spring (or should we say summer, with 28°C) was blossoming across Italy, Verona was also glowing with colors and joy. The vitamin D boost made everyone happier and more inclined to cheerful apertivi and energizing wine evenings showing the healthy and cheerful state of a good part of the Italian Wine Industry. The happy mood at the first event of Vinitaly with “OperaWine”, Finest Italian Wines: Great Producers selected by Wine Spectator” set the energetic tone of this Vinitaly 2024. 

Vinitaly is wine, art, food and lifestyle

From left to right: Riccardo Pasqua; Umberto Pasqua; Luca Zaia; Alessandro Pasqua

Vinitaly 2024 was enriched by plenty of exuberant parties like the SignorVino at Granguardia with a very large young crowd of food and lifestyle influencers dancing till the little hours. But also gala dinners powered by Michelin Star restaurants were served and contemporary art exhibitions like the site-specific “Onirica ()” installation by fuse collective at Pasqua Winery inaugurated by Zaia, the popular governor of Veneto Region attracted hundreds of guests from all over the world.

People gathered at open-friendly-fancy-aperitive-dinners, like the Allegrini party, to talk and mingle with the who’s who of the wine business while sipping a glass of Mersault to match with the famous delicious Paccheri al pomodoro by Da Vittorio exchanging long distance toasts with Andrea Delogu

Tasting panels and masterclasses

Vinitaly 2024 was a blast and nobody can deny that. We felt the energy already with the ridiculously powerful international tasting panel assembled by the atomic Stevie Kim for the 5starwines which saw the presence also of our brand new Italian MWs Pietro Russo and Andrea Lonardi.

The atmosphere in the pavilions was cheerful and thrilling as usual and the huge amount of master classes and conferences place Vinitaly as the largest and most authoritative appointment to get to know Italian wines up close and personal. Yet there was no shortage of discussions and confrontations on the major problems that Italy, like every wine-producing country, is currently facing.

Wine Consciousness

The biggest concern among the exhibitors stems from the rise in popularity – especially among younger generations – of an almost fundamentalist approach to health consciousness, which is leading more and more people to completely give up alcohol, animal fats and other substances that are considered incompatible with the ultra-healthy lifestyle they aim to pursue.

This extreme approach seems to be encouraged by a part of the institutions standing for the European Union. The approval of the Beating Cancer Plan in 2021 sparked controversy and criticism, as the document mentioned totally giving up on alcohol consumption as one of the antidotes to the rise in the number of cancer diagnoses.

Wine, beer and spirits are placed on the same level as they contain this potentially harmful substance, which causes severe damage if consumed incautiously. Yet wine has always been an integral part of Italian culture and the Mediterranean diet, an omnivorous eating style that is widely considered among the healthiest and most balanced in the world, allowing Italy to rank 14th among the nations with the highest life expectancy in the world and 2nd among G8 countries.

The response of politicians and producers is based precisely on the statistically supported principle that moderate consumption doesn’t cause any serious health risks and that the drawbacks of the demonization of wine are far greater than the advantages. 

Ministro Agricoltura Lollobrigida al Vinitaly 2024. Photo Credits Masaf

All these concepts were reaffirmed in a research study edited by the UIV-Vinitaly observatory and presented during the first day of the fair. The research begins with a comment by Francesco Lollobrigida, Italy’s minister of food sovereignty, who affirmed that, “Taking wine away from Italy would be equivalent, in terms of GDP, to wiping out the sport industry, including soccer.” The study, named “A Dive into an Half-Empty Glass” includes an economic impact analysis commissioned from Prometeia and a focus by the UIV-Vinitaly Observatory on three iconic wine-producing regions: Barolo, Montalcino, and Etna.

“The study shows how wine is a fundamental resource for the Italian system –  highlights Maurizio Danese, the CEO of Veronafiere – without wine Italy wouldn’t only lose 1.1 percent of its GDP: the ‘value’ of wine is greater than its economic contribution. In fact it is a key component of Italian culture and it is perceived as such at a global level”.

“Wine leads the growth of the agribusiness – stated Federico Bricolo, the president of Veronafiere – the research shows that every percentage point of growth of the wine industry on a new market corresponds, two years later, to similar growth for other food products. Vinitaly had a duty to reiterate these concepts in favor of the supply chain.”

Italy without wine would be a poorer nation: the landscape would suffer, with many territories, including some protected by UNESCO, risking abandonment and depopulation. The economic damage would be massive: the disappearance of the supply chain would lead to 303,000 people having to find another job. Italy would give up an asset capable of generating a total turnover of 45.2 billion euros yearly, including 17.4 billion euros of added value.

The collapse of the wine-system would thus cause a shock to business-Italy equal to 1.1 percent of the natio/ GDP. “In this day-after scenario – the research predicts – we would have to do without an economic multiplier capable of generating a contribution of 2.4 euros (and 0.9 euros of added value) for every euro spent by the players in the wine industry. Every 62 thousand euros of value produced by the supply chain equal to one job position.”

The Growth of Hospitality

The fact that the contribution of Italian wine to the economy goes far beyond the product is proven by the ever-stronger appeal of food and wine tourism, which surged in the last few years, defying the downward trend affecting the product itself. On one hand regular wine consumers are fewer than in the past; on the other one, wine enthusiasts are increasingly eager to delve into what lies beyond the glass with winery visits, wine tastings, and all-around experiences.

This was demonstrated by an analysis conducted by Coldiretti, the association that reunites Italian farmers, and Airbnb, which has recently included the “Vineyard” category to its platform.

The total nights spent by Italian tourists among the vineyards by domestic and foreign tourists exceeded six million in 2023. Alongside traditional wine pairing, tastings and cooking classes, most tourists are willing to engage in other activities: twenty-four percent of the respondents said they are interested in sports and health practices among the vineyards, and 26 percent appreciated wine therapy and wellness activities with wine-derived products. Roughly 31% would also attend concerts and shows organized in the midst of vineyards.

Airbnb also plans to launch a new campaign aimed at promoting wine tourism through a network of hosts who will act as ‘ambassadors’ of a specific wine-growing area. The campaign will start from three wine districts: the Prosecco hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene in Veneto, the Castelli Romani area in Lazio and the Pollino Park in Calabria. The project will include the creation of a dedicated website in English and Italian for each district, webinars dedicated to hosts in the three regions involved to learn more about the initiative, and a strategy to spread the word about it through print and digital platforms.

The NO-LO Revolution

The growing interest in low-alcohol or no-alcohol products is the inevitable consequence of the above-mentioned trends. For many producers, it is a threat to the Italian winemaking tradition and an impossible tendency to cope with due to the difficulties in finding technologies that would allow to remove alcohol without depriving the product of its characteristics.  Large multinationals would have a significant competitive advantage, while farmers would be bailed out of the market.

Right now, the production of dealcoholized wine in Italy is extremely difficult – if not impossible – because of the lack of proper regulation. “In Italy 36 percent of consumers are interested in dealcoholized beverages; in the United States, an incubator of trends among young consumers, the Nolo (no and low alcohol) wine market is already worth over almost 1.5 billion dollars in 2024 and will reach USD 4546.76 Million in 2031, with a CAGR of 20.72% during 2024-2031 according to Market Growth Report. 

But Italy plays a residual role here, because – unlike in other EU countries – it isn’t yet possible for wineries in the country to process the product in their own facilities, and no guidance has been given to operators on the tax regime. In a nutshell, the products can circulate in Italy, but Italian wineries can’t make them”.

The Unione Italiana Vini, however, expressed favorable opinions upon the implementation of new rules for dealcoholized wine-based beverages, and while it reaffirmed the fact that the name “wine” should be used exclusively for alcoholic beverages, it specified that experimentation in this area is more than desirable.

“The mistake some producers make is only reasoning with their own taste – remarked Lamberto Frescobaldi, the president of UIV,  in an interview on national newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore – We have been producing wine for several generations, and it seems obvious to us that wine is something else. But we have a duty to follow the market and the demand that comes from the consumers. If we don’t address the issue, others will.”

Among the few Italy-based producers following this trend stands out Martin Foradori Hofstatter, a vintner in Alto Adige and Germany who has been including two wine-based products in his portfolio for two years now. Whenever there’s a “no-low wine” conversation at a table, Martin is one of the few Italian wine makers always ready to address this topic with a positive attitude. The fruit is sourced from the Dr. Fischer estate in the Mosel region, and while fully processed in Germany, the product has achieved considerable success in the Italian market. “The goal is to win over consumers who, for various reasons, have decide not to drink wine or cannot do so, opening new market horizons instead of targeting wine consumers”. 

The product is obtained by boiling the wine at a low temperature with the goal of preserving the aromatic profile. Clearly enough, the fact that Riesling is a semi-aromatic grape makes it especially suitable for this process, and similarly aromatic varieties are likely to work equally well. Moscato, for instance, could lend itself to this type of production – in fact, a few producers in California are already making Moscato-based No-lo beverages. As for red grapes, finding a good balance in absence of alcohol seems more challenging, and higher levels of residual sugar seem the only way to counterbalance the tannic grit. 

No alcoholic drinks

But dealcoholized wine isn’t the only answer to the new needs of consumers: a few products that try to mimic the taste without alcohol were also presented for the first time during this edition of Vinitaly.

Legend Kombucha may be the most striking example: the Verona-based Contaminazione produced a non-alcoholic drink made with kombucha and pomace from dried Valpolicella grapes, aged in barriques and re-fermented in bottle. It opens new paths by drawing from the “Ripasso” tradition of turning it upside down.

Another remarkable example is Gabiàn Rosso by Il Farneto organic winery which we tried thanks to Il Carduccio and Bibo Potabile distribution. This is a wine based Cocktail produced with organic wine, water, natural aromas of lime, strawberries and ginger and grape must. It tastes like cross between a Gueuze beer, a Kombucha and a Salamino Lambrusco and it is actually extremely refreshing. 

From sunny summer skies to cold Arctic winds

It’s the last night. Time to enjoy the last drinks with colleagues, producers and friends and to start pack our luggage when the Vinitaly summer window with blue sunny skies started to make room to heavy dark clouds and some serious cold Arctic winds. The message from the skies is clear: if we work together we can make it but the storm is still far from being over!