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Covering VinItaly on the cheap

For various reasons (like, 2,000 of them, about what the trip would cost me) I’m not getting to VinItaly this year. It’s not that I’m not interested in seeing Verona, Italy or too busy to taste a couple thousand wines or anything, I’m just not there.
Instead, I’m following the action through the ether: reading press releases sent from the VinItaly press office and on some favorite blogs, including those by Susannah Gold and Alfonso Cevola, aka The Italian Wine Guy.
Susannah speaks impeccable Italian (including several different dialects, which comes in handy when dealing with Italy’s 20 wine-making regions) and during a recent visit to New York City for Italian Wine Week Susannah introduced me to Kris Kim, VinItaly COO and a charming, hardworking spokesperson for all wines Italian. All of which means that even though I stay here in the States, the contacts in Italy are among the best.
One recent release that Susannah wrote on concerned a seminar (actually, a series of related seminars) on the question, “Do Italians still love wine?”
That’s a question you might never expect to hear voiced out loud, particularly when it’s voiced at VinItaly, the world’s largest gathering of Italian wines and winemakers.
However, that was the very question on many lips last week at one of the trade seminars offered during Vinitaly’s four-day run that ended Sunday in Verona, Italy.
To be blithe, the answer is yes but maybe not as much as in the past. Forty years ago, Italians managed to down 100 liters (about 133 of those .750 liter bottles, about 26 gallons) of wine per person per year.
Today, that’s dwindled to a comparatively meager 42 liters per year. But it’s positively W.C. Fieldsian compared to Americans who, according to the Wine Institute, choke down just under 9 liters (less than seven bottles, about 2 gallons) per person.
According to some 2009 numbers from the Wine Institute, the leader in per-capita wine consumption is Vatican City State where the 932 or so residents down 70.22 liters (18.5 gallons) per person each year.
That’s not as much as it sounds. It comes out to about 1.35 liters (less than two of those .750-liter bottles) per week, which won’t nearly keep up with most of my friends.
Italy’s 42 liters per person is sixth in per person wine consumption while the U.S. at 8.96 liters per person is far down the list, behind such notable wine countries as Finland, the Cook Islands and New Caledonia, the French Territory in the South Pacific where residents drink almost 21 liters per person per year.
But here’s the biggie: Even though American drink less wine per person that Italians, there are WAY more of us drinking our share.
Last year, for the first time the United States surpassed Italy in terms of total wine consumption, Wine Institute said.
Wine Institute reported that in terms of total consumption the U.S., drinking 2.75 billion liters, is second only to France (2.9 billion liters). Italy now is third, at 2.45 billion liters.
Which doesn’t necessarily support any theory purporting Italians losing their love for wine. What it might indicate, though, is how world economics and the changing demographics of Italian wine drinkers are affecting that country’s wine consumption.
Contrary to what the dreamy-eyed Italophiles among us might think, only 40 percent of Italians say they drink wine everyday, said a report from VinItaly.
Many Italians are saying they have reduced consumption due to economic or health concerns.
Curiously, wine industry consultants Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates in Woodside, Cal, reported earlier this year that year the U.S. surpassed France as the world’s largest wine-consuming nation as wine shipments to the U.S. from California (leading a reader to believe California no longer is part of the U.S.), other states and foreign producers grew to nearly 330 million cases, a record high for the industry.
Gomberg, et al, said the estimated retail value of these sales was $30 billion, up 4% from 2009.
The French, meanwhile, consumed 320.6 million cases of wine in 2010, Gomberg said.
Robert Koch, president and CEO of Wine Institute, said U.S. wine-market conditions remain “highly competitive”, which usually means lower prices for consumers, and he expects the growth in wine consumption to continue.
“Americans are increasingly interested in a lifestyle with wine and food, demonstrated by the presence of wineries in all 50 states and 17 consecutive years of growth in U.S. wine consumption,” Koch.
Other countries to watch include China, which last year increased its wine consumption by 36 percent, and Russia, where wine consumption last year jumped by 30 percent.
The panelists at VinItaly had a handful of suggestions for developing new consumers, including marketing campaigns aimed at women and at young people just developing their interest in wine.
Italian wine producers also are exploring ways to increase sale in supermarkets, which currently account for 60 percent of that country’s wine sales.
Many states in the U.S. allow food stores to sell wine but Colorado isn’t among them. Buying wine in a food store generally is a “caveat emptor” experience, since few stores (none, in my experience) offer the level of expertise found in dedicated wine and liquor stores.

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