Saturday, April 25, 2020

Italian Wineries from North to Southern Italy Facing Covid

With the COVID-19 virus still taking over the world what I’ve learned that this is the most important time that we come together as a community.  The United States is clocking in at over 50,000 deaths and Italy has surpassed over 25,000 deaths with thousands of new cases daily.  Positivity is key! 

With a passion for Italian wine I thought it would be a great time to touch base with a few contacts from wineries of northern, central and southern Italy and get their perspective on the COVID crisis and what their winery is facing during these challenging times. 

Northern Italy (Clemens Lageder of Alois Lageder) 
Last year I had the opportunity to meet with Clemens Lageder at a wine tasting in Boston.  I wrote an article on their biodynamic wines of Alois Lageder located in Alto Adige.  I was pleased that Clemens made some time to connect over the phone to discuss the state of affairs at their winery and how they are conducting operations during these times.   

As Clemens put it, “we’re the lucky ones in this crisis since we can work in the vineyards”.  It is definitely the positive aspects during this time as they can focus on spending time with nature.  The season from a climate perspective is off to a great start.  A little rain last week with some more next week.  They finished pruning about 4 weeks ago.  As you’ll remember from my previous posts they have cows in the vineyards from September to April to eat the grass and fertilize it and another week they will return to the mountains until September.   

Everyone working in the vineyards are all equipped with masks, extensive hand washing and disinfection.  Their cellar team has been reduced where they normally run with a crew of 12, but now are only operating with 4 people.  They have rotated some employees week to week and others have requested to stay home for safety. 

The biggest drawback is from a sales perspective and distribution of on-premise and quality off-premise sales (wine shops).  The restaurant industry is a huge portion of their business loss and although their sales have doubled or even tripled at times online it still doesn’t make up the loss via restaurants.   

Alois Lageder has focused on doing live virtual tastings with customers, restaurant owners, sommeliers, etc.  They will continue to focus on connections with the customers until the state of the country changes.  Thankfully countries like China and Germany are slowly coming back to the market with more to hopefully follow soon. 
Alois Lageder Alto Adige winery
Copyright of Alois Lageder
Central Italy (Sebastiano Capponi of Villa Calcinaia) 
Katarina of Grapevine Adventures put me in contact with one of the wineries in Tuscany, Villa Calcinaia, where I touched base with Sebastiano Capponi, owner of Villa Calcinaia in Greve-in-Chianti.   

“The current situation is really hard especially for wineries like mine whose primary business is based on sales to the hotel, restaurant and catering sector and on enoturism.  Since the beginning of the lockdown we have shut down the winery to the public . The field workers continued to come to work because nature is not concerned by Covid-19 and the two cellarmasters came only to prepare impending orders or urgent rackings.” 
 The loss of revenue in the last two months has been considerable and not all compensated by a few extra sales on the internet. I have cancelled all my promotional trips and I am trying to substitute my physical presence in doing virtual wine tastings with retailers around the USA. I hosted one in Cleveland, OH last week, which was very successful, and another in Evanston, Illinois. 
 We are all hoping that the economic situation might improve after the end of lockdown but I am sure that it will be slow going for a while.” 
Villa Calcinaia Greve-in-Chianti
Sebastiano, Nero (their father), and Niccolo ~ Copyright of The Marchetti Company
Southern Italy (Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato of Firriato) 
Last October I fulfilled a long time desire to visit Mt. Etna to experience these unique wines first hand. I received an invitation to the Firrato wineries of Sicily and it was quite the week.  You can revisit my journey here: An Evening of Food and Wine at Firriato’s Baglio Soria, Hiking Mt. Etna with the Volcanic Wines of Firriato’s Cavanera Etnea, Firriato’s Calamoni Estate: The Only Winery of the Aegadian Islands

With Federico’s hectic schedule he made time to share with his perspective on the state of affairs and what it means for Firriato and Sicilian viticulture. 

“From my point of view I’m very optimistic, you know, this is a very difficult “worldwide” situation, but in these moments you focus on the important things, you solve the problems stratified over time and you take the proper time to take the correct decisions.  

We’re Sicilian.  We’ve received a lot of different cultural dominations and as a consequence different disease pandemics during our history.  We’re strong people.  We just know this is only “another one we’ll remember as a bad memory in our history”. ☺  

Not much has changed for Firriato Winery.  Let’s imagine the company is divided in three different and most important “zones” for the wine making industry:  

1. Agriculture and viticulture - Nothing has changed at all in regards to respecting the regulations about employee and farmers safety.  The vintage is moving forward. We’re experiencing a very, very good vintage in terms of climate and conditions.  We’re striving for “the best vintage ever” here in Sicily to tell the Covid virus that Sicilian viticulture is here from 10 thousand years and will be for the next ten thousand!  
2. Oenology and winery operations - Nothing has changed, again, taking care of employee safety, everything is working, we’re fully operational.  
3. Commercial/Administration - As you can imagine, with restaurants, wine bars and wine stores closed, we reduced our business, therefore, we had to reduce the operation work hours for employees starting from the 1st of April. This means that for more than 2/3 of the Winery nothing has changed.  

What’s next? We’re planning the future, together. As a Sicilian winery we can do two important things:  

1. Taking care of the 2020 vintage, to deliver the best wines, to let all the wine lovers in the world know that we’re here and there’s a place in the world for Sicilian wines. For sure we’re going to reduce the yield to obtain better quality!  
2. Communications and public relations - This is the most important thing during this period for many reasons.  
  • Sending people “good messages and good vibes”.  Helping them to travel with their mind and let them know that we’re working and fully operational . 
  • Using this time where most of people are at home to learn via educational videos about the production zones and wine and to learn about the “behind the scenes”.  
  • Help restaurants, wine stores and wine bars that provide home delivery or other services to remain connected with the wine lovers.  To provide the least amount of business disruption.. For this reason, we were the first winery, maybe in Italy, to publish a website where you geolocalize yourself and the website tells you where the closest partner is so that you can enjoy Firriato wines at home! Try it! 
  • Support the e-commerce business and to keep the relationship between consumer-partner up and running.  
  • Maintain and keep the sentiment for Firriato Winery and Sicilian wines “high” so that as soon as this Covid issue is closed or under control, we can restart with a good situation in terms of brand and wine perception.  
After that we’re only waiting for the situation to be clarified better, since, for example, Italy is in locked-down, but in Sicily, we are experiencing very, very low numbers of Covid-19 cases.  I’m wondering why we haven’t reopened yet the region! Maybe because in Italy we do things with more “drama”.  Trust me, here the situation is very under control and safe, as of now, we have only 2800 cases of Covid-19.
Firriato's Cavanera Etnea winery
Cavanera Etnea Winery
To all my readers continue to stay safe and healthy during these times and I urge you to continue to support your local business and wineries all over the world.  

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