Vinitaly: why the fair matters now more than ever…

Above: many of Italy’s best wine writers and bloggers gather each year at the Intravino party at Vinitaly, the annual Italian wine trade fair in Verona. Intravino is Italy’s most popular wine blog and one of the few platforms where readers enjoy a broad spectrum of voices.

There really wasn’t much to complain about this year at Vinitaly, Italy’s largest wine trade fair, held each spring in Verona.

The weather was nearly perfect. The wifi worked (for the most part). Even on the Monday of the fair, typically its busiest, it didn’t feel overly crowded. Only one drunken consumer tripped over me. I never had to wait in line for a bathroom.

And the fair organizers even have a nifty new app that allows users to look up exhibitors, view of map of the fair ground, and track their own location on their phones. How cool is that?

Above: this week’s fair marked the 52 years since the first gathering. Vinitaly remains unrivaled for its scope and size.

I missed the fair last year because it coincided with the Passover (one of the most important holidays in Judaism). There was no way I was going the Seder with my mother (she’s in her 80s).

But back again this year, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the organizers have made good on their promise to address some of the fairgoers’ perennial grievances: long lines for unclean bathrooms; spotty at best wifi and frequently disrupted cellular service; too many consumers crowding the pavilions and making it all the more challenging for professionals to maintain their schedules; saturated parking, etc… Those issues persist but to a lesser degree thanks to genuine efforts by the organizers. (Thank you, Verona Fiere! We really appreciate it!)

All in all, gauging from the three of four days I attended, it was a great fair.

Above: I spent a lot of my time at the fair with two young wine professionals from Los Angeles, Skylar Hughes (left) and Theo Greenly (right). Gianluca Colombo (center) was one of the many winemakers who tasted with us.

Beyond the many super wines I tasted, the thing that thrilled me the most about this year’s event was the opportunity to taste with a couple of first-timers (above), my colleagues from Los Angeles who were attending thanks to a trip sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission.

Back at home in America where the three of us work together, consolidation of import and distribution channels is rapidly reshaping the fine wine landscape in alarming ways. As the big-kid companies continue to absorb or displace the small independent players, often through unchecked predatory business practices, the variety of wines available to U.S. wine professionals seems to grow more and more narrow.

I’m not talking about “wine persons” working in progressive markets like San Francisco or New York. I’m thinking of people who work in places like Austin, Chicago, Las Vegas, or Miami where the top players in distribution increasingly drive the market. Even in Los Angeles (where I do some consulting on a couple of wine lists), I see the small distributors struggling day-to-day to stay alive while the biggies show up with fat expense accounts and deep discounts.

As consolidation continues to whittle away at the field of wine available across the U.S., I am increasingly concerned that many young wine professionals are missing out on the Italian wine’s bigger picture, where people, culture and tradition — Italian people, culture, and tradition — make the difference.

It was wonderful to see my California fellows having so much fun at the fair as we bounced gleefully across the grounds together: tasting at Abruzzo’s regional stand; tasting at the Vivit (natural) and Bio (organic) pavilions; tasting with winemakers whose wines don’t make it to their market; tasting with winemakers they’ve never even heard of because their reps have never mentioned them; tasting wherever the hell they wanted to and without anyone pressuring them to buy.

Especially since Vinitaly’s organizers incorporated the newer Vivit and Bio pavilions into the fair a few years ago, the gathering represents an unrivaled opportunity for young Italian-wine-focused professionals to expand their knowledge, hone their chops, and make new and lasting connections and friendships that will transcend the monolithic “three-tier system” back in America.

Now that they have one Vinitaly under their belts, I hope they’ll branch out and attend the many wonderful unaffiliated specialized fairs that take place the same week. But I am so glad that they started here, at Vinitaly, the truly “big picture” of Italian wine today.

Thanks, Vinitaly, for a really great one (my fourteenth).

2 thoughts on “Vinitaly: why the fair matters now more than ever…

  1. Pingback: Wine Blog Daily Friday 4/20/18 | Edible Arts

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