As Italy shows us, retail is future for wine sales.

The Angolo Divino wine shop in Ruvo di Puglia. “I am Vinarius,” the Association of Italian Wine Shops, reads the sign they are holding.

Retail sales of wine in Italy grew by 20 percent in June 2020 with respect to the same month in 2019. In July, they grew by 40 percent compared with the same month in the previous year.

These data come via Vinarius, the Association of Italian Wine Shops.

This growth in sales, wrote in an email Francesco Bonfio, president of the Association of Italian Wine Shop Professionals (AEPI), comes on the heels of a 50 percent drop in March (following Italy’s national shelter-in-place order) and a 30 percent drop in April.

La Capannina Più, Capri.

Francesco (a close friend of mine) ascribed the growth to the fact that Italian wine shop owners have embraced new sales models, including online sales and delivery services. He also noted that wines sales in supermarkets and big box outlets saw an initial boom in the period immediately following the lock down. But this trend was followed by a drop in wine retail revenue as independent and chain wine shops adapted to the new needs of the market.

The numbers from June and July are also a reflection of new consumption trends, as Francesco noted in his email. People in Italy, he wrote, have a “sort of subliminal apprehension” about dining in restaurants. He didn’t have any hard data on the number of people dining out. But he has observed anecdotally that Italians who frequently went out to eat before the pandemic now have rediscovered the joy of eating at home with friends and family.

Enoteca l’Etichetta, Bastia Umbra (Umbria).

These figures and observations came to mind yesterday when I spoke to a top sales manager for a top U.S. importer specialized in Italian wine. She told me that her company is working closely with their Italian partners to re-package their wines in order to make them more retail friendly.

With so many restaurants closing or doing significantly less business in the U.S., she said, her company is being forced to pivot toward retail.

Enoteca de Candia, Bari.

I’ve spoken to a number of retailers here in Texas and across the U.S. who tell me that their sales are booming right now, especially those who have shifted to online sales. My observations are anecdotal, of course, but I’m convinced that retail is where the potential for future growth lies right now. And in order to be part of this new wave, importers, distributors, retailers and the Italian wineries they work with need to focus on streamlining, repositioning, repackaging, and even rebranding products to work within this new paradigm.

As I wrote last month, wine shop workers are essential workers. They and the winemakers whose wines they sell need to work together to create new win-win opportunities as the wine trade continues to navigate the uncharted waters — the nec plus ultra — of wines sales in the time of the pandemic.

Enoteca Collovà, Capo d’Orlando (Sicily).

Thanks for reading. And thank you to Vinarius, AEPI, and my dear friend Francesco Bonfio for providing the data and images.

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