Milan Wine Week 2020 is not quite what founder Federico Gordini had in mind as he closed the successful 2019 event a little over nine months ago. A repeat of 300,000-plus attendees is clearly no longer on the cards. But a little thing like a global pandemic wasn’t going to stop this Milanese entrepreneur and, as Mike Turner found out recently, the plans in place look set to lay a benchmark for the weeks and months to come across the global wine trade.
“Those not lucky enough to get an invite will be able to follow along from the comfort of their own desktops, laptops, or phones on the free feed. This is a brave new world opening up the wine festival to a truly global audience,” writes Turner.
Last year I found myself, by complete accident, in the middle of Milan Fashion Week. Those of you who may have met me will understand what a complete mismatch that is. I had, and will continue to have, no place there. It was not a complete waste however. Aside from the fact it let me find my new favourite bar in the whole world (if you’re ever in the area, head to Morna, amazing fun!) it also gave me a chance to spend a couple of days in Milan.
Milan is not like any other city I’ve been to in Italy. Turin has its beautiful architecture and order, Florence has its breathtaking culture, and Rome has its wealth of history (and a shit load of graffiti). But Milan? Milan has an edginess. As someone who lived in Camden Town for a decade and a half it made me feel right at home. From high end fashion chic to grunge rock dive bars. From Italy’s swanky main financial district to the dubious surroundings of the San Siro football stadium. It’s a city of contrasts with plenty on offer. And since 2018 it now boasts an international wine week, which on Saturday October 3rd 2020 will be the first major international wine event since the pandemic.
Milan Wine Week
The first Milan Wine Week took place in October 2018, and is the brainchild of Milanese entrepreneur, Federico Gordini. Starting off at a youthful 19 years old in communications, he reached an epiphany in 2008 when Milan was awarded the European Expo 2015. Those judges concluded something that Federico already knew; that there was more to this city than just fashion and finance. Milan needed to show off more of what is has to offer and less than a year later, in 2009, he became a driving force behind the inaugral Milano Food Week, celebrating the food culture in the city and beyond.
With city-wide festivals for wine and food (including a festival promoting the wine co-ops of Italy) behind him, in 2018 he made the decision that the city needed something stronger for the wine trade and wine lovers. The decision was made in June 2018 for the first Milan Wine Week to take place in October 2018, with 50 events across 200 bars and restaurants in the seven days. He didn’t get much sleep that summer.
A global wine week in Milan
This was not designed to be a wine industry event like others across Italy. Federico doesn’t want Milan Wine Week to be an Italian Wine Week in Milan: “we want it to be a global Wine Week here, in the same way that Milan Fashion Week is a global event.”
It was always the main aim of the event to understand the needs of the market, not just from a wine purist sense. I asked him about whether he was looking to have special discussions and promotions for organic, biodynamic, or natural wines, as it’s very much my area of interest. It’s not about being that selective. “We want lots of talk from everyone, and lots of space for everyone. We want to show every shade and side of the wine trade in Italy and across the world, be it niche or brand in scale. There is a change happening in the wine industry, with new kinds of people and energy arriving. We want to highlight the people and the opportunities. It’s not just about wine, it’s about communication, marketing, digital, and everything in between.”
This market skew is highlighted by one of the first issues I could see. Why pick early October for the events? You have to remember we’re here in Northern Italy, where the main money-making grape, Nebbiolo, is usually ripe for harvest around then. What about the winemakers? Does it not make it tough for them to attend?
The issue was not lost on Federico, but his entrepreneurial spirit and his grasp of the wine market, not just wine production, is canny. October is the time when the business gets done. The end of Q3, and planning for the year ahead. Of course some smaller producers will struggle, but they are not expected to attend all week, with as little as one or two hour slots available to showcase their wares during the week.
How will it run this year?
So what have I missed out? Oh yeah, bloody lockdown, right? How are they going to run an international wine event when we’re all stuck in our homes?
This will be a truly digital wine event over the nine days. There will be nine virtual tasting rooms across nine additional cities (London’s tasting room is to be hosted at 67 Pall Mall) dotted around the world. They will play host to trade and press invitees to sip along with the winemakers and masterclass speakers over video link. A huge amount of investment has gone into making sure the feed will be beamed in glorious 4K resolution with local translation as well. Those not lucky enough to get an invite will be able to follow along from the comfort of their own desktops, laptops, or phones on the free feed. This is a brave new world opening up the wine festival to a truly global audience.
Alongside this will be the digital booths for producer tastings. You can sign up online, the producer runs a tasting at a set time, and then those attending can use the digital booth to arrange one-to-one conversations. After that the Wine Hub (a sort of Milan Wine Week LinkedIn…. my words not his before the lawyers get involved!) will make post-event networking a breeze and hopefully lead to solid deal conversion rates.
What constitutes a success?
Federico talks a great game about what would constitute a success. As much as you know there will be other metrics he’s targeting, it fits with his bright and forceful personality that, as far as he was concerned, the success has already been achieved by actually going ahead with it. He’s got a good point.
They had a call to make in May, and this was May in Covid-hit Northern Italy. It could have been easy to follow everyone else and cancel. But he’s proud of the fact that this will be the first major wine festival since the start of the pandemic. The world is restarting, and it’s happening in Milan. His partners – the producers, bars and restaurants – deserve a huge amount of credit and thanks for the faith they’ve shown in the project.
How to get involved
So what do we do now? Well the first thing to do is head online to sign up for their newsletter. The exact attendees, masterclass presenters and wineries involved won’t be released until a press conference on the 16thSeptember.
I’d encourage everyone to get involved, least of all because this is, as Federico said, the first major wine week or festival since the start of the pandemic. This may well be the shape of things to come for a long while yet and I think their drive and the risks they’re taking with their fledgling reputation demands, at the very least, our help, our time, and our feedback.
I’ll be attending all that I can in those few days. OK, it would be slightly more appealing with a glass of something tasty in the Palazzo Bovara, rather than my office in the cloudy sticks of Lincolnshire, but I’ll live with it. It’s a further step out of the Covid-shadow for the wine trade and something to look forward to. I wish them all the luck in the world.
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