Italy has re-opened its borders and permitted travel after a restrictive lockdown. So what has it meant for Italian wineries across the country – how have they coped and what hopes and prospects do they have as the country enters Phase Two of battling the pandemic? Sommelier Mattia Scarpazza talks to six winemakers from Principiano, Piero Busso, Adami Spumanti, Tenuta La Torretta, Gianni Masciarelli and Tenuta di Fessina to see where the greatest challenges lie and what they will be doing differently going forwards.
“The government is giving new stipulations; therefore, we must be extremely reactive and ready to absorb the new directives,” Silvia Maestrelli, Tenuta di Fessina.
After nearly two months Italy has started to relax the rules on quarantine, commencing ‘Phase two’. The government outlined dates and procedures to abide by for personal and work security. As of last week the country’s citizens could go and visit their families. Italian producers have new hopes as they can now start planning and prospecting what to do with a clearer vision of the next few months.
I caught up with six producers around the country to see what their feelings are as they prepare to look for new initiatives. Although they faced the same restrictions, their stories and views differ on the future that their business will take.
Ferdinando Principiano, Principiano, Barolo
I live at the cellar with my family and above my parents, so I could stay close to my family at this time. I consider myself lucky to live in the Langhe and be in contact with nature every day. Work in the vineyards did not stop. On the other hand, sales suffered in the past few months. We work mostly with hospitality – we have seen a big decrease in sales in March and April, now it looks like something is starting to move again.
It will take time to come back to normal… Before Covid we had people visiting the cellar and vines daily, this had to stop. Thanks to technology, we can stay in touch with our friends and customers, but we miss the real contact, showing the vines and tasting the wines together.
We learned something from this crisis. This time helped us to realise what is important both workwise and in private life. It is already some years that I try to “remove” what I feel is not essential – this applies also in winemaking and vineyard management. This situation helped me with this process even more and I made a choice that will reflect in the winery in the coming years.
Pierguido Busso, Piero Busso, Barbaresco
In the last couple of months, the most difficult part was our restricted movements. Fortunately, our industry has been very lucky because we had the possibility to work outside without problems.
For us, selling had an significant slowdown, especially to our customers in Italy. Fortunately, almost all our distributors have confirmed the orders of the year – it could be a problem for the space in the cellar but being a small winery at this moment with less fixed cost could help for the coming months.
As a winery, we produce mostly wines that don’t have problems with ageing, when the market will be normal again, we will have wines ready to drink.
Hopefully in June the situation will be better – I hope after the lockdown the restaurants will open and the people can go there without too many limitations, at the same time I’m looking forward to opening my cellar again to our customers
Enrico Valleferro, Adami Spumanti, Veneto
After over two months, I was able to see my family again. Of course, it was a pleasure, furthermore it was Mother’s Day. Getting to spend time with my loved ones after many weeks has always been a pleasure, especially now as in the past the choice was for work, now it’s because we’re forced to stay home.
I hope to get back to “normal” as soon as possible. It will take time, but surely all companies in all businesses will learn a lesson. I’m not sure normality after the Covid-19 will be the same as before. We’ve always been open, in the cellar and in the vineyards and we’re working in order to be stronger in the future.
There are fewer orders leaving the winery and I’ve been taking advantage of this forced situation to review technical sheets, do webinars, make videos, think about new products and develop new PR and marketing ideas. Personally, I have not suffered too much from the situation. Of course, it’s not our ideal way of living, but if I have to stay home, I stay home.
The business will slowly start again. Prosecco DOC and Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG are happy wines. Easy to drink and understand, approachable, top cru for a decent price, low in alcohol, crisp. They are ideal with some antipasti, a nice risotto, seafood or to celebrate life, to celebrate a new life, a new situation.
Corrado Marchesi, Tenuta La Torretta, Veneto
Fortunately, our winery is family-run and so we were always able to see each other even though we had to be more careful. Last week I saw my three-year-old nephew again, after two months, and it was emotional.
As small producers our biggest worry is related to stocking the 2020 vintage as we have limited space in the cellar and the unsold stock from the previous vintage is there. We had to reorganise direct sales and deliveries to limit the damage caused by the closure of the on-trade, and we don’t know when everything will reopen. Direct sales may have increased, but things are far from what they were before.
Our first hope is that our customers could come to visit us in the cellar, even just to enjoy the countryside, a walk in the vineyard and for a glass of wine, that would be something.
We are reflecting on running alternative outdoor activities for our customers, like the vineyard trails with food and wine stations throughout them while ensuring that social distances are respected.
Miriam Lee Masciarelli, Gianni Masciarelli, Abruzzo
Everything for me has changed: usually, I never stay home and having to radically change my habits was very challenging. Seeing my family again was an immense joy. Before the lockdown we took too many things for granted and then suddenly, we were forced to change our habits
We have noticed that customers have appreciated more their “comfort wines”, wines they already knew and were linked to, and also lighter wines, easy to drink every day, because they were almost only sharing meals at home with the family.
We have arranged many online meetings and presentations, focusing very much on the opportunities given by technology. I hope that after this period, Italian institutions will streamline bureaucracy for businesses and modernise the country. We need incentives for all sectors to get our national economy back on track, but we all need to show more solidarity with each other as well.
We have also seen that in this time of pandemic that nature was the only one to win, so I hope that sustainability and care for the environment will become a long term goal and a priority for our government and the EU. We will for sure invest more in sustainability, not only in the vineyard but throughout our company.
Silvia Maestrelli, Tenuta di Fessina, Etna
Sadly, when the lockdown started, I was in Milan, where I live with my daughter. The rest of my family is in Tuscany therefore I didn’t meet them as travelling between regions is not yet allowed. I hope to be able to do it soon. It seemed to be in a movie.
The return will be gradual and what I hope is that we will be able to increase our presence with guests, locally and not through the re-evaluation of the territory. Promotional activities and cooperative strategies will be needed by the government, region and, of course, also by us.
What I miss on a job level is the human relationships that are fundamental for me – the concerns are palpable for producers, but also from restaurateurs and hoteliers. Fessina’s estate not only includes wines but also accommodation, and hospitality – personally, my interest is based primarily on safety, for guests and our employees.
We are aiming to start again this month with the accommodation and are putting in place all the operations and strategies to guarantee the safety and a correct restart for us and our guests. The government is giving new stipulations; therefore, we must be extremely reactive and ready to absorb the new directives. It is a delicate moment and one must have great sensitivity and a comprehensive view.
So in conclusion…
To summarise, I am thrilled to see that even through this dire situation, wineries are optimistic about the next few months. They are positive that business will restart with the reopening of the hospitality sector, meanwhile they have taken this time to look at ways to change their business plan.
I found that they were thrilled to finally see their families and that brought some much-valued normality for them. Amid all disruption to their life, it is inspiring to see how each of them have taken this time to develop by introducing new approaches to the way there are running their wineries, from direct sales, social media and through sustainability approaches.
Meanwhile, some restaurants are beginning to open up in the country at their discretion, following the strict rules and broad space between customers, whereas here in the UK there is still no news yet of a confirmed date as to when hospitality will be recommencing.