Italy’s wine ambassadors

Education and wine promotion go hand in hand at Vinitaly, where the number of international buyers rose this year. For publication in week starting 30 April 2018.

The 52nd edition of Vinitaly in Verona, the beautiful city of Romeo and Juliet in northern Italy, attracted a total attendance of more than 128,000 visitors from 143 countries over its four days. Vinitaly ended earlier this month.

Prowein in Germany and Vinitaly both claim to be the “world’s biggest wine fair”. It is difficult to know which claim is more accurate and depends on definition. ProWein is only open to people in the wine trade while Vinitaly combines both trade and public.

ProWein is probably bigger in terms of the total number of square metres of exhibitor space, while Vinitaly attracts more people. We should not neglect Chengdu in China in terms of size. It has the potential to become the biggest in years to come.

At Vinitaly the number of accredited international buyers rose 6 per cent compared with last year, with 32,000 buyers arriving at the Veronafiere conference centre from 143 countries. Attendance from Italy’s key markets also rose compared with last year. The United States was up 11 per cent. China surged 34 per cent, Northern Europe (Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark) up 17 per cent, while the Netherlands increased 15 per cent and Poland leapt 27 per cent.

More than 4,380 companies from 36 countries exhibited their wares over the four days, 130 more than last year.

Maurizio Danese, president of Veronafiere, said this year’s Vinitaly confirmed its position as the best place for the promotion of Italian wines to the world of wine.

A separate event called Vinitaly and the City this year attracted almost 60,000 enthusiasts to the centre of the historic city of Verona as well as neighbouring towns of Bardolino, Valeggio sul Mincio and Soave. This project had emerged in the past two years to become a significant product in its own right and “as such will be further developed as of the next edition,” Danese said.

The CEO of Veronafiere, Giovanni Mantovani, said the increased attendance by wine professionals at Vinitaly this year showed how business-to-business wine sales had become consolidated in recent years on an international scale.

In recent years Vinitaly has been developing its wine education arm, Vinitaly International Academy (VIA). It was launched in February 2014. The first version of its wine certification course was held just before Vinitaly in 2015.

The rest of this column describes a week of this year’s certification course designed to teach Italian wine in great detail to professionals from around the world. It is taught by one of the world’s experts on the subject, Dr Ian D’Agata, the author of Native Wine Grapes of Italy.

A typical course consists of four mornings of formal lectures given by Dr D’Agata, with tutored tastings run by him in the afternoon. The examination is held in the morning of the fifth day, in the case of this course on April 10.

The course cost 1,290 Euros and included accommodation and some meals. Italy’s Ministry of Economic Development provided airfares for participants from outside Italy. In all 58 people attended the course, and another dozen who had failed previous courses arrived for the exam on the last day.

People who scored 75 or more out of 100 received a pin and are permitted to call themselves Italian wine ambassadors. Anyone who scored 90 or more was invited to return in the afternoon to undertake a blind tasting examination with Dr D’Agata. Those who pass that tasting are allowed to call themselves an Italian wine expert.

In all 122 ambassadors have been accredited around the world from 28 countries over the past four years. The biggest cohorts are from the United States, China and Canada, which also happen to be among the biggest export destinations for Italian wine. The VIA web site is confusing because the text notes a total of 122 ambassadors but the graphic associated with the page says 162.

Among this year’s cohort of 70 (58 who did the course and the dozen who attended only for the examination), 23 became Italian wine ambassadors.Two people became experts. Becoming an expert is a very high honour. After four years of courses in Italy, China and the United States the total number of experts around the world remains small, at only nine. The pass rate for ambassadors this year was 35 per cent, an indication of the complex nature of the course. This columnist did not pass.

Most participants chose to stay for Vinitaly, which ran from April 14-18. In return for accommodation and transport during Vinitaly, participants were asked to take part in guided tastings or similar activities for three days of the trade fair. These were organised in collaboration with local consortia, institutions and associations.

Stevie Kim, a Korean American, is managing director of Vinitaly International and the founder of VIA. Dr D’Agata is scientific director of VIA. Kim said she had embraced an educational approach to life and work and was “completely committed to education”. The academy was close to her heart “because year after year we are able to gain some critical mass into the community which promotes Italian wine”. These people tend to be sommeliers, wine buyers and wine journalists.

Kim said Vinitaly International Academy was about creating a group of “highly qualified and specialised Italian wine ambassadors around the world”. It was also aimed at simplifying the vast diversity of Italian grape varietals by explaining the characteristics of Italian wine around the world. Italy has one of the highest numbers of native grapes of any country.

One of the major events associated with Vinitaly is OperaWine, held just before the start of Vinitaly. OperaWine gives international wine professionals a chance to taste and experience Italy’s 100 greatest producers, as chosen by Wine Spectator magazine. Some of the wines were sensational, but the event is not for people who hate crowds.

Words: 975

Categories: Italy, Not home, wine

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