Italy seen from the USA. Gambero Rosso travel diary

Mar 20 2020, 13:16 | by Marco Sabellico
While Covid-19 continued to advance in Italy, GamberoRosso Roadshow went on in the States, receiving a warm welcome and manyencouraging messages for Italy: “Don't give up. We look forward to seeing youstronger than ever."

East to West Coast

We left Italy on February 19 for one of the most important tours of the year, which opened with the Top Italian Wines Roadshow events in Mexico City and Miami. We left without knowing what would happen shortly thereafter and, while bad news continued to arrive from Italy, our events went ahead, reserving us at each stage, a warm welcome to say the least, despite everything.

Chicago and New York

After Florida we had four Tre Bicchieri events: on February 26 in Chicago in the Skyline Loft at the Bridgeport Art Center 130 companies offered their top wines to 1,200 guests who crowded the salon and the seminars: the Emilia Romagna region Special Guest with a handful of passionate producers and the Special Wines of Italy 2020 Awards where Lamberto Frescobaldi who represented the Winery of the Year 2020 was applauded. On the 28th in a (at the time) carefree New York there were over 1,300 attendances at the most important event of the year for Italian wine, which was held in the usual setting: the Metropolitan Pavillion.

"Italian wine is now a certainty for the American consumer" said Dominic Nocerino, importer with almost fifty years of experience on this market, "It's not an easy time, there is uncertainty here too, but I continue to buy and to sell. In my career I've had my fair share of crises, from methanol to 9/11 not to mention the collapse of the stock exchange in 2008. These are cyclical fluctuations that a skilled entrepreneur knows how to deal with. The incontrovertible fact is that Italian wine has entered the habit of high-end consumption. We are sure that we will sell a lot of Brunello '15 and Barolo' 16... they are fantastic wines and Americans love them. In these situations, we must remain calm and organise ourselves for recovery. We will continue to support the wine of Italy and in a few months we will wait for Italian producers again: we will take them to meet their customers".

Los Angeles and San Francisco

A few days later, as the news from Europe and Italy became increasingly worrying, we moved to the other coast for the Tre Bicchieri events in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Beautiful locations and a well-established organization brought us two fantastic events: the first, on March 3 at the City Market Social House in the Fashion District, 90 producers, 700 guests and an exceptional guest: Alessandro Del Piero who collected his award Top Italian Restaurants in the World for his trendy and well-kept N.10 (péndant of the Milanese opening) signing autographs and smiling for fan selfies.

Given the rapid succession of events from hour to hour and the bad news from Italy, with some trepidation we arrived in San Francisco. A city that, given the success of the last editions, we now consider a second home, as much and maybe more than New York. On March 5, we opened the doors of the immense Pavilion Festival in Fort Mason, overlooking the Bay. During the morning master classes (Emilia-Romagna and Special Awards), participation was at the level of expectations, but when we entered the Pavilion after the event started and we saw it full of visitors, a heavy knot in our insides melted.

The bestowing of numerous Awards to Italian restaurateurs, pizza makers and wine shops was a party underlined by thunderous applause. Deserved success also went to the Consorzio dei Vini del Sannio, headed by President Libero Rillo, who with his tasting counter dedicated to Aglianico and Falanghina held high the Italian flag in the States.

“San Francisco loves Italian wine and food” said Lorenzo Scarpone, Abruzzese Doc, for more than thirty years at the centre of the food and wine limelight of the Bay City, first as a sommelier and wine expert, then as an importer and distributor of quality artisan wines. “A city with sophisticated taste that loves good and natural,” he explains, “although Orange and Natural wines are a small percentage, the bulk of the demand is for high-profile wines, which can be compared with the neighbors of Napa and Sonoma. There is always a desire for novelty, and our modern style, clean and fresh, without weighed-down new oak and based on native grape varieties, is very strong here. And it also teaches Californian producers, who for some years have been trying to acclimatize our typical grapes. But pulling the biggest traction is a young, passionate, cultured and brilliant Italian dining scene. Not a month passes without new Italian restaurant openings. It's a difficult moment, but we will keep going. Here we can still grow a lot”.

Napa Valley

Our trip didn't end in San Francisco. The following day we inaugurated a first small event with 20 producers in Napa at Copia, the beautiful and prestigious location of the Culinary Institute of America. Marco Sabellico and Giuseppe Carrus held the last masterclass - again the 2020 Guide Special Awards - with an inspired Silvia Vannucci di Piaggia who enchanted the American colleagues in the audience (almost all winemakers and producers) with the history of her Carmignano Riserva, which with the vintage '16 was our Red of the Year. Applause went to her and the other 10 award-winning wines and many notes were written on notebooks. The tasting in the large atrium gave considerable satisfaction to the Italian producers and to the competent local public.

We closed on a high note the following day with two very interesting tasting-visits to two iconic Napa Valley places that opened their doors for our small delegation: Opus One (Constellation Brands) and Cardinal (Kendall-Jackson group). After a trip like this, we had our heads held high.

And we were also heartened by the words of Erle Martin, Vice President of Winebow Import, head of the east coast market: "There is a great deal of attention for Italian wine. We are witnessing a revival of Barolo which is now positioned, with its crus and historic vineyards, on a par with Burgundy grand crus. International wines are less and less interesting for the most demanding consumers, who want terroir, native grapes and clear and precise winemaking styles. The Prosecco phenomenon will continue, even if there is an increasing desire for high level products rather than basic levels. The winning card of Italy is the incredible diversity in the offer. It's the only country in the world that offers a terroir and a different grape for each day of the year. Don't lose this strength, this innovative charge, leave the battle of first price wines. Italian wine is worth much more than that".

Words to remember at a time like this, where every day we, like you, are forced to undo and write over the agenda of the next few months from scratch with a heavy soul, full of uncertainties even regarding the health of those who work with us and our families. But that must give us the strength to overcome this difficult moment. We Italians are a resilient, hard-working and creative octopus. And we often do our best in the most difficult situations where many others would otherwise surrender. This is one of those moments. We are all called to do more and to throw our heart over the obstacle. We are sure that in a few months we will return determined to travel the roads of the world again, offering the world what only we have. Let's team up once again and move forward without fear. The rest of the world, today as never before, is cheering for us. Are we or are we not Italians?

"We will come out of this thanks to targeted actions".

"New York is ahead, it is sophisticated and "old world" in dining as well, but there are great Italian restaurants in Los Angeles and San Francisco, too. It's also thanks to the high and medium-range dining venues that Italian wine has conquered the market. But it can still grow, because between the East and West coasts, with evolved palates, there are 35 States still "to be colonized", where the growth potential of our exports is very high. Additionally, did you know that out of 100 alcohol consumption in the USA, beer represents 83%? Young people mainly drink beer and spirits, and they are an immense market to conquer. After a record 2018, then 2019 was a less brilliant year, now with the problems we are experiencing, 2020 will be very difficult. We will only get out of it by offering consumer education and a targeted presence.

I hope that the Italian and European governments will put in place all the support measures needed to cushion the social consequences of this dramatic moment. We had just escaped the threat of Trump's tariffs. But in a few months, God willing, we will have a vaccine and we will be recovering. That will be the time to invest in international markets––if they too will have overcome the virus nightmare––but with smart, targeted strategies, and with a lot of presence. We are the country of unmatched uniqueness, beauty and taste but we must work hard to make this heritage understandable and usable by the American consumer". Raimondo Boggia, strategic marketing consultant in the food, wine & hospitality sector on both sides of the Ocean

Lucio Gomiero's testimony: Trump and the Coronavirus will not stop us

Lucio Gomiero, owner of Vignalta in the Euganean Hills, is an entrepreneur who arrived in the USA 32 years ago. Here he created solid agricultural companies and has a long-term vision of the sector. His wienry, meanwhile, has ended up in the eye of the Coronavirus Cyclone, his warehouses are in Vo' Euganeo and the goods awaiting shipment are blocked by the red zone restricted area. The news of the release came to him right during the Los Angeles event, and he speaks to us with the relief typicl of those who have lifted a great weight off their shoulders.

“After the fear of tariffs, which blocked the market for months, now the virus... but let's not panic. What we Italians have built on this market in thirty years is too important to waste in a short time. The United States is our natural outlet: pan American wine is 20% of the market. Chile and Australia are leaning towards the Far East markets due to a geographical fact. The important consumption of quality wine here is European. And Italy plays a decisive role. When my generation arrived here, it was a history-making moment. After generations of migrants with a cardboard suitcase, we arrived in the wake of fashion, Italian culture, great cuisine, art and sports cars... The myth of Made in Italy was born as stigma of a sophisticated lifestyle. We rediscovered the pride of being Italian and America fell in love with us. No super-virus and a capricious President will ever stop us. Among other things, for the upcoming few months Trump should worry about the re-election rather than tariffs. Anyone who comes after him will bury the topic, for sure. And even if he is re-elected he will only be able to adjust the tariffs. The country does not follow him in this battle. To my colleagues I say: take courage, and don't stop programming. As soon as it's permitted, return to travelling. If you stay at home you don't build anything”.

The importer's advice

“The real battle for quality Italian wine is in the most popular segment: $15 to $25 per bottle in a wine shop. The prices of Californian wines are falling and this market attracts everyone. Consumers always look for value for money, so Italians must study their moves well. Italians have aces up their sleeve: quality grapes that no one else has and a contemporary style based on drinkability and freshness that sets the trend. But better not sleep on your laurels, the other countries are rapidly taking action: Pinot Grigio is now a commodity with a narrow margin, while Provençal Rosés are registering staggering figures. Make full use of the dining sector, make beautiful bottles with useful, explanatory back labels, perhaps with QR codes that refer to more detailed information. Choose easy-to-remember and easy-to-pronounce names for an English speaker. Consumers here expect that. As they always expect an emotion from a bottle of Italian wine". Mark Newman of Accolade Brands.

by Marco Sabellico

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