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WineNews end-of-year report: Christmas will not be enough to help wineries, but fine wines are resisting

2020 was a blood bath: HORECA collapsed, mid-range is falling, but e-commerce, and shipments have saved Italian winemakers from disaster
VINARIUS, WINE SHOPS, News
Trimani Wine shop, Rome

They have not suffered like cafés and restaurants, perhaps, but following months of battling, Italian wine shops have had to deal with the year 2020, which, economically, in many cases has proved to be a bloodbath. We can’t say the same thing for everyone, of course, but not considering wine bars, and limiting our analysis only to sales, both HORECA and consumer, the decline - with some exceptions - is substantial, and the usual end-of-year sales will not help increase turnover, as winemakers of the most important Italian cities in the Association of Italian Wine Bars, Vinarius, led by Andrea Terraneo, told WineNews: Enoteca Zanobini in Florence, Enoteca Cianciulli in Naples, Bottega Vini in Verona, Enoteca Trimani in Rome, Enoteca Bruno Dalmazio in Siena and Casa del Barolo in Turin.
“Traditional wine shops, before this second lockdown were that were suffering the least. The ones that also made tapas had a lot of problems, especially in the big cities, while those who also do distribution or have local agencies, have born the brunt of the collapse of restaurants, marking up to 50-60%” decreases in turnover”, Andrea Terraneo (president of the Association of Italian Wine Bars, Vinarius), told WineNews. “Likewise, in December, there was a recovery on all three channels, but a definite decline in corporate gifts. Wine as a gift, is resisting, because the lack of socialization makes people want to drink more often at home”. This Christmas period, unlike previous years, is not bringing a boom in purchases of fine wines. “There is a much more varied approach, which reflects the country’s economic performance. Those who have the money in their budget to spend on dinners at restaurants, are spending it on fine wines, but those who have lower incomes must reduce their spending, including gifts. This means that you purchase less expensive gifts, and maybe instead of a Franciacorta, a Prosecco. Denominations such as Brunello di Montalcino and Amarone della Valpolicella, are still selling very well, also because they know how to communicate to young people. People want advice on wines and to discover new denominations. Ultimately”, concludes Terraneo, “those who have not had any loss in their incomes will continue to buy fine wines, while those who have to deal with the crisis may be purchasing lesser-known denominations or wines such as Morellino di Scansano or Nerello Mascalese, which, however, still give great satisfaction”.
Our tour of the wine bars in Italy starts in Legnano, which welcomes a historic store such as Enoteca Longo, an exception in this valley of tears, because, as Cecilia Longo told us, “2020, as strange as it may seem, smiled on us. At the beginning of the year we moved our location, which made us lose the first few months of the year, but then, also thanks to the online channel, the following months led to an increase in sales. We sell throughout Italy, because we were already working on e-commerce, but since we re-opened it has been constant, despite limited entries. We do not register any slowdown, from our observatory, and the bottles of fine wine, those above 200 euros, that have their own vault, have shown a definite growth in sales. In this period, as always, bubbles are selling very well, especially Champagne, and then Amarone, Brunello di Montalcino and Barolo”, concluded Cecilia Longo, “plus we noted some new and interesting trends, such as Alto Piemonte, more and more in demand, as well as lesser known Tuscan wines and those from Lunigiana and Etna”.
As we move to the center of Milan, the view is totally different, as Alessandro Iemmallo, who runs the Iemmallo wine shop explained. “The distribution channel was a total collapse; we worked well in September and October, while retail was based on e-commerce and promotions. We have witnessed, in 2020, the disappearance of the mid-range, which has polarized consumption. In the past few months, Milan has made a giant leap backwards, to land before the Expo, when it was not yet a destination for millions of tourists. When tourists arrive in the city, they have very specific tastes, and want the well-known and topmost brands, which have less influence on the domestic consumer. I believe Milan is the city that has suffered most from the effects of the pandemic and the lockdown. In the wine shop, the lack of German customers, for instance, is a heavy blow. And then, since companies are having difficulties, gifts change, and are certainly less important than in previous years, because of limitations and sales falling, and the top restaurants are closed, which is an important channel for us. Hardly anyone buys fine wines, except to give them as gifts. Barolo and Brunello 2015”, Iemmallo said, “are being purchased, but especially abroad, where we ship to our customers. Amarone della Valpolicella, on the other hand, has suffered a sharp slowdown, as have bubbles of all kinds - Prosecco, Franciacorta, Trentodoc, and Champagne - because there is not much to toast about in Milan”.
The collapse of tourism has hit really hard in the cities, and if Milan paid a high price, Florence has paid an even higher price, but never losing faith, as Simone Zanobini said, from his wine shop at the San Lorenzo market. “There are no people around, but it is useless to hide, and we are among those who have decided to stay open, both to give a positive signal and to at least try to balance the outputs, even though, actually, it would not even be worth it, economically. We are talking about an enormous decline, we expect to lose 60-70%. Resisting is our duty, and as professionals we must prove that we have not yet been overwhelmed. Also to respect a generation, like my father’s, which survived the Second World War and the flood of 1966, and gave us everything that we have today, which we only need to defend. Although it is Christmas, Champagne and fine wines are struggling, as people have less money to spend, and they are more and more accustomed to shopping at the supermarket. For me”, continued Simone Zanobini, “maintaining relationships with customers is a satisfaction that goes beyond profits, plus you can drink good wines and spend very little, such as Chianti Classico, or Rosso di Montepulciano. There is no need to spend a lot, which I explain to my customers, because the service we offer, even more so in this situation, is everything. In other words, in the 10 euros paid for a bottle of wine, there is information, the story, pairing, and the human side of the wine shop”.
In Ottaviano, on the slopes of Vesuvius, Enoteca Cianciulli is the reference point for lovers of fine wines from Naples and its provinces. Here too, “turnover is down, but the target in direct sales has grown,” said Adolfo Cianciulli. “We are having no problems for famous bottles of wine . On the contrary, the more we have in the shop of fine wines such as Tignanello, Sassicaia, Masseto, Ornellaia, Solaia, the more we sell. It is always like this, here, and even more so at Christmas. The great Italian reds are still selling, namely Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo and Amarone della Valpolicella, as well as obviously the fines I mentioned. On the other hand, distribution has pushed the turnover down to -25%, because we also supply bars and restaurants, and things are obviously not going well at all in this channel”.
Verona is the temple of wine lovers, but also of good food, and Bottega Vini is one of the topmost wineries in Italy, for the variety of bottles from all over the world, and the old vintages as well as some real gems. “Net of limitations”, said Luca Nicolis, who is the soul and head of Bottega Vini, “we are working well, but it was a unique, and particularly frozen year, which has made us reflect, more than anything else. Especially on day-to-day waste, and everything we have too often taken for granted, in a bubble made up of habits, sometimes, bad ones. We are not talking about turnover, it is better not to, but I have not lost any workers in the Bottega, and that was my main objective”. During the Vinitaly event, the historic venue in the center of Verona was the evening and nighttime destination for wine producers and trendsetters. It is also a wine cellar, and in the days just before Christmas, “something is starting to move, especially in the medium-high range. One thing is certain”, Nicolis continued, “those who had purchasing power have kept it, and those with lower incomes suffered most. In essence, sales of bottles under 80 euros have disappeared, but party wines are selling. Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo, Amarone della Valpoolicella, Bordeaux, and Champagne above all, while Burgundy experienced its peak sales in summer. Vinitaly left us orphans”, concluded Luca Nicolis, “and for us it is like having been eliminated in round 16 of the Champions Football League, but being used to playing the finals. That is what those five days are for us, the most beautiful and anticipated of the entire year”.
So, now let’s go to the capital, Rome, where wine shop rhymes with Trimani, the historic store in downtown Rome. “2020 was a weird year, and we were totally unprepared, but then again, nobody would have believed any of this at the beginning of the year”, said Carla Trimani. “However, we adapted quickly, consolidating e-commerce and social medias, thus migrating an big part of sales to shipments, especially during the first lockdown and until after Easter. The reopening also went well, the decline in sales was not as dramatic as one might have legitimately expected. Obviously, the HORECA channel felt the biggest impact, and from that point of view, so did we. We had a full agenda of activities and events, either ours or organized by our customers, which had to be almost totally skipped, because it becomes impossible to have an aperitif when you have to close at 6pm. the distribution channel is losing a lot, but we cannot complain as we are located in the center of Rome, and have a prestigious and historical clientele. During the lockdown we did some online tasting involving the winemakers, but it was limited, also because those who work ten hours in front of the computer cannot have fun while still in front of a screen”, says Carla Trimani, underlining an aspect that is common to all. The crisis, however, in these days just before Christmas, has been felt and seen above all “in corporate gifts, as a lot fewer have been given to customers, just like Christmas lunches and dinners with employees have been skipped. Then there are those who were able to save due to smart working, and buy a few more bottles, and actually there are quite a few. Uncertainty, however, reigns supreme, and the trend in purchases is fluctuating due also to the fact, as it happens in August, there are fewer and fewer people in Rome. However, at the top of sales, in this period, there are the best of Tuscany and Piedmont, from Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, Bolgheri, from Barolo to Barbaresco, but also Alto Piemonte. And also, Etna, Taurasi and Amarone, besides obviously bubbles, like Champagne, especially small producers, and Franciacorta, from Trentodoc to Conegliano Valdobbiadene”, concluded Carla Trimani.
Speaking of great Tuscan wines, between Siena and Montalcino, that is, between Brunello and Chianti Classico, the wine shops of Bruno Dalmazio are selling but they have very little to do with sales in the territory. “Especially in Montalcino, where we work as a city wine shop, so we don’t live on tourism, but on local customers, and our main job is distribution. After all”, Bruno Dalmazio explained, “there are 260 companies, and they are our main customers, who are looking for different bottles of wine from all over Italy and France. We have virtually never stopped working hard, but have had lower average receipts than usual. It is a different job, and in terms of volume it is even higher than a year ago, because since wine bars and restaurants are closed, people are tending to drink at home what in normal times they would have drunk outside. There will be no last-minute purchases in view of Christmas, while corporate gifts, as far as we are concerned, have not been an important factor for years. Up to now, however, it has been a bloodbath. After the initial panic, August and September went very well, but the Italian summer clientele makes different purchases from our usual target, therefore, the lower average level of bottles purchased really hit hard. Names such as Masseto, Ornellaia, Brunello di Montalcino from brands such as Salvioni, have not been mentioned for months, “The crisis is evidently heavily felt, but “it is not just a matter of money, the lack of wine culture and knowledge also weigh in,” said Dalmazio. “At the end, it is a vintage to forget, but there will be some great bottles under the tree, although more spirits such as Whiskey and Cognac and Champagne have sold more than Brunello di Montalcino, at least in our area.”
Finally, the WineNews tour of Italian wine shops stopped in Turin, at the historic Casa del Barolo, where “between direct sales and catering we have lost 70% of turnover. At Christmas, however, we have returned to selling quite well, despite the absence of a great deal of gifts. Limited movements have accelerated shipments, while the average price per bottle has shown some disparity, between those who can spend a lot and those who are forced to revise their spending downwards. We are selling many great reds from Langa, like Barolo and Barbaresco, but also a lot of Pinot Noir, which is selling very fast, from Sudtirol, France and Israel. Champagne is also doing very well, and is really selling a lot, while, Franciacorta is falling and instead on the whole bubbles are resisting”.

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