ProWein 2012 – Specialist Article Series: Wine Business in…Italy

Cards are Reshuffled - Italy is to feature at ProWein 2012 with an all-new basis. Two factors are stimulating the structural change which primarily mean one thing: wines will be more expensive.

2011 brought Italy the smallest harvest since 1948 – something which may have been desirable in the crisis years 2008/2009. Meanwhile, however, the upswing in the export business already emerging in 2010 also consolidated. In the first half of 2011 international wine exports rose some 16% over the same period last year. Posting the strongest growth rates were exports to Russia and China while the US market also saw double-digit growth. After the Fukushima catastrophe Japan once again revived noticeably and in Great Britain Italy became the second most important wine-importing nation after Australia. On the large, saturated German market Italy achieved a huge plus of 11% by the end of September 2011 – very likely also benefiting from Germany’s low harvest in 2010. While exports of bottled non-sparkling wine rose by some 5%, sparkling and barrel wines posted respective pluses of 30% and 33%.


While still able to fall back on ample stocks in 2010 Italian cellars are now more or less empty. Grape prices shot up due to markedly lower production along with a noticeable increase in demand. The most sought after varieties are now fetching 30% to 50% higher prices.


Not All Prices Have to Rise
While wine producers drawing solely on their own harvest for production might be hit by a largely reduced harvest they are not affected by rising grape prices. If at all, they will merely adapt their prices to the inflation rate.


Abruzzi, Apulia und Sicily were hit most heavily by the harvest losses. “Structural change is emerging because the traditional cheap wine suppliers no longer exist. Basic wine prices from these regions have risen by 30%,” explains Dr Alexander Hofer, Managing Director of GIV Germany responsible for the export of GIV wines to China and Great Britain. “If prices have changed at all over the past four years then it is in the downward direction despite the rise in production costs. International trade now faces a great challenge as the wines will be an average 10% dearer.”


Those not trading with southern Italian partners seek their chances in Veneto. This northern Italian region has at its disposal, for the 6th time in a row, the largest volume of wine in Italy. Denominations like Soave and Valpolicella are not suffering any particular harvest losses. However, here it is true to say where demand rises so too do prices. Even without new retailers who otherwise use southern Italian wine producers, prices for origin denominations like Prosecco, Valpolicella and Bardolino are rising dangerously. This may be pleasing to wine-growers but, as market forces dictate, significant wine increases mean drops in consumption which in turn bring price adjustments – which is rather like scoring an own goal. On the other hand, the market has become more unpredictable.


“In this situation it is hard to talk about trends that might emerge in 2012,” notes Italy specialist Andreas Saffer, Managing Director of Saffer GmbH in Munich, whose portfolio serves the restaurant/catering trade and wholesale. “It was clear that prices had to rise but it all came too quickly. Southern Italy was a strong trend but may see a drop now. The Veneto is seeing a remarkable upswing. The good value for money of its fruity and drinkable wines is being rewarded.” Alexander Hofer confirms the growing popularity of Veneto wines and also still sees southern Italy centrestage for international consumers. “The UK market is nevertheless still marked by its predilection for Pinot Grigio, which accounts for nearly half the country’s Italian wine imports followed by Prosecco and Soave. Fiano has also asserted itself. With the red wines Chianti is trumps followed by the southern Italians and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. The British have less of an emotional attachment to Italy than the Germans. They buy what is cheap as the tax on alcohol rises year on year. While Italy stands ranks second for wine imports here after Australia this could change if Chile makes favourable offers next year."


In any case, in 2012 the Italian wine sector will once again boost the mood in Hall 3 at ProWein, especially since wines is the 2011 vintage are of a surprisingly good quality. Producers will use the trade fair as a hub for the international wine trade more intensively than ever before. Over the past two years they have travelled the world to an extent never seen before to conquer new export markets. They wish to foster their links not only with German, Swiss, Austrian and northern European dealers but also take advantage of the opportunities offered by the increasing number of trade visitors from threshold markets. This is because the hopes of the Italian wine sector are heavily pinned on exports in view of the constant drop in wine consumption at home. For the first time in its history in 2011 Italy will sell more than half its total wine production abroad.


The author Veronika Crecelius has been involved with the world of Italian wine for 15 years now. She was editor at the gourmet magazine “Der Feinschmecker”, writer under contract for the journal SZ-Magazin and has written for magazines such as “Essen & Trinken”, “Geo Saison”, “Merian”, the “ADAC reisemagazin” and many more. Since the end of 2008 she has worked as Italy correspondent for the wine magazine “Weinwirtschaft” published by Meininger Verlag and holds many seminars and tastings.

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