Talking about Russia when it comes to wine markets is delicate . We interviewed Eleonora Scholes asking more clearly in light of the recent political and economic aspects . Eleanor is a journalist , an expert in the wine industry , known worldwide , with more than 10 years of experience in the fields of wine journalism , event management , public speaking , market research and consulting . Publishing www.spaziovino.com, important Russian-language online magazine that deals with lifestyle and the best Italian wines .
How can an Italian wine producer have more certainty to create business in the Russian market?
Every international market, no matter Russian, American or Asian, has its own risks and volatilities. Nobody can totally control them, but businesses can seek to minimize them. Firstly, by keeping updated with the situation. The Russian market is very dynamic, things can change quickly. Sometimes even after a short period, such as 6-12 months, the market situation can significantly change. It is important to understand what happens in the market now, to be able to react to it correctly. Secondly, it is likely to be safer to create and conduct business with right partners. There is a well known number of Russian importers with a proven track record. They have survived through various crises and are better prepared to deal with them. Admittedly, it is not easy for new producers to introduce their wines in the portfolios of such importers, but it is not impossible.
In this situation of Russian embargo, what can we expect?
The embargo concerns only food products. Italian wine producers can consider themselves fortunate, because wine was not banned. Wine producers are able to continue to export wines to Russia. Now Italy is the biggest wine importing country in Russia. Food producers were not so lucky. Nobody can predict the situation in the near future, but the ban is likely to be lifted as soon as political situation is stabilised. It is in the interest of both our countries.
Despite the uncertainty, can we be optimist for the future?
We must be! Italy and Russia have strong links, not only economic, but also cultural. Russians have positive emotional attachment to Italy. It translates into many things. Italy is a very popular tourist destination for Russians. Russians love Italian food and fashion. Italian wines in Russia are viewed as trendy and sophisticated: it is up to Italian producers to keep this image!
How do you view the potential of Italian wine in your country in terms of market potential?
Among all countries who export wine to Russia, Italy is a very important player. It has the second largest share after France in the segment of imported wines. Italy grew its share quite strongly in the past 5 years. This perfomance is particularly impressive, considering that other traditional leaders such as France, Spain and Germany are stagnating or losing their market presence. But Italy can achieve more. Southern Italian wines, with the exception of Sicily, are not so widely present on the Russian market. Even well established regions, like Tuscany or Veneto, have room to expand.
How do you think Italian producers can improve their performance in your country? What do you suggest?
I think Italian producers understand very well the importance of promotional activities on the Russian market. They have already done a lot, and they need to continue to do so. On the level of independent producer associations and consortiums it often happens that they organise small events individually. There is no coordination between them. This can be confusing and simply too much for Russian operators. One large regional event has more impact than 3-4 small sub-regional events. Italians need to learn to join forces to be more effective. Tasting events which are most appreciated by Russian trade always have an educational element – for example, regional subzones, terroir differences, trends, etc. Many Italian events are quite ‘superficial’ in this respect, unfortunately. Most activites carried out by Italian producers in Russia are trade-oriented. Now it is time to focus more on consumers. Such activities should be carried out in partnership with Russian importers and other operators who have local knowledge and can suggest right actions.
Do you think that Internet and social media could help to re-shape the final consumer’s perception of Italian wine?
In Russia, traditional communication channels and advertising, through which people can get information on wine, are severely restricted or prohibited. The Russians build their perceptions through real-life human interaction and personal experience. For example, looking at the selection of Italian wines in a shop, sharing a bottle of wine at home with family and friends, going to an Italian restaurant in Russia, and, of course, visiting Italy. Internet and social media are important tools for spreading information about wine, especially when other communication channels are almost absent in Russia. As publisher of SpazioVino.com, I can confirm that Russian consumers actively search wine-related information on the Internet. They are interested in everything – individual wines, wine styles, producers, regions. About 40% of our website traffic comes through searches. SpazioVino.com is a Russian-language online magazine about fine Italian wines.
What do you think of the quality/price ratio of Italian wines?
Overall, the ratio is reasonable. Even the most acclaimed Italian wines, for example top Barolo and Super Tuscan, are more attractively priced than French wines of similar status. Many wines from Southern Italy offer excellent value, but it is possible to find such examples in every Italian region.
What qualities do you personally appreciate most in Italian wines?
They are great ambassadors of Italian lifestyle. They have emotional appeal, they are able to create ‘magic’. They have strong cultural background. I appreciate their diversity and strong ties with their places of origin. They are also very food-friendly, which is an important aspect of the wine drinking culture.
What is your advice to Italian producers looking to enter your market?
The advice will be no different than for any other country. Do your homework. Study the market. Check if your type of product has demand, if not, then whether you will be able to create the demand. Look for right partners. Have patience and determination. Be realistic. Once your wines are in the market, support them. Do not expect your importer to do all the work for you. Create relevant marketing and communication plans. Have long-term commitments.