USA: Learn to love the road, because it is on the road where all of this grows and flourishes.

timthumb (3)Narrow down your focus, in the beginning. Choose one state, two cities, three wines, keep it simple. There is still room for Italian wines in the Victory Garden. But you’ll need to bring your shovel and dig in. If you want to still be here in 100 years. Interview at Alfonso Cevola

Alfonso is the Corporate Director for Italian Wines for Glazer’s. His blog On the Wine Trail in Italy , is rated one of the top wine blogs in the world and is the winner of the 2012 Wine Blog Award in the Best Single Subject Category.
In recognition of noteworthy support of the wines of Italy in America the Italian Trade Commission honored Alfonso with the Distinguished Service Award for a longtime commitment and contribution to the Italian wine industry in 2009. He is the 2013 recipient of the Vinitaly International Award, given for a lifetime of service with Italian wine.
How do you view the potential of Italian wine in your country in terms of market potential?

We’re looking at an 8-10% growth for 2015.

How do you think Italian producers can improve their performance in your country? What do you suggest?
Scale – if you make 10,000 bottles of wine, do you really need to be in America? Is it worth the time and the effort and the expenditure of energy? Really? Does it matter that much if you are only in 23 countries rather than 24? Do you really understand the complexities of state laws, the transportation issues, the various legal issues, label-approval issues, compliance and infrastructure needed to “make it” in America? If these words seem confusing to you, don’t look to America to sell your wine.
The relationship factor – Do you have the time and the warm body to send to America – to live, not to just visit during off seasons in Italy, and to work and travel constantly, building those relationships which will most likely take a generation? Again, if this sounds incomprehensible to you, don’t look to America to sell your wine. Because in the 21st century, the business of selling any wine means, at this time, going through wholesalers and distributors and they have been consolidating for 25+ years. And yes, there are plenty of small, mom-and-pop operations around the country, and that might work for you. But again, unless you are willing to sacrifice your first born to come to America, to become an American and work and live and make it happen, don’t dream any further.
By the way, there are those people who are making that commitment along with the generations of Italians, such as my grandfather’s and grandmother’s, who left all they knew and loved behind to reach their goal. If you want to do this, you will need one of yours or a person as close to your family as you can gather, who will re-settle in the hinterland of America (not just NY or LA). Oh, and you might not want to take all of the month of August off to relax. Your competition won’t.
Work the markets (not just NY) and keep prices in line with their world competitors.
Do you think that Internet and social media could help to re-shape the final consumer’s perception of Italian wine?

They have helped, but the #1 most important thing in shaping consumer’s perception is having a relationship with them – that means coming to America to work the markets every year.

What do you think of the quality/price ratio of Italian wines?

Very good. Always a good value. What the world needs now isn’t another Super Tuscan selling for above $30 on the shelves in America. Few care who has owned the property for 300 years. We are all the center of our own universe, and America (or Italy or China) isn’t any different in that practice.

What qualities do you personally appreciate most in Italian wines?

That they go well with all kinds of food, not just Italian.

What is your advice to Italian producers looking to enter your market?
If I hear from a producer that their wine respects their centuries-old tradition while also embracing innovation, I hit the delete button. End of discussion. Get a new line.
The whole luxury/class/status thing, in America, is so different from Italy as to have no mutual meaning for the two societies. At a recent meeting in Rome with a government official of the Italian trade commission at very high levels, there was a lengthy discussion of the Italian love for luxury brands. The Italian affection is different than the way Americans select their products and adornments. The simple answer is: It just isn’t as important. Don’t market your wines using status to a country until you figure out what is important to them.
In these days what is important? Organic (not fake or “applied” but really intrinsically organic) is important. Sustainable is too. Carbon footprint is making pathways into our collective consciousness in America. (Finally, when 5% of the population consumes 25% percent of the world energy, something’s got to give, eventually.) Value ranks, sometimes higher than a 90+ rating. Remember this is the land of Wal-Mart, so it better be organic and not cost like a Ferrari. Or an Audi.
Learn to love the road, because it is on the road where all of this grows and flourishes. My friend, Eugenio Spinozzi, who passed away nine years ago, was on the road for 25+ years. It wore him out. But he helped to build the business of wineries that is still intact long after he has gone. And yes, there have been many during his life and after who also helped and were instrumental in that growth. But he was the face; he was the relationship-factor that put it in play.
Think positive, but have long term realistic goals. Know the culture you are pitching is different from yours. You don’t have to learn English, but a study of the American culture is indispensable. Look, when my grandfathers came here 100 years ago, there wasn’t the infrastructure and the communications, and the opportunities, which exist now. The difference is, today, there are too many choices, too much information, maybe even too many opportunities

Serena Aversano 

www.winemeridian.com

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