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Business of Wine – Insights into VinItaly

VinItaly 2018

I was invited by Peter Jackson at Winestate to help introducing Australian wines inside the International Wine Pavilion at VinItaly 2018. 
First held in 1967, #VinItaly is considered the most important convention of domestic and international wines and the largest wine show in the world. It boasts about 5,000+ exhibitors from every corner of Italy. Surely the show does not live down its name; each Italian wine region warrants its own Pavilion with hundreds of well decorated booths.
There are so many wines from all over Italy, my head spins after walking around merely for 15 minutes. There are 600-700 different varieties in Italy; even if the grapes are the same genetically, because of the terroir they grow in, the taste is completely different. Unlike the Hong Kong Wine Show, which is positioned as premium and has a good representation as a trading hub for wines from all around the world, VinItaly is a show for every vineyards (big or small) to showcase their wine to all kinds of buyers. I have met lots of sommeliers (apparently 1 out of 3 who come to the VinItaly are sommeliers or studying to become one), wine bar owners, wine consultants, restaurants that are looking to buy a small quantity yet wide range of wine.
Top Tips for Doing Business in Wine
Tip #1 Network, network and more network!
Word of mouth is crucial in wine trade … in fact, in all kinds of business. Trade fair is just a convenient platform for buyers and sellers to meet. All the homework would need to be done outside of the four walls to do the deal. Consider wine dinner, wine education master class, network among the trades, private tour to the property for perspective buyers are all good channels to build up your brand and connections. 
Tip #2 Be presentable.
The way the wine trade works here is that certain large wine retailers/wholesalers would have hired a number of trusted wine consultants to visit mega wine fairs like VinItaly to look for the gems. These consultants would go back with a shortlist and the Head Buyers of these large corporates will balance the price and the taste with consumer/customer demands to choose which wines to purchase. Same principle applies to premium hotels, wine bars, and restaurants.
The trick here is, why would a wine consultant pick you out among thousands of other wines? Your personality and knowledge will make you shine through the crowd. Perhaps a glass before the show may help relax you into the craft of wine sales. Another bonus point is, using words by Jason Bowyer, Head Wine Buyer from Aldi Australia, “medals are extremely important.”
Tip #3 Gather market intelligence.
Another way to see trade show is for a new comer to learn about the market, the consumer taste preferences and price elasticity of your buyers. Europeans still prefer the big bold red with strong tannin and the “grippiness” in the mouth. They find Australian red “interesting” with softer tannin, higher alcohol (certain style), shorter finish, on a sweeter note, and easier to drink. Penfolds certainly has done a great job helping to pave the way for Australian red onto the world stage. In my opinion, more education is still required to educate Europeans on Australian styles of wine and develop a comfortable palate to drink new world wines. 
Tip #4 “Have wine on the lips”
A lot of buyers, especially those from outside of Italy, are looking for entry level wine that tastes like premium wine to present back to their bosses. Italians have spent centuries perfecting their wine making techniques and most wines are good wines. My observation is entry level wines starting from £5/bottle ex cellar wholesale, mid-level / blend (normally would have been in barrel for 2 years) starting from £10/bottle, premium starting from £40+/bottle. A gastronomical tour to the winery could be a way to tip these buyers over the deal.
Last but not least, I know it might seem trivial, one thing I really like about VinItaly is that the organiser provides unlimited glass washing service. I could use a fresh glass every time I poured a new wine. Nothing is worse than tasting a wine with the last one lingering at the bottom of my glass! 
#VinItaly2018 is now over – four days of very hard but satisfying work, four days of fun. I have meetings with wine connoisseurs and prestigious Italian wine families, some of whom have become friends. I am also honoured to introduce Australian wines to the Italian market. The show has been a great experience for my foray into the myriad business of wine. Thank you WineState for the opportunity and look forward to more future collaborations.