The 51st edition of Vinitaly, Italy’s premier wine fair, took over its hometown of Verona for four days April 9–12, mixing exuberant celebration with a sober examination of global changes affecting the wine industry.
The increasingly international fair drew 128,000 visitors from 142 countries; more than 30,000 foreign accredited wine buyers; and 4,270 exhibitors from 30 countries. Though Italian wine remained the star, this year’s edition also featured more exotic tastings, from Bordeaux-style blends from Ningxia, China, to English sparkling wine.
The fair launched with a celebration of Italy’s best. OperaWine, a partnership between Wine Spectator and Vinitaly, drew more than 1,000 invited guests to a tasting at the historic Palazzo Gran Guardia, showcasing wineries selected by Wine Spectator. The sixth edition included 104 wineries representing the country’s 20 regions and offering wines made from more than 60 grape varieties.
As the city’s population boomed 50 percent with the arrival of fairgoers, evening events and dinners filled Verona’s ornate palazzos, the city’s Roman arena and area wineries. At the historic Palazzo Giusti del Giardino, the Grandi Cru di Italia, an association of leading Italian wineries, held a charity auction of its members’ wines to benefit Dynamo Camp, a non-profit organization that helps children suffering from neurological disorders. This debut event raised €70,000, according to organizers.
Drawing consumers as well as professionals, Vinitaly is characterized by a chaotic charm. Customers at wine bars and cafes flow into the pedestrian streets of old Verona. Crowded buses carry participants to and from the fair each day. At a gas station/bar near the fairgrounds, a spontaneous bubbles party erupted each night, with producers, importers and their friends pouring everything from Prosecco to Champagne.
In addition to the merriment, Vinitaly is a time to take stock of Italian wine. This year’s edition featured hundreds of seminars and conferences on topics from terroir to grape varieties to marketing and communications. The many tastings ranged from broad regional overviews to focused verticals of leading producers.
Global trade and its future were also a focus, fueled by concerns about two key countries: the United States, where federal officials are considering tariffs on imported products, and the U.K., which recently began the process of exiting the European Union.
Meanwhile, the Italian wine industry continues to look east to the potential of the Chinese market. The fair’s theme was the new “Silk Road” for wine, and a marquee event showcased the Chinese wine and spirits giant 1919. CEO Robert Yang described his plan to grow from his current 1,000 retail stores to 6,000 stores by 2019, and pledged to boost Italian wine significantly in the next three years. Italy currently accounts for only about 5 percent of China’s wine imports, far behind France and Australia.
Trade tensions crept into the second day of the fair. Russia presented its first national stand, and featured numerous wines produced in Crimea. Italian finance police promptly confiscated them, because displaying the bottles violated the European Union ban on imports from the disputed region, annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014.
On the final day of Vinitaly, enologist Riccardo Cotarella and a group of his client wineries known as the Wine Research Team presented a well-attended seminar to explore “New Frontiers of Italian Viticulture and Enology.”
The group’s scientific director, Attilio Scienza, an agronomist at the University of Milan and consulting winemaker, explained that chief among those frontiers is finding sustainable solutions in a changing climate.
“Identifying clones and varietals that are resistant to drought—that can resist disease—this is the future,” he said. “This the first Vinitaly where so many producers are asking ‘How do we improve what we are doing?’” Take away the parties and merriment, and Italian wine still comes down to the vines in the soil.