Verona without Vinitaly: Will the famed Italian wine fair ever be the same again?

Verona without Vinitaly: Will the famed Italian wine fair ever be the same again?
Visitors enjoy a wine tasting at a previous edition of the Vinitaly fair in Verona. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP
Verona residents are missing the city's Vinitaly wine fair, cancelled for a second year due to the coronavirus crisis. Writer Richard Hough asks whether such events will remain important in Italy - and tries a digital tasting instead.

As I suggested in my last column, wine is the lifeblood of Verona and the cancellation of the Vinitaly fair, for the second year in succession, has been a massive blow to the local wine community. 

The cancellation of the four-day event, which has been held every year since 1967, will be sorely felt by the many local businesses for whom it has become such an integral part of the city’s cultural and economic landscape. 

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A two-day special edition has been scheduled for October, but this presents certain logistical issues for wine producers, who are generally busy at the time of year with the harvest. 

The dates for next year’s event (10-13 April 2022) have already been announced and we hope that by then some degree of normality will have returned. 

But will mass wine-tasting events like Vinitaly ever be the same again? Or has the wine industry, like many other industries in the last twelve months, moved on?

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

One person who knows better than most about the impact of the lockdown on the local wine industry is Elisabetta Tosi, who has just published a book devoted to Verona’s most prestigious wine, Amarone Confidential, which explores the famous Valpolicella wine region in some depth, offering helpful tips and suggestions on everything from how to serve it to what to pair it with. 

For Elisabetta, “[w]e all are living an epochal change, and it would be naive to keep on doing things in the same way we were used to.” 

“Vinitaly,” she explains “was born in the roaring sixties and for over half a century has been working like a charm.”

Some producers, she observes, now fear that the “wine fairs model is over”, and that big international exhibitions like Vinitaly are a thing of the past. 

Although alternative ways of doing business have emerged during the lockdown, for Elisabetta, these alternatives lack something: “[W]e all need to return to meeting people, sharing tastings and traveling. Wine lovers have to come back to Verona!”

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Cristian Marchesini, president of Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella, agrees. He recently stated: “Vinitaly is a fundamental engine for the Verona system, for the companies of our territory and the entire wine sector.” 

Matilde Poggi, a Bardolino wine producer provides a note of caution: “Wine fairs like Vinitaly will be – or should be – the last ones to re-open and to go back to normality, because they are always too crowded,” she says. 

“Wine is a particular product: it needs to be nosed, tasted and discussed… in the wine business human contact is a fundamental aspect, and for this reason I continue to believe in the importance of Vinitaly”. 

Carlo Boscaini is another producer from Valpolicella who agrees with the importance of the sector to Italy’s overall recovery: “If the special event is to be held next autumn it will have a symbolic value… a sign of hope and optimism for the world of wine and also a way to focus the attention of policy-makers on our sector.”

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

I’ve been lucky enough to attend Vinitaly (in a strictly professional capacity of course) for a number of years now, and its cancellation this year was yet another disappointment in a year full of them! To make up for my disappointment, and to lend my support to the local wine-producing community, I decided to host a tasting of my own, with the help of some of the region’s most innovative wine producers.

The Pasqua brothers came to Verona from Puglia in 1925 and began trading in wine from their native region. Not content with merely trading, they soon established a vineyard of their own in Verona and quickly built up a reputation for quality and innovation. By the 1960s, the second generation had begun to exploit the global demand for Italian wine and expand the research and development capacity of the family business. 

The family winery is now in the hands of the third generation of wine-producers, with seven vineyards dispersed around Valpolicella and the surrounding regions. 

While the lockdown has created challenges for the wine industry, particularly those wineries whose business model depends on visiting tourists, the Pasqua winery has developed a digital tasting experience and a virtual tour of the winery. So, even if you can’t make it to Verona, there are a number of local wineries who are trying to bring the vineyard experience to you.

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Of course, nothing will replace the multi-sensory experience of visiting a winery – the natural of beauty of the vines, the intoxicating aroma of the cantina, the friendly conversation with the producer – but taking delivery of a digital tasting box comes pretty close.

The box I tried included a bottle opener and a pair of wine glasses, tasting notes and a guest pass to visit the vigneto when it finally reopens, as well, of course, as a couple of bottles of wine.

So, on Easter Sunday we held our own tasting. The first bottle we uncorked was a rosè from the Pasqua winery called 11 Minutes. Beautifully presented in a high-shouldered bottle with distinctive glass ‘cork’, the name of the wine refers to the duration of the skin contact time during the pressing process, just enough to give the wine its delicate pale rosé colour.

The wine itself is still, fresh and crisp, ideal as a light aperitivo or to kickstart a special spring/summer occasion.

For lunch we were having roast beef all’inglese and the PassioneSentimento was the ideal companion. Designed by Riccardo Pasqua to appeal to a new generation of wine lovers, the label will be familiar to anyone who has ever visited Verona, as it incorporates the graffiti that surrounds Juliet’s balcony.

Full-bodied and silky smooth, it was perfect for our Easter lunch at home in the red zone. 

Of course, digital tastings and virtual tours are fun, but they have their limitations. The best way to experience Verona’s wine is to come to the city itself, but that, I’m afraid, may require a little more patience.

Richard Hough has lived in Verona since September 2011 and writes about the region’s history, football, wine and culture. His first book, Notes from Verona, a short collection of diary entries from inside locked down Italy, is available here. He is currently researching his next book about wartime Verona.


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