Six and the Cities | Italy tries to boost China share with wine roadshow

By Jim Boyce | Italy ranks with France and Spain as the world’s biggest wine exporters but it’s performance in China has been così così (so so) at best. It trails front-runners France and Australia, and has struggled to generate momentum, despite spending plenty of money.

A roadshow that taps into smaller cities hopes to change that story and boost the country’s share of bottled imported wine from 6 percent.

“It’s an important moment for consumers of Italian wine in China,” said Simone Incontro, the Greater China GM for Veronafiere, over lunch this month.

The four-city roadshow isn’t just hitting tried-and-true destinations like Beijing and Guangzhou — Xian and Zhengzhou are both on the map.

“Nationally, Italy has a 6 percent share (of imported wine), but in non-first tier cities it is less,” says Incontro.

He cites evidence of the enthusiasm in smaller cities by noting that 360 people in Xian had already registered to attend as of May 28.

Those guests will be able to try more than 500 wines from 50 exhibitors, including brands from Piedmont, Puglia, Sicily, Tuscany and Veneto.

If this sounds like projects done by Wines of Australia and Wines of Chile, among others, that’s no mistake. Incontro gives them credit for providing a road map.

He also says data helped determine the first stops. One example is the VinItaly website.

“We can see where traffic from China originates, and the top three are Beijing, Zhengzhou and Shanghai.”

As far as trends in China, Incontro says he hopes Lambrusco will be “the next big thing” and that more white wines from Italy gain prominence.

He says that while e-commerce and education are on everyone’s tongue, the situation is a bit more complicated, at least for Italy.

E-commerce is largely tied to big groups like Alibaba, Taobao and but Incontro says small- and medium-sized importers are crucial players.

“These importers believe in Italian wine, we learn from them, they are the ones bringing in the containers.”

As for wine education, he notes it is widespread, with many countries and regions offering certificates. Italy alone has a slew of programs, from the ONAV (National Organization of Wine Tasters) and AIS (Italian Sommelier Association) to Taste of Italy and VinItaly International.

But he cautions against focusing too much on this.

“Education is important, but Italian wine is complicated. If we give them [consumers] too much, they’re just going to drink more Riesling instead,” he says.

Instead, he says its important to also focus on the experience, to simply give people access to Italian wines in a fun setting.

“People want to meet the winemakers, they want to want to try the wines and touch the bottles, they want to get them signed.”

The roadshow is headed by VinItaly and VeronaFiere, with support from Pacco Communications, Italian Trade Agency and I Love Italian Wines.

See more about the roadshow, including the schedule, RSVP info and a list of exhibitors here.

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