For anyone who has ever spent any time at Vinitaly in its springtime incarnation in Verona, the three-day ‘Special Edition’ that was just held in mid-October was disconcertingly like meeting a superstar in their jogging pants and without make-up.
Normally, this is an event where the wine competes for attention with the bella figura of the exhibition stands. Compared to Prowein or even Vinexpo, Vinitaly is a visual carnival where even the owners of the smallest estates have clearly put huge amounts of thought and effort into every detail of their presence. The bigger companies boast stands with upper floors where lucky and select guests can taste while snacking on antipasti and looking down on the hoards of common folk below.
And it’s huge – Prowein-scale huge. Each region has its own hall full of exhibitors, and the journey from, say, a meeting with a producer from Sicily to one with a Barolo estate, can easily take 10 minutes.
The Special Edition, was nothing like this.
There were just 300 stands, in two halls. Provinces that would have filled a building were squeezed into a few square metres. Everything was on a single level and in uniformly utilitarian form. Some of the biggest names in Italian wine were represented by one or two individuals and a table full of bottles. It was all oddly reminiscent of the annual World Bulk Wine Exhibition in Amsterdam which will be held in a few weeks.
Unlike that event, where English is the lingua franca, almost everyone at the 2021 Special Edition was talking Italian. Covid-19 had reduced the numbers of Americans, Germans, Chinese and Russians who would normally be thronging the corridors. It felt like a domestic event. And, this being Italy, those corridors and the stands often seemed to be as full of producers happily catching up with each other for the first time in nearly two years as with buyers: exhibitors visiting other exhibitors.
Talking to some of those people, however, it was clear that this wasn’t just a social event. Real business was being done. Thanks in part to the fact that the exhibition coincided with the Wine2Wine conference sessions in the same venue, there was no shortage of buyers.
And that raises some fascinating questions that apply to the wine industry as a whole. How much does it need events of the traditional scale of Vinitaly, Vinexpo and Prowein? What if, instead of splashing $100,000-250,000 on showing off at one of these events, wine businesses went for the dressed-down, utilitarian, low-key Special Edition ‘look’?
Some could simply bank the money they will had saved. Others might find other uses for at least some of it. As Pasqua, did, for instance, on the night before the opening of the Special Edition, with a party with a memorably immersive art installation for its distributors, customers and media in a nearby building,
Don’t expect to see much of this scaling-down next year when Vinitaly, Prowein and Vinexpo Paris all open their doors. Most exhibitors will be taking up space they committed to take and pay for, but could not use, in 2020 or 2021. The year to watch will be 2023, when the financial directors and accountants and company principals have had the chance to compare their business performance over the next 12 months with what they achieved in two years with Zoom and stripped-down events like Vinitaly Special Edition.
If I was an exhibition organiser whose income depends on the number of metres of space that has been sold, or a glitzy stand designer, I think I’d be concerned.