I love Vinitaly, and have loved it since my first visit way back in the 1980s when spittoons were thought unnecessary by a surprising number of exhibitors. For anyone who has not been to this annual Verona event, it is unthinkably vast. There are no fewer than 17 halls (identified by a number from one to 12, and the first five letters of the alphabet) plus an upstairs area for Lombardy within the Veronafiere building.
Prowein is huge too, of course, but that fair is full of wines from every corner of the world. At Vinitaly, almost every drop on show is Italian.
Stepping back in time?
Every year, I walk the whole fair (11,000 paces, in case you were wondering) to try to sense how things have changed over the previous 12 months. This time, of course, I was comparing 2022 with 2019, and my overwhelming impression was almost of stepping back in time. Everything was nearly just as I’d remembered from last time: extraordinarily huge, two-storey stands; thousands of beautifully and occasionally implausibly dressed visitors (what kind of thinking goes into wearing stiletto heels at a big trade fair?); elaborately decorated halls and stands; people stepping outside to smoking – or more often now vape. The only obvious difference, of course, were the masks that were being worn by most of the people pouring on the stands and by a surprising number of visitors even as they walked from hall to hall in the open air.
Another more subtle but still very visible change was the increased focus on greenness. The words ‘Organic’ and ‘Bio’ seem to have crept onto a growing number of stands, along with the EU’s clever organic leaf symbol. The always-popular, dedicated organic section of the fair, seemed to be even busier than usual. And everywhere I went, I heard more talk of sustainability.
Which, to anyone like me, wandering the halls of Vititaly, raised a few questions.
Trade fairs are not known for being innately environmentally friendly. According to one 2014 report, US events annually generated 600,000 tons of rubbish. Anyone who has seen the bags full of glossy brochures that will never be read or watched an exhibition being dismantled and the piles of discarded material can imagine what went to make up that figure. And then of course, there are all the fossil fuels used by the exhibitors and attendees when travelling to the event.
Of course, in many cases, attending one fair may replace taking multiple buying – or sales – trips. But I doubt there are enough of these to redress the balance.
Most of the impressive stands at Vinitaly are simply rebuilt from one year to the next, of course so deserve recognition for not involving the wastage to be seen at fairs whose exhibitors have to show off a lavish new design every year. But they still come at an environmental and financial cost.
The other kind of sustainability
Which brings me to that other kind of sustainability: economic. As one top producer readily acknowledged, almost everything to be seen at Vinitaly 2022 came out of exhibitors’ 2020 budgets. The stands had been booked and effectively paid for before the pandemic.
Since then, the accountants have noticed that sales didn’t plummet over the two years when no money was spent on exhibiting at fairs like Vinitaly and Prowein – a saving for larger businesses of hundreds of thousands of euros.
What, those same bean counters are asking, if the stands were to be smaller and less extravagant next year?
I’ve no idea how many Italian wine producers will listen to that kind of suggestion: bella figura is in the national DNA, after all. But… Allegrini and Planeta, two of the brightest companies in Italy already seemed to be stepping in that direction this year, and my bet is on Vinitaly 2023 being a little less palatial.
Whether I’m right or wrong, I’m sure it will still be Vinitaly, and that I’ll still love it.