An interview with Italy Country Manager, Pierpaolo Penco
Based in Italy, Pierpaolo is a wine consultant to the Italian wine industry, as well as a wine marketing lecturer. He collaborates with several Italian wine consortiums, associations and wineries in the areas of strategy, marketing, communication & PR, product development and wine tourism. His articles on Italian wine have been published in several leading magazines.
What kinds of projects are you currently working on?
Earlier this year, Wine Intelligence Italy signed a partnership with Unione Italiana Vini (UIV) – the leading Italian wine trade organization that represents around 500 wineries, more than 50% of the total turnover of the Italian wine industry and around 85% of exports. UIV is also the editor of Corriere Vinicolo, the B2B weekly magazine which has just reached its 90th anniversary. Through this partnership, Wine Intelligence will provide our services to the UIV associated wineries and to the EU funded projects UIV is managing for them. For example, we are helping to monitor EU certification scheme awareness in Canada, Japan and Russia as well as promotional activities by the Conzorzio DOC Sicilia in the US.
What kind of trends have you seen recently in the Italian wine market?
Like other markets, the trends currently leading the Italian wine market are the long-term decline of daily wine consumption and the progressive premiumisation of consumer behaviour. Therefore, there is moderation in everyday consumption, but more people drinking occasionally when socialising and spending more. These trends are being mirrored across the alcohol beverage industry, with growing interest in craft beer and spirits such as gin and vermouth. Perhaps, the opening of new cocktail bars, and the increase in mixology in high-end restaurants, are the new fashionable trends, but we will have to wait and see.
What are the biggest external factors (social, political etc) currently influencing your market at the moment?
Unfortunately, the economic situation in Italy is not improving – taxation remains very high and bureaucracy is not aiding interest in private investments. The political conflict between traditional, EU-oriented parties and emerging radical movements is becoming more extreme, and there has been no movement by governments of any political colour to bring in new laws that would help develop GDP. Luckily for producers, wine is firmly embedded in Italian culture.
Do you think there is strong opportunity for alternative wines in your market?
Organic, biodynamic and ‘natural’ products are growing in popularity amongst Italian wine consumers. Organic is no longer a niche choice, but an increasingly popular option appreciated by consumers. The main motivators driving this growth are a deepening sensitivity towards health and environmental issues, which have contributed to the spread of organic products amongst many industries including retail and large-scale distribution.
Interestingly, the organic, natural and biodynamic trend is also involving progressively more premium consumers, with iconic alternative brands emerging that seem to have captured a loyal audience. There are several young producers currently pushing their way into the market, producing wines of alternative types, forgotten vines and innovative packaging, hoping to align with the niches of younger consumers less sensitive to large, mainstream brands.
What do you think are future opportunities for the wine industry in general?
Moving forward, I am intrigued by new generations of wine consumers and what their relationship with wine will be. I am 51 years old and part of a generation that has favoured the premiumisation of Italian wine – turning wine into a hobby and part of one’s lifestyle. Today, while teaching wine marketing and participating in alternative wine fairs and events, I try to compare myself to younger consumers. What I have noticed is a strong but segmented interest in wine. There are those who drink alternative wines and craft products, those who mainly consume wine mixed into cocktails or aperitifs and those who are showing a preference for spirits. If we focus specifically on Millennials, I think there is a difference between older, ‘fashionable’ wine drinkers – who turn to a famous brand when choosing a bottle – and younger consumers in their twenties, for which the weight of brands is not yet clear. However, it seems to me that many wineries continue to act as if there are no changes on the horizon.
What is your favourite wine at the moment and why?
Although I never tire of drinking Champagne and Pinot Noir, this summer I finally managed to do some healthy wine tourism in the North of the Rhone Valley – climbing the mythical Hermitage hillside as well as Côte Blonde and Brune. Here, thanks to some purchases made in France and to some old bottles resting in my cellar, my friends, family and I have enjoyed some Cornas, Saint Josephs, Côte Rôtie and Crozes Hermitage.