Five European winemakers tell their own stories of “fighting disease” in the face of the epidemic in the main wine producing countries.
According to the WHO real-time statistics, as of 18:00 CET on March 28 (01:00 GMT on March 29), 575,444 cases of new coronary pneumonia had been diagnosed worldwide, with 26,654 deaths, and there have been 201 countries and regions with new cases of coronary pneumonia, with more than 490,000 cases of new coronary pneumonia diagnosed outside of China.
The epidemic that has spread around the world has also affected many wine-producing countries, including France, Italy and Spain, and the situation is becoming increasingly severe, with increasingly stringent prevention and control policies and measures. After experiencing a significant reduction in production in 2019, the European wine industry, which has been bubbling in cold water for almost an entire year, did not usher in the dawn of recovery this spring, but instead plunged into the freezing point again because of the epidemic.
Against this backdrop, are local wineries’ production operations being affected? Since the outbreak, how have they responded to the unexpected challenges? What are their new countermeasures for the easing of the epidemic in China?
Cloud Wine Headlines (micro signal: Cloud Wine Headlines) interviewed five wine executives to hear their stories about the “fight against plague” and their latest insights into the imported wine market.
"The rest of the year will be focused on the Asia-Pacific market, with China being the center of gravity."
Presenter: Marco Millani
Head of Asia Pacific Marketing, Zenato, Italy
First of all, I’d like to thank China for their great support for Italy over the past few weeks, and it’s wonderful to see how many wonderful things we can do when we come together.
I’m sending this message from the north of Italy, from the region of Lombardy, which has been most affected by the neo-coronary pneumonia epidemic, and the situation here is similar to what was previously seen in Hubei Province of China. So I’m sure the people of Hubei who are listening to this message will be able to relate to me. We’re starting to get some optimism here about the epidemic, but I’d rather leave it to the doctor to talk about the epidemic situation, where we talk about wine and our market in China.
As you know, the wine market is going through a difficult time right now, with restaurants in Europe and the United States closed, restaurants in Asia closed a long time ago, hotels around the world empty, and wine distribution blocked in many parts of the world. But I think that if we do what we did a few weeks ago, if we stick together and face this together and support our importers and distributors, we can get through this difficult period.
Let’s talk a little bit about what’s happening with the Zenado winery. I’m starting to see positive signs in the Asia Pacific region, which will be the first appellation to recover from the outbreak, and I’m already seeing some positive numbers. For the rest of the year, the focus will be on the Asia Pacific market, and China is going to be that focus. It’s very important for us to invest in China and we’re going to invest in our customers and our distributors to support them this year, because China and Asia as a whole is where we’re going to be focusing this year. I hope to go to China soon and visit all my Chinese friends and customers and have a glass of Amarone wine with you.
In terms of how exactly we will support and invest in the Chinese market, I think the best strategy is to support the market with cash in order to address the cash crunch. I think the best way to support and invest in the Chinese market is to give cash to the market, to support importers to work with partners, to go directly into restaurants, hotels. Compared to previous years, I think this year we’re going to invest a significant amount, a larger amount, to pay for wine dinners, tasting dinners, events, master classes that our clients host in hotels, and in that way, we’re investing directly in our clients.
That way, our importers will be happy because they don’t have to pay that fee; the hotels and restaurants will be happy because they finally have cash coming in, and the restaurants will have a better relationship with the importers, so it’s a win-win situation, and the importers, the restaurants and the market will all benefit. I think that’s one of our main strategies for this year in the Mainland China market. I’m also using this time to better understand the market and get ready for us to come back.
"A light goes up to shine on others."
Narrated by Luis Jo
Director, Asia Pacific, Feste Spain
I’m Luis Qiu, a Chinese who grew up in Spain, and now I’m the Asia Pacific Director of bodegas Faustino in Spain. (Editor’s note: The winery’s agent in China is COFCO Mingzhuang Vera)
When I first learned about the serious epidemic in China, I told Ms. Lourdes, the owner of the winery, who is the fourth generation of the Feste family and is commonly known as “Big Sister”. The Feste family is the head of the wine industry in the Rioja region of Spain, and they are known as philanthropists.
When “Big Sister” learned about the epidemic in China, she immediately asked all the sales staff of the winery to help purchase face masks and medical supplies from all over Europe, and entrusted Ms. Aline Bao from COFCO Grand Vineyard, who happened to be on vacation in France, to consign a dozen pieces of luggage (N95 face masks) to Beijing on her way back to China, and then donate them directly to Wuhan.
The domestic epidemic must have a great impact on our winery, as the Chinese market is our third largest export market in the world and one of the most promising growth countries for our winery. The outbreak of neo-crown pneumonia is a great financial and resilience challenge for the company and an opportunity for quality companies to ‘overtake the curve’. In addition, with the end of the epidemic, consumers will certainly be pursuing a healthier lifestyle, increasing their demand for wine and paying more attention to brands and quality products.
In the middle of March, the epidemic in Spain took a sharp turn for the worse, and all kinds of epidemic prevention supplies were scarce, masks were no longer available in traditional supermarkets and pharmacies. As a Chinese who grew up in Spain, Spain is my second home, and I was very anxious.
As I am also the president of the “Chinese and Western Wine Cultural Exchange Association”, I immediately called on all overseas Chinese entrepreneurs in Spain to help collect masks and medical protective equipment in China to support local medical and police personnel in Spain. The police officers who received our donations were very touched and said that we Chinese and Spaniards are truly united.
They said that we Chinese and Spaniards are truly united, and that the light that goes up can shine on others. Our spontaneous act of donation was reported several times on TVE, the Spanish national TV news network, and we were also interviewed by la Cope Herrera, one of the hottest radio programs in Spain. Ms. Lourdes, the owner of the winery where I work, heard about my donation and immediately asked me to help her purchase over 100,000 N95 masks from China and fly them from Shanghai to the hospitals in the most affected areas of Spain.
The epidemic in Spain continues to worsen, and is now the second most affected area in Europe by the neo-coronary pneumonia epidemic. After the Spanish government read the previous report about us Chinese donating masks, it entrusted me to help purchase a large amount of medical supplies in China and send them to the hospitals in the affected areas.
To be honest, the epidemic in Europe has not affected the sales of our winery, but our sales in major supermarket chains in Europe have skyrocketed, because everyone stays at home.
The only gratifying thing during this time was to see the epidemic improving in China, where China became the first country to come out of the epidemic, buying valuable time for other countries and providing great assistance to many.
On March 13, a Spanish hashtag “Gracias China” appeared on Twitter, under which I saw a number of Spanish netizens writing: Thank you to all Chinese people. Although I am a big man, my heart is very touched. I hope that after the second quarter, I can hold tastings in different parts of China as in previous years to promote our winery’s brand.
Bless China and pray for Spain.
"We all make the best of difficult times."
Presenter: Giovanni Angoscini
An Italian wine importer who travels frequently between Italy and China.
My name is Giovanni Angoscini, I live in Italy and I have set up a wine importing company with two other partners, one of whom is Chinese. Our company is called: Zefiro-GSL.
I’m from the city of Brescia in the Italian region of Lombardy, which is one of the most industrialized regions in Europe and one of the most economically developed regions in Italy. To give you a rough idea, up until 20 years ago, 90% of the world’s tableware and household goods were actually produced in a small village of just 20,000 people in Lombardy, called Lumezzane, which is only 10 minutes from my hometown. It’s a fairly affluent area, known over the years for being hardworking and lavish with money!
My region is known for producing wine – well, almost everywhere in Italy, which explains why I am passionate about wine and the main reason why I later decided to transition from being a wine lover to a wine importer (to China) and distributor (to Italy).
Well, my hometown has recently been hit incredibly hard by a new coronavirus. Currently …… mid March …… we cannot predict any specific effective strategy and the solution to the epidemic is far from being discovered. We are being asked to stay home for extended periods of time while several major local industries remain open and functioning. Thousands of people are still going to their workplaces every morning because it is the only thing they can and want to do.
Meanwhile, thousands of people are being treated in hospitals. The latest figures show that we have counted nearly 7,000 cumulative deaths (as of the date of publication, the number has risen to 9,134), with the vast majority of those deaths occurring in the Lombardy region.
The situation is dire, the data is depressing, and we have spent a lot of time over the past few weeks trying to make sense out of this situation, but no one wants to accept the simple idea that we have become so fragile and vulnerable. We preferred to risk illness rather than prevent harm because of our arrogance and “very Westernized” belief that “someone or something” should take good care of us. Even today, when we face the consequences of such bad attitudes, people do not want their freedom to be restricted.
I wish we could and should have privacy and health at the same time, rather than confrontation.
Instead of trying to avoid disease, we seem to have decided to get sick and hopefully cured! After this necessary and rather painful introduction, let me try to return to the main topic of this occasion: how the outbreak of the new coronavirus will change the Italian wine business and Italy’s exports to other countries. It’s an ambitious topic, but I’d rather talk about my personal experience during this time.
When the novel coronavirus outbreak occurred in China, we were caught completely off guard, but since my company does business in both China and Europe, we were always aware of the outbreak. When the outbreak spread to Italy, we were somehow prepared instead and knew how to strike. The only aim was to do everything we could to keep the business running during the crisis.
In China, e-commerce is so widespread that we decided to work more closely with those important online e-commerce platforms. Considering that difficult times have a big impact on the trading business, but much less on private consumption, we tried to create interesting factsheets about our wines and wineries that people might be interested in reading in order to combine a good product with interesting content and valuable services.
The epidemic has changed our daily life and habits, and the Chinese, like the Italians, find it difficult to get out of the house and participate in the community. This is why people are willing to create a joyful atmosphere at home, and wine and spirits are effective in helping to keep emotions high and make family isolation less torturous, so this in turn helps the sale of alcoholic products in many European countries.
We have also launched our e-commerce platform in Italy, adding a special service that offers free delivery to people from my hometown with no minimum order and a welcome gift for new customers who join our platform. To this end, we have progressively implemented our sales strategy to ensure that the business runs and has the capacity to cover the fixed costs that the company needs to pay, as well as the payment of outstanding invoices and general arrears.
China and Italy are two countries with which we have very close relations and we are very grateful for China’s assistance to Italy in times of crisis, and I am even proud to be an Italian who has been selling Italian wines in China for many years.
To conclude my presentation today with a quote from Albert Einstein: we all do our best in difficult times.
"At least there's a faint glow in."
Presenter: Valentina Abbona
Young owner of Marchesi di Barolo, Italy
I must admit that the situation is horrific and that we are somewhat caught off guard. We all imagined that the situation would improve quickly, and yet we have to face a real crisis.
All the hotels, restaurants and bars in Italy, which make up nearly 50% of our winery business, have been temporarily closed, leaving the entire food and beverage consumption channel, and consequently wine consumption, incredibly battered. We have to be very flexible with our customers and not rush payments, which can become very complicated for a business, especially a family-owned winery like ours (Editor’s note: Marchesi di Barolo is one of the most iconic wineries in the Barolo region of Italy’s Piedmont region, with a history dating back to the 12th century).
Obviously, our winery tours and tastings are at a standstill. This is not only a policy, but also a sign of respect, as we must all comply with the directives given by the government, but at the same time, the winery must also ensure the safety of all its employees and their families, which is a responsibility we should carry.
In the vineyards, nature follows its ancient rhythms. Spring does not stop with epidemics and the vines are still green, so pruning and other seasonal operations must be carried out as usual.
In our winery, the wine is still in the pouring and leaching stages of fermentation, because the wine flows along its path and must be prepared in case of emergency.
Also in the office, we have to keep up the necessary operations, for example, transporting the wine to our agents abroad, where we have placed orders. There is some concern that these orders from export markets will soon stop, as we really can’t predict when the global recovery will come.
This is a serious moment and we all have a responsibility, even if the situation is particularly difficult for the world of wine, which thrives on social interaction. It is a moment that teaches us to be altruistic: Italy is suffering and it is time to make sacrifices to protect others, especially vulnerable people like our grandparents, in the hope that these sacrifices will soon allow this beautiful country to get back on its feet.
For a few weeks, our operations in China came to a complete standstill: the offices of the Chinese importers were closed and everyone was isolated. Although we were in regular contact with the importers, it was mostly to find out about their current health, not to discuss business. Now is the time to care about your business partners, not to do business.
Now we are finally seeing signs of a trend reversal, which is a hopeful sign for the economy and health. We believe it’s too early to make predictions, but at least there is a faint glimmer of light.
"Don't worry about the Chinese market being out of stock for a while."
Presenter: Luca Contessi
Export Manager, Tenuta di Angoris, Italy
Despite the “closure” of Italy, my winery, Angoris, is still open because the food and beverage companies are allowed to work during the blockade, although the number of workers has been reduced considerably.
The winery, located in the Friuli region of northeastern Italy, is able to stay open because it follows all the rules of the blockade, such as disinfecting the working environment daily, providing workers with masks, gloves and disinfectant, and ensuring a safe distance at all times.
For myself and most people who work in an office, it is now necessary to work remotely from home. As I’m sure you’re already aware, Italy has been hit hard by the neo-crown epidemic, but everyone has done their best to keep their composure in the face of this emergency, and the government is trying to help businesses get through it in a variety of ways.
However, wine sales have fallen in most channels: tourism and restaurants in Italy have been blocked and, as in many other countries, food and beverage channels and tourist visits to wineries have been completely disrupted. The retail channel, on the other hand, did not stop and, just as in many countries people drink wine at home to pass the time, supermarkets remained open during the closure and did very good business.
For the Chinese market, most of the importers’ stocks are for the peak season during the Chinese New Year, but most of them are now in warehouses, so there is no need to worry about the Chinese market being out of stock.
Furthermore, wine logistics is not a problem around the world and wines from Italy can still be delivered to every country as usual, even if orders are small. Personally, I really hope that the outbreak will end soon, because my job requires me to promote wines all over the world, and I can’t wait for more Chinese friends to taste the wines of our winery.
China, await my return.