The Italian Trade Commission’s Vino franchise (@Vino2015, #VirtualVino) has long been one of the greatest yearly Italian wine happenings in the United States and the one event where the most sophisticated merchants and buyers meet Italy’s premier vintners and U.S. wine importers. I have had the pleasure to attend the previous three Vino conferences and 2015’s version, held Sunday, February 1 through Thursday, February 5, 2015, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in mid-town Manhattan, was another great set of lessons on Italian wine, food, and culture. With today being Valentine’s Day, it made sense to let you know about my recent experiences at this vast conference dedicated to vino amore.
It actually didn’t start so well. Before we left Denver, a deadheading flight attendant had a medical emergency, so back to the gate we went. And we were so close to departing! Of course, these things happen, but my biggest issues were that we were not allowed to deplane while we waited for medical help and there were no offers of free drinks or, for that matter, anything else.
After the airline employee got off then a mechanic had to go to the back of plane (to replace the medical oxygen tank?) and we had to wait another 30 minutes for a jet-way pullback crew. Then we were sent back to the de-icing area before finally taking off two hours and 20 minutes late, which had the effect of making me miss the first half of the Super Bowl (I watched the remainder at an unremarkable nearby sports bar with Steve Raye of the Brand Action Team, Philadelphia-area food and wine writer, consultant, and educator Brian Freedman (@wineupdate), and Vinitaly’s Stevie Kim (@steviekim222)). No loss, I guess, because all of the exciting stuff happened late in the game.
Vino 2015 began at breakfast, where we learned that Italian wine imports to the U.S. had increased by 2.5 percent in the past year while other countries’ totals were down. One in three bottles of wine imported into America is now from Italy – more than two billion liters each year.
I then attended a seminar on “Preserving the South’s Cultural Heritage,” which, based on my experiences in Campania and other points south of Rome, is a decided issue. In terms of wine, many traditional production methods, specifically including a lack of control over the temperature of fermentation (very few jacketed tanks), often lead to what are today thought of as flaws in the final product (volatile acidity, in the case of high temperature fermentation).
Such long-standing features of many Mediterranean wines are certainly a traditional element of local heritage but they don’t seem to be in sync with much of what’s otherwise happening on an international basis. Does this mean that southern Italian wines have to change to be more accepted in the international community? Probably, but not without controversy.
After this seminar there was the official press conference, in which we learned that there were new electoral laws in Italy that allow governments a longer life (over the 68+ years that Italy has been a modern republic there have been more than 60 different administrations). This will positively affect all Italian industry including wine.
There is also a new jobs act that will allow the firing of employees for cause, which will in turn allow foreign investors to be more certain in their hiring practices. Such investors can also now make special deals with regional and local governments, which will create even more new opportunities. All-in-all a welcome set of reforms in an area that is long overdue for an even more extensive overhaul.
Breakfast on Tuesday brought a climate change seminar. Not much new here for me, but all speakers agreed that while climate change’s causes aren’t definitely known, it is surely happening! Warmer overall temperatures, especially after veraison (the onset of ripening), will change the grapes and thus the wine. Man is not passive and has ways to adapt agriculture to this sort of change but apparently this adaptation process will have to be accelerated. Climate seems to be changing in an ever-less predictable yet ever-more extreme sort of way.
A seminar on “Sicily from Myth to Reality” was also interesting, partly because I’m considering a Wine On The Road tour of that island in the near future. The upshot of this seminar was that Brand Sicily has become old and so marketers are now promoting and seeking sub-regional differentiation. I’m not sure if this is such a grand idea. A myriad of unpronounceable DOP names is to me the worst kind of marketing, particularly when you’ve captured a good portion of the inexpensive-but-good wine niche. But it’s certainly in line with what many other regions are trying to accomplish and we’ll see how it all turns out over the next few years.
Next came one of the highlights of the entire conference – a “Vino e Musica” seminar moderated by Michael Dorf and featuring panelists Joe Roberts (@1winedude, an internationally known wine blogger and writer with whom I’m planning a consumer tour of Madrid and Rioja, Spain, Click Here for more information), Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer, and Jon Morrell, who comes from a wine-business family (Morrell & Company) but has chosen a career as an operatic tenor. The panelists played clips from some of their favorite tunes and then discussed which wines pair best with each genre. As it turns out, wine and music have many commonalities – and not just in opera!
That night, an Apulian networking dinner allowed attendees to make the acquaintance of several very influential folks central to the production and marketing of that southern area’s food and wine. Time well spent, especially at a table full of bloggers, print writers, and tour operators!
Brian Freedman (@wineupdate), Joe Roberts (@1winedude), and Robbin Gheesling (@robbin_g) joined me for truly fabulous and authentic extracurricular bagel breakfast at Ess a Bagel (52nd and 3rd). We then headed back to the Waldorf for a seminar on beer and one of my favorite lessons from Vino 2015 — in Italy, the craft beer bar is a big part of youth culture, one of the only places where the younger set can escape their elders. As such, I’m sure it will only grow in importance over time. We were also served a small pour of the almost-two-decade-old and very well-preserved Amarcord Riserva Speciale, a brew from legendary artisan and man-about-town Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery (and a whole lot more).
Lunch brought the induction of a bunch of champions of Italian wine into the Hall of Fame, and the afternoon seminar involved rosé. It turns out that rosé wine has been produced in Italy’s southern regions from very beginning because of the impact of (surprise!) excessive heat during winemaking on stuck fermentations, which in turn leave residual sugar in the wine. Jess Altieri (@winechanneltv), Alessandra Rotondi, Marco Scapagnini, and Anthony Giglio gave an inspired presentation, made all the more so by its place as the ultimate seminar of the entire conference.
That evening I attended the gala Honky Tonk dinner, with live music, and although I’m sure there were many toasts made later at the bar, I had a 5:00 A.M. wakeup call for my flight home to Denver. Woohoo!
@Vino2015 and #VirtualVino, thanks for the invite. I had a great experience. C u in 2016!
Ben will be in Philadelphia in mid-March for a Champagne and Burgundy pre-tour get-together for potential clients with his old friends Daniel Stern (of legendary R2L Restaurant) and Brian Freedman (@wineupdate). Click Here for dinner reservations (or call (215) 564-5337),, and if you’re interested in coming along with Dan, Brian, and Ben on a behind-the-scenes, wine-focused tour of Champagne and Burgundy (October 4-11, 2015), or if you just want more information about the tour, Click Here.
Another fun consumer tour we’re planning involves legendary wine blogger, writer, and lecturer Joe Roberts (the 1WineDude) and Ben leading a group to Madrid and Rioja, Spain (November 1-8, 2015). If you’d like more information about this tour please Click Here.
BEN WILL BE IN ITALY CHECKING OUT FLORENCE, ROME, ASSISI, MILAN, AND TURIN – MARCH 21 – APRIL 2, 2015
Ben has been invited to tour luxury villas in Florence, Rome, and Perugia, Italy at the end of March. Follow along with him on Twitter (@WineOnTheRoad), Facebook (Wine On The Road), LinkedIn (Benjamin Weinberg) and Foursquare (Ben Weinberg).
BEN’S WINE COUNTRY PICTURES ARE NOW FOR SALE
Have you ever read one of Ben’s columns and wondered how it would look to have one of his incredibly vivid, high resolution pictures of wine country framed on your wall? We’re now offering various size prints of his quirky photography at Pixels.com, where you can also add his images to smartphone cases, greeting cards, and many other items. Pictures can be ordered loose or matted and framed in various sizes. Click Here to take a peek.
UPCOMING TOURS WITH WINE ON THE ROAD:
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NV Zardetto Private Cuvée Rosé (Veneto, Italy) $15
Pale pink/pink cherry, grapefruit/strawberry licorice/hilong
2013 Mollinoto Gavi (Gavi, Italy) $N/A
Pale yellow/grapefruit, pineapple/yellow squash, ginger/hilong
2013 Tenuta Galfano Catarratto (Sicily, Italy) $N/A
Pale yellow/honey, strawberry/olive, peach nectar/hilong
2012 Portelli Riesco Cerasuolo di Vittorio DOCG (Sicily, Italy) $N/A
Red-black/blackberry, tar, pomegranate/black licorice, dark cherry/himod
2013 Torre Gemme Romagna Sangiovese DOC Superiore (Emilia Romagna, Italy) $N/A
Blue-red/Craisin, smoke, dark chocolate/grapefruit, cola/hilong
Amarcord Riserva Speciale (Italy) $30
Light brown/strawberry, mint, honey/sour cherry, brown sugar/hilong