We are living in a very particular period for the moment, a period that at times seems more like science fiction or a spy novel. This is a period filled with uncertainty, and at the same time, it is a period filled with solidarity and belief that we can work together.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief…”
This quote from The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens can in part be referred to here, even though this is, of course, not the best of times, but rather the worst of times. However, it is the moment of belief and to use our wisdom. Dickens wrote about the period of Enlightenment that would lead up to the French Revolution. We are not at present in any enlightenment era but we are in a period of change, just as the French Revolution led to a change.
The Coronavirus is raging and taking its toll all over the world at present and showing the weaknesses in today’s societies. Political, health care, as well as economical weaknesses. However, it also shows a great need for identity, connecting with one’s history and traditions, finding common ground.
What about the climate then?
With the virus, globalization seems to have reached a watershed.
Something needs to change, we cannot go on like before. Now, we might think…but did it have to come to this point?
Have you noticed though that our environment is already feeling better? Venice is blooming, the water in the channels is limpid, the water life is happy with dolphins and swans already returning to show themselves. (See John Brunton’s article ‘Nature is taking back Venice’: wildlife returns to tourist-free city in The Guardian)
Can this be nature’s own way of asking for a reset as a British friend of mine mentioned the other day?
Well, I guess we will see. For now, we just need to try and stay calm and find our way out of lockdown in each country and getting back to some kind of normal. We are in Italy already starved for social contact but still, we need to endure to be able to see our family and friends again.
Wine as the Solution During Coronavirus Lockdown
During this period of confinement to our homes what better pick-me-up than to enjoy wine, either together with family or virtually.
Therefore, I launched the hashtag #wineduringlockdown two weeks ago on Twitter. If you feel like supporting Italian wine or wine in general, it would be great if you want to share a wine picture on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and use the hashtag.
We are all suffering in this period, also I have felt the repercussions in my work as a wine content writer, social media strategist, and wine communicator. Here I agree with Mark Schaefer, a leading American marketing authority and keynote speaker when he in a live stream the other day said that we are everyone in a phase of grieving. Both we ourselves and our clients are all in the same boat. We need to give ourselves room and time for grieving and at the same time reach out and support each other.
In fact, I have since a couple of weeks been wanting to write something to in some way try to help and shed light on the very harsh situation for winemakers (and, of course, everyone else) in Italy in this period. However, I was not sure what angle to choose. Furthermore, my own mind was not in the right place, rather I was too much in a state of my own anxiety and worries.
Then my Twitter friend Gregory Cleverdon wrote to me and suggested that I interview a couple of winemakers from north to south regarding how they are coping. I really liked the idea, so here I am now writing this article to give a voice to some wine producers and their hardships during the lockdown, trying however to end on a positive note.
Come with me to learn more about the situation Italian winemakers are facing for the moment, and let’s give them some support.
How Italian winemakers deal with Coronavirus lockdown
There is great support for Italy also from the wine community at this moment, by focusing on drinking Italian wine, sharing pictures and pep-talk online as well as offline. I, therefore, asked a number of winemaker friends five questions and I have received answers from 6 of them so far. I will add more step by step as they reply. I just wanted to get it published already today.
So far I have answers from
- Roberto Di Filippo at Cantina Di Filippo (Cannara, Umbria)
- Ilaria Cocco (Montefalco, Umbria)
- Niccolò Lari at Agricola La Svolta (Lastra a Signa, Tuscany)
- Roberto Leali at La Meridiana (Lago di Garda, Lombardy)
- Milena Pepe at Tenuta Cavalier Pepe (Irpinia, Campania)
- Marika and Sergio Grasso at Cantina La Marchesa (Lucera, Puglia)
They are small or towards mid-sized wineries and all of them are family-owned. This is a particular thing in Italy that also larger wineries are still family-owned even if there, of course, also exist the big brands. In this context, I am interested in the smaller realities as they are the people more directly on the battlefield in the territories.
Let us see what they are saying about wine production during lockdown…
Q1. What does a ‘normal’ day in your vineyard and wine cellar look like during this Coronavirus lockdown? How are you managing to do the work you need to do and keeping yourself and your workers safe?
The replies here indicate that the work in the vineyard must go on and continues even if with a higher regard for safety. Ilaria Cocco says that the work is much slower for her as she is alone and being a small winery she can manage to do the work that is needed on her own. She would only ask for help from her father if needed. This is also the case for Niccolò Lari who is a small winemaker and can manage the vineyard and cellar work all on his own.
Roberto Leali works in the vineyard mostly on his own or with family members too while he says that the work in the cellar is put on hold. When it comes to Marika and Sergio they do a lot of the work themselves also but have helpers in the vineyard. They, furthermore, carried out the bottling of wine the other week, all by applying the necessary safety measures.
Roberto Di Filippo who is certified organic and biodynamic says that his days start very early in the morning and ends very late in the evening. This, because he needs to carry out a large part of the vineyard work on his own as most of his employees have been sent home to take advantage of unemployment benefits.
Milena Pepe also tells me that her day starts very early where she, among other things, consults with her lawyer to make sure that they follow all the safety regulations for the staff. They have bought thermometers to check the temperature of each employee every day and provide them with gloves and masks.
Q2. We know that from an economical point of view, this situation is hitting everyone hard right now, even if we do not know if it will be short-term or long-term. How has it affected you so far?
All five wineries say that the economic situation is very hard for them at present. The lockdown has resulted in no orders and clients that cannot pay already made orders.
To start with the smallest of the wineries again, Ilaria Cocco says that it is tough but that she is lucky in the sense that she does not have any employees to pay. Of course, she continues, with no orders coming in it will be difficult with the running operating costs and investments. Niccolò Lari is more or less in the same situation. He tells me that his export and sales to the restaurant sector are in a standstill. He had plans to invest in ulterior vineyard plots but have had to put that on hold.
Roberto Leali refers to the present situation as a total disaster because a lot of their sales are dependent on the local tourism to Lake Garda. Continuing with Roberto Di Filippo, he mentions that their sales have already decreased by 50% and when it comes to private customers by 100%. The local tourism is a large part of their business that they have now lost completely for a large part of this year. They still sell via their export but he expects to see a considerable reduction in income also in that area soon.
Milena Pepe is very worried and reports that they have reduced the staff in the office but that they need to keep the people working in the vineyards. However, she is not sure how to be able to continue taking care of the work in the vineyard in the coming months if there are no orders and no money coming in. She feels distraught thinking that their start to 2020 had been fantastic so far with a lot of orders, the best in 15 years. Now all those orders are canceled.
Marika and Sergio say that they are also experiencing economic problems but Marika underlines that they do not want to let it influence their mindset too much yet. Rather, they are trying to stay positive and focus on the work at hand at the winery and find solutions to the financial side when they will have a better overview of the situation.
Q2b. Do you think the world of the wine business and communication is at a watershed, with major changes underway?
The answers here are a bit divergent. Some of them think a change will be essential after this crisis period even if they are not sure in what way, while some other is not that sure.
Sergio and Marika think that the support in communication from the wine community is more important than ever right now. Roberto di Filippo is of the belief that the wine business and the rest of the world affairs might be at a watershed and that changes are needed. However, he is not sure yet about the directions of such a change. Ilaria Cocco is of the same opinion, that this Coronavirus crisis will probably lead to changes but that we can only know more once the period is over.
Roberto Leali, on the other hand, doesn’t think that communication can change much at this very moment. He believes that it will be to start all over when this situation comes to an end and that it will take a while to get back to normal after that.
Milena Pepe is quite clear and certain here arguing that for her part she has realized that they will need to diversify their sales much more. So far they have been concentrated on selling via the classic HoReCa channel and exporting to some countries. However, she is now convinced that they need to better explore sales via channels such as e-commerce, supermarkets, and home delivery.
Q3. Are you planning on engaging with your wine consumers directly online during the crisis? – If so, what kinds of things do you have planned, e.g: online wine tutorials, live online tastings, podcasts, utilizing the benefits of Twitter?
This seems to be a weak point in general for Italian wineries. It is a realization that for many probably has become very evident during the last month while others already have a diversified sales plan and feel it less.
Ilaria Cocco admits that she has not yet invested much energy or resources in social media or content management but realizes that therein lies her vulnerability now. Therefore, she stresses that this is one of the things she will need to focus on after the Coronavirus crisis. Also, Marika and Sergio think that new initiatives and strategies will be important to engage with consumers. This is not the moment though as many are in too much panic about the Coronavirus.
Roberto Leali is more unsure saying that they do not have much of an online audience and he would not know how to go about to get it either.
Roberto di Filippo says that he has a PR agency that deals with his online presence and organize interviews and wine tastings with journalists. Last, but not least, Milena Pepe already under question 2B stressed their need for diversification. She did not mention anything specific about communication with consumers right now.
In this case, Niccolò Lari is perhaps the most prepared in this area as he already is selling via different e-commerce channels, both on his own homepage and via other online shops. He even says that there are a lot of orders coming in this period when people are at home wanting to drink wine. For the rest, his business model is 80% B2B and the rest direct sales at the winery.
Watch my video from the vineyard of Roberto Di Filippo
Q4. How will you cope with the harvest this year? In the sense, do you think the danger will be over, will you be able to hire harvesters and being able to keep safe working conditions?
This was a question suggested by another British friend of mine. First, I thought it sounded quite absurd, by August we will surely have come out on the other side of the Coronavirus crisis, right? I was telling him…come on…if I will need to be in isolation until July or August, I will go crazy. LOL
He pointed out that even if the isolation has ended people will still need to be careful and perhaps safety measures might still be needed for workers. I thought about it some more and decided to include the question. Then it all resulted in answers that raise issues I had not thought of.
Ilaria Cocco, Marika and Sergio, and Niccolò Lari hope that this will be over by August and say that they will otherwise deal with any necessary safety provisions at that moment. Niccolò emphasizes that the major problem for the wine producers and their vineyards is the constant pollution made by humans, not the Coronavirus.
Roberto di Filippo, Roberto Leali, and Milena Pepe all stress that the problem might not be the virus but rather economical and a question of space. If they will not have any cash flow they might have difficulties hiring workers for harvest time, and if they do not sell their wine this year the cellars will be overfilled with stock. In that case, they think they will need to produce less wine and abandon some vineyards for the time being.
Q5. It is still important to stay grounded, positive, and sane in this particular period. Do you have a secret mantra, routine, favorite wine or comfort food, favorite music, or other to keep going?
This is a very stressful period for everyone but still, I wanted to find something positive in all of the chaos. Therefore, I decided to ask my wine-producing friends how they find a moment of peace and positivity while fighting for their businesses in the midst of Coronavirus lockdown.
Most of them obviously feel very worn out and depressed about the situation and have a very hard time staying positive. However, some of them try indeed to dedicate some time every day to find a glimpse of positivity and stay sane.
Milena Pepe tells me that for her it is very difficult to find moments of positivity. She rather considers it as being at war where she every day comes up with a game plan, works all day long to then, in the evening, watch the news and pray before going to bed. What gives her joy is to find time to spend with her children.
Roberto di Filippo says he is too tired as he works from early morning all day long to keep track of everything. Therefore, he just falls asleep at night. He would have liked to have more free time. Also, Roberto Leali tries to keep busy to not think too much about the economic disaster they are facing. He considers himself a pessimist at heart in general and has a hard time right now. The future looks very gloomy to him.
Ilaria Cocco, Marika and Sergio, and Niccolò Lari are the ones here who put emphasis on the importance of trying to find the bright side of things too.
Ilaria is of the opinion that, yes, it is a rough period but with the help of a daily work routine, your favorite music in the background, and a nice glass of wine every evening you can beat this. Marika stresses that it is fundamental to keep the spirit up and stay positive to not get sick or depressed. Her secret sauce is to enjoy a glass of their Melograno rosé wine every evening.
As the days are filled with stress and uncertainty, Niccolò Lari takes the opportunity to taste wines from fellow winemakers, read a good book, and sing together with his family.
For those of you who have not watched his videos on Facebook yet, you should do so HERE. Every day, he and his family choose a song to sing karaoke, record a video while singing and post it on Facebook. A brilliant idea that makes us all happy.
Let us look forward towards better (wine) times
We are in a tough period of uncertainty and anxiety but still, there is, and need to be, hope for the future. The winemakers I have interviewed manage to carry out their work in the vineyard quite well. The smaller wineries that are more or less a one-man/woman show can be more flexible not needing to worry about employees and their safety.
The financial situation is hard for all of them as the sales have decreased exponentially, for some they have almost entirely dried up. The income from tourism has disappeared to 100% and several of them were leaning a lot on that revenue. Furthermore, as all restaurants and shops are closed in Italy for the moment, HoReCa sales are also reduced to a minimum. Some of them are aware that they need to start diversifying their sales channels better.
There seem, furthermore, to be a big lack when it comes to content management and digital marketing for the wineries interviewed here. E-commerce that is linked to this online marketing is also almost non-existent for several of the wineries. Only one winery seems to have a developed sales model via e-commerce which is benefiting him during this period of crisis.
Will there be a need for change in the way we use digital marketing and communication linked to sales after this period of crisis?
Well, I believe so as even if the crisis would have hit hard anyway it has indeed exposed our most vulnerable sides. There will be a need for a change of mindset and investing in new contemporary instruments and strategies. Above all to invest in professional assistance and not relying on old methods because it seemed easiest and less expensive at the time.
Let us end on a more positive note though. Go and check out the wine producers and their websites. Give them a shout out on social media.
Let us all support each other and stay positive!
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