Dancing in the dark - Paul Caputo

By Paul Caputo, writer and entrepeneur

While the restoration of our individual freedoms remains incomplete, our craving for celebration is seemingly more intense than ever. An instinct for self-preservation initially induced us to withdraw from society, but as restrictions imposed by the Coronavirus pandemic begin to be lifted, the notion of being here for a good time, rather than a long time, seems an attractive proposition.

Perhaps this is the selfish, narcissistic mentality of our times, but we might recall that a century ago, against a backdrop of post-war futility, recession and the Spanish Flu, the 1920s roared into perhaps the most liberating, radical and decadent decade of the Modern Age. Jazz music and champagne filled a cultural void in the America of Louis Armstrong and The Great Gatsby, while German expressionism and the Bauhaus revived Berlin.

Yet as we navigate a world in flux once more, there is little sign of the hollow pursuit of pleasure and reckless abandon which symbolized that era. Adaptation to a so-called new normal is already well underway, and as we chart a new course through the ever more nebulous uncertainty of our world, the human spirit is prevailing. Forced isolation and restrictions on our movement have accelerated a collective recognition that material wealth fails to satiate our innate longing for happiness and meaning.

 

Today we crave experiences. Where once we centred our aspirations on material abundance, now we demand to live life to the full. This is the future of hedonism: the art of attaching sentimental significance to fleeting moments. Shared with those closest to us, these snapshots in time have become indispensable. They are the brush-strokes of our lives and the foundations of our own personal masterpiece.
The rituals of wine consumption have long provided a rich palette with which to embellish our art, and authentic fine wines epitomize the harmony between nature and our desire to create.

While our world may appear to be moving online, we are social creatures at heart, and we crave the convivial atmosphere that Epicureanism both demands and affords. Indeed, no winemaker sets out to produce wine that will be consumed in the absence of good company. It is a craft intended to bring people together, and to engender abiding memories.

 

As we emerge from a tragic, unprecedented crisis, the assignment of value to a wine like De Buris and its trappings may seem frivolous, perhaps justifiably so. Yet such a position negates the crucial role that wine plays in kindling social connections. We need not revert to the empty indulgences of Gatsby and his era to benefit from the joys of extravagant escapism.

Our capacity for individual expression is after all reinforced by our relationships with others.

It is surely a sign of the times that we now measure our contribution to society according to the distance we remain from each other, but nevertheless, the time-honoured act of sharing a bottle not only keeps us anchored to what we hold dear, it offers a weightless liberty and a sense of freedom that is vital to living life with creative style.

Amid the chaos and confusion we must embrace opportunities to savour the good life, and to toast our experiences wherever we can.

 


The future? Cultivate culture - M. Gitter

By Micheal Gitter – Vice President and Director of Marketing, VINTUS

We are in the pleasure delivery business. This is a fact that has never been lost on me, as over the years I have seen friends and family pursue many different paths, some more “noble” than the world of wine—medical research, foreign policy development, teaching, to name a few. There are professions and industries that save lives and address important problems that affect millions. At the same time, I take pride in the work we do in our industry—from winemaking to wine marketing—because while we may not be saving lives, we are improving lives; we are making lives richer, we are bringing families and friends together over wine and food, we are providing pleasure of both mind and body.

 

It is in this context that we need to approach the marketing of fine wine—especially in the luxury segment—during the greatest global health and humanitarian crisis in decades. In a time of quarantines and closed businesses, a time when isolation can quickly lead to insularity, we need to maintain perspective while also remembering the pivotal role that wine at every price point can play in our culture.

 

In the United States, this has meant finding a way to market luxury wines with a subtlety and respect that honors the producers of these bottles as well as the resellers and consumers that buy them. And in fact, stripping away the “flash and sizzle” from wine marketing allows the truly artisanal, substantive products to rise to the top. What has been fascinating to witness, as retail business at the everyday price point ($10-$25 per bottle) has exploded, is that collectors, connoisseurs and amateurs (in the real sense of that word: passionate enthusiasts) have continued to reach for the best bottles available in their cellars and wine shops. This makes sense, though: in a time of uncertainty and potential despair, the most incredible expressions of wine can provide the greatest comfort and reinforcement.

 

How do we market that idea? How do we communicate to consumers that they have permission to purchase and enjoy the finer things during the darkest days, without guilt or judgement? For me, the answer is marketing with quiet confidence: “show don’t tell” to the extreme. This starts with simply making the wine available, continuing with a thoughtful allocation process that maintains a brand or product’s integrity without being overly exclusory. It means communication to customers (whether resellers or consumers) with an added level of humanity and even vulnerability; it is not a time to stand aloof or above, it is a time to connect. Luxury price points are, of course, exclusory by nature—but every category has its audience, and as producers and marketers, we do not need to apologize for that audience, just as that audience does not need to apologize for having the ability to seek pleasure in our wines.

 

But most important, we need to engage beyond our industry and products, and in so doing ask our consumers to do the same. Our marketing right now involves showing, with no self-congratulation, that we recognize where our products sit in the context of society. This means giving charitably, whether with resources or time, to organizations that address the health and cultural crises we are in as a world community. Our behavior sets a tone for our customers; our marketing goes beyond packaging and promotion. For those who can afford to purchase and drink a $300 bottle of wine, we can hope that they would also use their resources to support the most serious issues that we face as a society. And as producers and marketers of those same $300 bottles of wine, we can and should lead by example.


A matter of civilisation - A. Torcoli

By Alessandro Torcoli

The universities have taught us how people operate in the luxury sector, especially in the world of fashion, but also of design, watches, and automobiles. For some time now, though, wine has been just as important, with its own impressive luxury segment that commands astronomical prices at auction, like the 558,000 dollars bid at Sotheby’s in New York for a bottle of 1945 Romanée-Conti. Without reaching such dizzy heights, all the producing companies now number among their top wines many products that are regularly worth over 100 Euros. Italy in fact, with its abundance of excellent bottles at affordable prices, lags perhaps behind other countries – not only France, but also Spain and Portugal – in terms of iconic labels. We are doing well at auction, though, with Piedmont, Tuscany and the Veneto among the Regions performing best: Amarone, Barolo and Brunello are now positioned in the vinous Olympus just like Burgundy, Bordeaux, and the Napa Valley.

However, luxury also has a snobbish connotation: it suggests a type of exclusion dictated only by the availability of money, and it often happens that very expensive bottles are snubbed by wine lovers. Indeed, even snobbishness is relative, and some sommeliers, considering themselves the high priests of Bacchus, express their superiority by exhibiting esoteric, expert knowledge about wines that only they have ever heard of. These are forms of exclusivity that do not do our sector any good: ours should be a product for pleasure and sharing. Personally, I found much more exclusive than Pétrus the privilege of being welcomed in a garage at Mamoiada, in Sardinia, and tasting – in a glass rendered opaque by time – the Cannonau made by a farmer with calloused hands. I shall never forget my amazement at such quality created in unbelievable conditions, like a flower growing in concrete. My eyes have witnessed many such scenes, and this is the fabric that sustains the enthusiasm I have always had in describing the joy of wine.

It is true, though, that it costs a great deal (in terms of hard work and money) to consistently produce great bottles that one can send around the world and so involve a large number of enthusiasts. And the care required to obtain the finest results – from the substance of the product itself to the beauty of its packaging – also costs a lot. It therefore makes sense to talk about a premium, or luxury, segment even for wine, because we have to be able to decide, depending on the occasion, whether to wear cashmere or jeans, and be well aware of the differences between them. If anything, exclusivity is a matter of culture, it is a sign of civilization: I have seen millionaires horrified at the thought of spending more than ten Euros for a bottle, and workmen dreaming as they sip an Amarone worth a hundred. The latter are people who know how to read a book that includes history, culture, nature, and intelligence. They know how to travel blind, following the spice-like notes of time. Theirs is a choice dictated by civilization and, all in all, a democratic one.


Return to the future? Wine is back on the table - M. Aldegheri

By Marco Aldegheri

The restrictions imposed to stem the spread of Covid-19 have made obvious our profound need to socialize. We can’t do without it, it’s part of our nature. We’ve seen it just recently, too, when Italy’s reopening into the so-called Phase 2 has become a chronicle of evident signs of “cold turkey”. As we return to a semblance of normality, and before – as usual – we immediately forget everything, let’s just take a short step back in time.

The brusque stop in the frenzied rhythms of our lives constrained us, one way or another, to come up with all sorts of solutions to pass the time of day. We did everything possible within our domestic walls, giving full vent to our creative resources. But if we had to make up a ranking of the most popular activities, on the podium we’d find those simpler things that we’d tended to ignore: in particular, food and wine captured the attention of a great many of us.
For example, the average Italian – the supermarket sector’s figures go to prove it – started to “dirty” their hands with flour once again: pizzas, cakes, focaccias, and puff pastry for the more ambitious, put quite a strain on home ovens and kitchens in these last few weeks, and eventually also on our scales. Meanwhile, virtual aperitivi clogged up the web, whilst others dug deep into their home cellars. It even seems that online wine sales (in the premium category, too) increased considerably.

This surreal concentration of scenes of normal home life has allowed us to reclaim a family-based dimension which, let’s admit it, many of us missed a bit.
It seems that wine itself has, for a couple of months at least, regained a different rapport with the segregated consumer. With its ties to the usual ritual locations – from dinner at a restaurant to the hedonistic, social experience of a wine bar – unavoidably cut, wine could not but content itself with ending up on the table at home, with the same ease that one devotes to the bread basket or a plate of pasta – and who cares if the glass isn’t of the right kind!
So we ended up drinking more often with the members of our families, even those special bottles that we were jealously keeping, and we drank them in a very informal way, at the table or on the sofa, on the balcony or in the garden, in our slippers or our tracksuit: nothing whatsoever to do with crowded happy-hours or refined restaurants. This distancing from our usual environments actually made even more unbearable the online exhibitionism of many sommeliers, journalists and producers, who are even now trying in an artificial manner to recuperate their rapport with wine and with their public.

The final outcome of the lockdown could be an idea of wine that is undoubtedly more consumer-friendly. In this regard, it is curious to note how, in the family context, this beverage may have reconquered its dimension as a food product that was lost at least 50 years ago: a paradoxical step back in time, especially in this lifestyle-based era in which wine is normally seen as an expression of identity.
Will this effect be lasting? It’s too early to say but, deep down, I hope so.
Regaining its place in family consumption and – why not – also a sober, everyday rapport with wine, would do us good, especially for the new generations. And it would also help us to teach people the habit of drinking in a responsible manner once again.
After the virus, this could be our “return to the future”. In Zemeckis’ film it is Christopher Lloyd, in the role of Doc Brown, who advises us: “Your future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one!”.