Italy winemakers aim for quality in global crisis

Thu Apr 2, 2009 12:30pm EDT
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By Ian Simpson

VERONA, Italy (Reuters Life!) - Italy, the world's biggest wine producer, sees the economic crisis as a way to build on the trend to higher-quality, higher-priced wines, the chairman of the Federvini trade group said on Thursday.

Lamberto Vallarino Gancia, whose federation groups 90 percent of Italian producers, told Reuters the downturn was showing that consumers were buying pricier wines and tending to drink them at home rather than at bars or restaurants, where prices are higher by the glass.

"This is a good opportunity for wine in the group above 5 euros ($6.67) a bottle and of quality," he said on the sidelines of the sprawling Vinitaly wine fair. "We are looking at less volume, but more value added. This is a general trend."

Even with the economic recession, Italian wine was benefiting from its image as part of a healthy Mediterranean lifestyle and from a "Made in Italy" cachet, Gancia said.

Wine consumption, at least in Italy, also tends to suffer less in a downturn since it is "a bit countercyclical" and not considered expensive, he said.

"It's obvious that there is not one single consumer. There are a lot of different varieties of consumers with a myriad of tastes in wine. There are opportunities for some wines and not for others, but for now, it's quality."

Italian exports dropped about 7.4 percent by volume last year to 17.2 million hectoliters, their first downturn after years of steady growth, according to the Italian Trade Commission.

However, the value of exports rose 0.8 percent to 3.5 billion euros, underscoring Gancia's view that better wines at higher prices were a long-term trend.   Continued...

<p>A man passes a mural of a wine glass at the Vinitaly wine expo in Verona April 4, 2008. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo</p>