Italy winemakers seek fashion boost on global stage

Sun Mar 25, 2012 6:27pm EDT
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By Svetlana Kovalyova

VERONA, Italy (Reuters) - Italy's top winemakers are joining forces with the country's luxury goods elite as the world's second-biggest wine producer tries to give itself an edge in the battle for U.S. and emerging market customers amid falling consumption at home.

Sales of Italian wine were flat at 12 billion euros ($16 billion) last year and recession at home, as the country drives through austerity measures to tackle a sovereign debt crisis, means the industry is becoming increasingly reliant on exports.

Italy is already the world's top wine exporter by volume and number two only to France by value. It saw wine exports climb 13 percent to 4.4 billion euros in 2011, when 2.4 billion liters, or about 55 percent of total sales volume, was sold abroad.

But as competition from long-term rival France and relative newcomers Australia, South America and South Africa heats up on the international stage, top Italian producers are seeking to stand out by pairing with fashion and design brands.

"As soon as you say 'Prada and brunello', 'Ferrari or Maserati and brunello', it makes a very vital association, especially for consumers around the world that might not know the differences in the wine," said Cristina Mariani-May, co-CEO of Banfi, makers of the full-body brunello red.

Happy to promote Italy's image as a source of all types of quality goods, members of Italy's luxury industry body Altagamma have agreed to accompany their shows and other high-profile events with Italian wines.

"Italian wines have become extraordinarily excellent," Santo Versace, brother of fashion designer Donatella Versace and chairman of Altagamma told Reuters at the pre-opening event for Vinitaly, a major wine trade fair which runs in northern Italy from March 25 to March 28.

"It is clear that fashion is more eye-catching, better known around the world. Wherever we go, we bring along our Italian wines and make them known," Versace said.   Continued...

A man tests red wine in the Tenuta dell'Ornellaia estate in Castagneto Carducci, in Tuscany, September 20, 2011. REUTERS/Tony Gentile