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Italian Wine Aims to Up Its Game in the United States

At Vinitaly, the country’s trade agency announces plans for a $25 million marketing push
Americans think quality and beauty when they drink Italian, but do they think luxury?
Photo by: Courtesy Frescobaldi
Americans think quality and beauty when they drink Italian, but do they think luxury?

Robert Camuto
Posted: April 19, 2018

American wine lovers don’t need to be told that Italy produces some of the world’s great wines. But Italian vintners believe they can improve sales in the world’s largest wine market and have launched an aggressive marketing push. It’s an ambitious drive aimed at elevating the image of Italian wine with U.S. consumers and wine professionals.

“It’s the biggest promotional campaign [we've] ever done,” said Maurizio Forte, director of the Italian Trade Agency’s New York office. “Most American consumers consider Italian wine casual, everyday wine, but Italy is much more than that,” Forte told Wine Spectator at Italy’s annual Vinitaly wine fair in Verona this week.

Italy is already the top source of imported wines in the U.S., sending 37.9 million cases to America in 2016, compared to 15.3 million from France, according to Impact Databank, a sister publication of Wine Spectator. But Italian vintners want to compete more with the French at the premium end of the wine market. To that end, the trade association plans to spend $25 million over three years on a campaign dubbed “Italian Wine—Taste the Passion,” including advertising, promotions and training for food and wine industry professionals.

At Vinitaly’s opening ceremony, the organizers announced a survey of American consumers by Wine Monitor Nomisma that focused on the image of Italian wines versus French wines. The survey found that a vast majority of American consumers consider the quality of French and Italian wines on par. Yet most perceive the two very differently: They associate Italian wine with “tradition” and “conviviality” and French wines with “exclusivity” and “elegance.”

“In terms of quality, our wine is on the same level as France,” said Forte. “Unfortunately, the average price is half.”

Much of that difference, Forte said, has to do with the six-to-one price gap between the two nations’ dominant sparkling wine categories—Champagne and Prosecco. But the gap also has to do with a lack of understanding of Italian wine and its appellations.

“We want to start claiming our place in the higher end of the market,” he said.

The Italian government-sponsored trade agency is beginning its push in the five states already responsible for nearly two-thirds of Italian wine imports: New York, California, Texas, Illinois and Florida. It will eventually branch out.

Wine actually represents a small fraction—about 3.5 percent—of Italy’s $50 billion of exports to the U.S.—from fashion to factory machinery to motorcycles to food, Forte said. But the agency is devoting 30 percent of it promotional budget to wine for a simple reason: “Because wine is an iconic product. It is something that can bring you into the loop of Italian culture.”

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