For producers in Italy (or just about anywhere, really), the process of going from initial planting of vineyards to harvest to finally bottling the finished wine is always a challenge. Yet the actual making of any particular wine is rather easy compared to selling it. Most producers, big or small, need help getting their products out in the marketplace and that's where Stevie Kim enters in the equation.
Kim, whose official job description is Senior Advisor to the CEO of VinItaly, is changing the way Italian producers go about getting their wines noticed. For those of you reading this that are not familiar with VinItaly, this is the annual wine fair held each year in late March or early April at the fairgrounds in Verona. More than 5000 wine producers, most of them Italian, are present pouring their wines for the trade and for a day or two, the public. It's easily Italy's biggest wine fair and it's certainly the most influential.
It's been a ritual for 45 years now and as it's grown over the years, there are some producers who will tell you that things have gotten out of hand. It's crowded, noisy and just a little chaotic, especially on the weekend when the public can enter the fair and try all the wine they want for a one-time entrance fee. Kim knows the complaints and is happy to report that changes to the schedule have been made.
The format has always been Thursday to Monday - five days - with Saturday and Sunday available to the public as well as the trade. But for the 2012 edition of the fair, the schedule has been changed from Sunday to Wednesday. The public will still have a day at the fair - this will be Sunday, the official opening day, while Monday thru Wednesday will be exclusively for the trade.
I asked Kim if she received positive feedback on the change and how she thinks this will improve the business atmosphere for the buyer.
Kim: "We received great feedback. Of course, we had surveyed the producers as well as the attendees prior to making this decision. As you know, the Italians have been doing this for 45 years, so having to make that change was quite arduous. But I think at the end, everyone saw that the advantages were greater than the disadvantages.
"As you know, on Saturday and Sunday, it was very difficult to navigate not only the fairgrounds, but also the urban traffic control. I think this will help a great deal to facilitate more of a B2B atmosphere so that people can do more business.
"I think the focus now will not be quantity, the numbers, but the quality of the people attending the fair."
With this change, the fair is now four days instead of five. However, she noted that there will be an opening event on Saturday that will benefit many Italian producers.
Kim: "On Saturday, we are organizing seminars dedicated to the producers. Often we have a full program of producer seminars, but they can never attend during VinItaly because they are too busy doing business. So we have decided to dedicate a couple of specialized international focus seminars. This year will be the US market and China and we will dedicate these seminars to the producers.
"On Saturday morning, we have partnered with The Wine Spectator; they will invite top 100 Italian wine producers. There will be a grand tasting event at two moments: in the late afternoon for 500 international VIPs, while the second session will be held with the same producers, but a ticketed event for 500 consumers.
"People are very excited about it, it’s two-fold, because you will have producers that are not necessarily represented at the fair grounds because their strategy is not to participate at a big fair such VinItaly. However, they are very important producers that represent Italian wine production."
Kim also oversees the VinItaly US tour, which just completed its 2011 stops in New York City and Washington. She did not have as many events scheduled around the world this spring and summer, as she "tried to consolidate important points in a few events." Her next event is VinItaly China, which will take place in Hong Kong from the 3rd to the 5th of November. She says this event is a "personal objective," adding, "I want to do something more structured to unite the Italian wine producers in a more sophisticated way."
Kim realizes the vast differences between large and small Italian wine producers and wants to make sure the latter have the right tools for entering the market.
Kim: "Italian producers are divided into two main categories: the large, very structured, well-capitalized producers who have been present in the United States for a very long time. They are organized and have the resources to do their own wine promotion. On the other hand, you have the consorzie, the regions that sponsor these small producers, some of them I’m afraid to say, don’t even speak English. They come to America, participate in the grand tasting events, thinking that on those dates, they will start filling out order forms and filling containers of wine to sell in America.
"Their expectations are not represented. They first have to find the importer, for example. VinItaly is an institution that represents 4500 producers, so we have to embrace the large, well-resourced producers as well as the small ones. So what we’re trying to do with the VinItaly US tour that we’re organizing is – especially for the small producers – is to try and educate them.
"This year, we have dedicated a session to the producers before they start the walk-around tasting. We try to convey to them the ABCs of the American market."
She is also making efforts to promote the women of Italian wine. She organized an opening bell ceremony of the New York Stock Exchange this past spring that featured Marilisa Allegrini and Cristina Mariani-May of Banfi and has scheduled more events. "I'm trying to give some continuity to this."
Kim: "Now we’re asking the women to represent the Italian wine industry. As you know, Italian wine producers are very creative, but also very individualistic. So what we want to do through these women is try to create some harmonious message and give something back also to the society, which matters, for these Italian women in the wine industry. We’ve chosen the American Cancer Society, so we want to continue to work with them."
A few final thoughts from Stevie Kim about her job:
Kim: "What I do in every market where we showcase is try and build the Italian wine education and promotion program. I'm in the market talking to the people who have a vested interest in Italian wine sales, especially the importers. I talk to importers big and small and get immediate feedback...how we did, if they thought it was useful, how we can improve it and how we can better our promotional outpouring in the name of Italian wine education and promotion in the territory."