They said Vinitaly was big. They were wrong – it is IMMENSE. Unbelieveably huge. In 2012 there were 94,862 Sq. metres of exhibition space, 4,255 exhibitors of which 94 were from abroad , 140,655 of which 50,066 were foreigners and 2,496 journalists of which 328 were from abroad. Vast beyond imagination. Each province of Italy is represented by an enormous edifice larger than many an airport terminal.
There is even a building entirely devoted to Franciacorta
and another for what some Marketing people have decided should be known as 'Maremmawineshire' (Ha, ha).
In addition there are open air spaces full of winery equipment.
There are all kinds of restaurants, even one devoted to the promotion of rice dishes and another to 'Le donne del vino!
The fair takes place in Verona over 4 days in April and has been a fixture in the Wine calendar for Italy and the World for over 40 years. Everyone except us seemed to know what they were doing. Innocently we had bought our day pass and just turned up assuming we could just take a look around and get a ‘tour d’horizon’ in an afternoon. This is impossible because there is no guide or catalogue on offer either online before the event as far as we could see nor on entering the fair.
Having queued just to enter, there was only a small plan on the ground shortly after the turnstiles for guidance.
While standing in front of this wondering which way to turn, we took stock of the crowd and immediately noticed how diverse they were and different from the people any British wine event.
It seemed every Italian wine waiter and barista was there together with everyone who ever toiled in a vineyard or even enjoyed a glass of wine. The middle class middle-aged gents typical of British wine events were also to be found as well as smooth be-suited wine execs to be sure but the democratic nature and the variety of the visitors was striking. Even on the train from Venice we had caught snatches of conversation from American restaurant owners. To be sure the whole world was there.
The first pavilion on hand was Emilia Romagna, certainly an interesting province. We wandered in but soon became aware that we needed guidance. Near the entrance was a desk.
There we found an interesting leaflet which gave a directory to the exhibitors by wine type, which is to say in this province by grape variety.
Among the Sangiovesi di Romagna were more Ortrugos than you could shake a stick at and – what was this? A few wines from something called ‘Uva Longanese’
and what’s this? ‘Famoso’.
Our handy leaflet led us directly to a counter where we found the producer of these wines, Daniele Longanese of Azienda Agricola Longanese Daniele.
Sr. Longanese explained that his family had found a strange grape growing on their smallholding and had cultivated it because it made such good wine. Their reward was to have the grape named after them and now they are not the only ones to plant it. It did indeed make beautiful wines. Not content to stop there, Daniele Longanese is making wine from a white grape he calls Famoso. This has traditionally been known as Rambela but is so obscure as to be more or less another rescue grape as it were.
Neither 'Famoso' nor 'Rambela' is known to the first edition of "Wine Grapes" incidentally but there it was and delicious too.
Sharing the booth with A.A. Longanese was Azienda Agricola Agrituristica "La Sabbiona" who were already known to us for their Savignon Rosso.
We had a bottle of this at home and were looking for an opportunity to taste this rarity. Savignon Rosso is another rescue grape. We had met another grower at the Real Wine Fair in London, Stefano Bariani of A.A. Fondo San Giuseppe and learned that it was also called Centesimino. La Sabbiona also produce a Spumante from Famoso!
This was great! We thought we just had to enter every building, take their leaflet and zero in to the producers of wines made from interesting and unknown grape varieties. Sadly, this was not to be.
The only help was in each case a board with an alphabetical list of exhibitors. The prospect of finding needles in these haystacks was daunting to say the least. All we could do was to meander aimlessly along the aisled saluting old friends as we passed by. These included
Benanti, the great Sicilian producer
Colosi, a Salina winery whose wines we had encountered on our trip there last October but whose vineyard and cellar we never found
Giona, another Salina producer we had missed
Ivaldi whose Albarossa we had discovered a couple of years ago at the London International Wine Fair at Excel
La Montecchia whose wines we have appreciated for their reasonable pricing and interesting range
Pravis, our favourite Trentino producer who make a Negrara in purezza as well as Rebo, Gropello and much else
Serrapetrona whose Vernaccia Nera we have appreciated
San Felice who revived Pugnitello in partnership with the University of Siena
Feudo di Sannta Tresa, maker of our favourite Frappato - so much lighter than any others we know
and the nice man from Virgona who gave us such a charming tour of his operation in Salina
Treading the aisles the sheer effort made by so many just for these few days was staggering. This is not unique to Vinitaly but the Italians do it so well with friendly spaces for entertaining and meetings.
There were even spaces where agencies could do business across a counter.
One afternoon was not going to suffice. A day at each province would be a minimum for a preliminary skirmish.
The Veneto building was the largest. Not surprising as we were still in the Veneto itself. About two-thirds of this was given over to Prosecco. How depressing was that!
Every subsection of Italian wine appeared to be represented to some degree though;
Feeling down with the whole situation we passed by a little kiosk and something caught our eye; a large book shrink wrapped with another smaller one seemed to be on sale. We took a closer look. It was only the bloody catalogue to the whole bang-shoot; a work almost the size of ‘Wine Grapes’ (992pp plus a visitors guide of 220pp and an appendix of 6pp - total 1,118pp as opposed to 1,242pp)
with everything you needed to prepare you for your visit to Vinitaly – as long as you could study it in the preceding 3 or 4 months that is! We immediately bought this tome (30 Euros) but it was sort of worse than useless at that point.
Subsequently it has been a source of much fascination of course but the opportunity to get much out of the fair had been missed. We didn’t see anyone else with the mighty publication in their hands during the entire remainder of the afternoon. Weird.
The immensity of Vinitaly is of course a tribute to the diversity of Italian wine. Indeed, there would probably have been no difficulty in the show being twice the size. In a way, the sheer enormity is so daunting that it probably results in people sticking to what they know and not trying to get a handle on the entirety. That in itself is interesting of course.
Apart from Uva Longanese and Famoso, we came away with a few gems including a Foja Tonda, (Casetta) by a winery in Valdadige called Armani whose labels were appropriately tasteful and some very nice Ruche and Grignolino from a Piemontese Azienda called Crivelli whose labels might have been better for a re-think but whose wines were outstanding.
It had been an experience. We are not sure if we will rush back in 2014. Maybe ogni morte di Papa as they say in Italy.