Why wine does not communicate
In the 1970s, Gino Veronelli succeeded in bringing quality Italian wine into the collective imagination of millions of people. He did this with his books, with the Bolaffi Wine Catalogue and, above all, a television program, A Tavola alle 7 (Dinner at 7), which ran for several years on national broadcaster RAI’s channel 2. He had co-host like Umberto Orsini, Delia Scala and Ave Niche and in the studio they would cook and, for the first time, talk about quality Italian wines to a public that knew little if anything about them. Veronelli had an intriguing way of doing this which involved his illustrious guests playing the role of curious spectators who bombarded him with questions and sometimes even made fun of him in a polite way. No one tried to be too serious and everyone tried to explain themselves using terms that were easy to understand and the show was an amazing success. It was not just a coincidence that during those years wine shops sprouted up in Italy’s leading cities and Italian quality wines began to be known first in Italy and then abroad.
I do not wish to imply that this was all thanks to that program, only that wine was a topic that was much more popular on TV then than it is now. And this is true not only on RAI but also the private Mediaset and La 7 networks and not even theme channels like Alice or Gamberto Rosso Channel are there currently programs dedicated to wine. Chefs are often invited to the various talk shows but never a wine producer or expert, despite the fact that there are many interesting and engaging ones. What’s worse, a few years ago there was a debate at the Festival of Philosophy on the subject that included Umberto Galimberti and… chef Gianfranco Vassini while neither Gaja, Antinori nor Walter Massa were involved. RAI has no problem broadcasting a show on new models of automobiles, with the name of the marque in broad evidence, nor giving certain chefs media exposure, whereas with wine it is absolutely forbidden to show any label. And while it is allowed to talk about types of wines and the areas they are made, no mention can be made of a specific wine or producer. Apparently, wine is not “entertaining” enough for TV because swirling wine in a glass is not as spectacular as watching a chef cook. Making matters worse is the fact that wine “speak” is considered too difficult, something for experts whose discussions about wine come across like a private conversation between members of a small, elite circle of wine buffs. In other words, Veronelli today would not be able to have a program like he had 40 years ago and the result is that the world of Italian wine is becoming increasingly distant to the consumer who thus does not appreciate it and this has led to a drop in demand.
To add insult to injury is the anti-alcohol campaign that lumps wine together with hard liquor and so now per capita wine consumption in Italy is half what it was 20 years ago. For sure, producers, enologists and we who write about wine are in part to blame because we come across as being too elitist and focus too much on specific wines that cost too much and are difficult to find. And it certainly does not help that Information about wine is often limited to describing how it is made, the technology behind it and the philosophy of certain producers using terms that are difficult to understand. In the end this is an exclusive approach as opposed to an inclusive one. Things need to change and more events are needed like Cantine Aperte (Open Cellars), Italy’s only true mass sector event for wine, and more efficient ways to communicate need to be developed. Italian broadcasters should take their cue from the BBC which has a successful show on wine conducted by Jancis Robinson, one of the world’s leading wine experts, who explains wine in a simple yet adequate and efficient way. To do what needs to be done is not difficult. What is difficult is convincing people what needs to be done.