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New generation shows passion for Passimento

Interview - July 7, 2016

Verona-based vintner Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine is becoming a globally recognized name in premium wine circles and an international ambassador for the Made in Italy brand through the increasing popularity of its wines and soaring exports. CEO Riccardo Pasqua provides an insight into the family business that blends tradition and heritage with the ability to capture the imagination and appreciation of a new generation of wine drinkers through the success of its latest fruity, round red, Passimento.



Can you give us a snapshot of the market trends during last year and your expectations for 2016?

Exports are driving the growth of our production. The injection of liquidity with the quantitative easing last year and the low exchange rates were very helpful, especially in the USA. Even if the low price of oil was not very helpful in some markets, like the Canadian, overall it was a great year for exports, which boosted the wine industry. The low oil price also gave consumers in the American market an extra income to spend on quality products, so the demand for wine increased.  

Another aspect is the exceptional phenomenon of Prosecco, which has become the sparkling wine of Europe. It started to become popular after the global downturn, when many champagne drinkers turned to Cava or Prosecco. Later, the taste profile of Prosecco won over the cavas because of its versatility. It would be consumed not only for a celebration but also over the course of a meal. That had an important impact, especially in the Anglo-Saxon markets. The growth was above any expectation. In fact, last year we grew so much that we ran out of stock.

The last factor is that Made in Italy, and the Italian lifestyle, could not be hotter. With all the ambassadors we have, our country is being widely promoted. Eataly, for instance, is an amazing success in the USA.


Made in Italy is indeed one of Italy’s strongest competitive advantages. What has been the contribution of Pasqua to the global image of Made in Italy?

We feel ambassadors in the world, as we export 87% of our production. Foreign wine drinkers consume around 83 million bottles of Italian wine that is exported. We are very proud to be so international, and to bring a message around the world of one of the trendier wine regions in Italy, which is the Veneto region, especially the Valpolicella valley, where we are located.

The way Pasqua interprets Made in Italy is quite disruptive, because we did it with products that try to leverage our unique and special way to do red wines, which is called appassimento (‘withering’). We partially dry the grapes indoors after the harvest in order to get more extraction complexity. It is the technique that made Verona an icon all around the world.

Casting an eye towards the so-called millennials, a new generation of wine drinkers, we launched a product three years ago called Passimento, and it became our rock star around the world. The concept behind it is Romeo and Juliet. We took the most iconic story of our city to make a very cool wine.

How did we do it? We took a few snapshots of our city, especially of Juliet’s house. When I saw a snap of the wall where 3,000 love notes are written every single day, I thought it looked fashionable, like modern art and graffiti. It really screams to the new generations of wine drinkers. We could see people with different religions and different languages, so it was a wonderful message. It was not just another concept, but one dedicated to our city, to Verona, and Romeo and Juliet.

This strategy was as disruptive as successful, because there is nothing like this in the Italian category and the look of the wine is very consistent with the wine inside the bottle. It is strongly related to our territory; it is made with the technique of Amarone, which is one of the icons together with Barolo and Brunello, but made in a contemporary way. It flows towards a new generation of wine-lovers.


The area where your wine is produced is one of the most famous. Can you tell us what are the special features that make it stand out? How is it possible to link the local enogastronomy to tourism?

Absolutely, it is very possible. We always welcome our guests with open arms. In fact, in the whole area, especially in west Veneto where we are located, the potential for enotourism is enormous. Verona’s downtown with the arena as well as Lake Garda, which is half an hour’s drive away to the west of Verona, are amazing places. And then we have our valleys, including in the Valpolicella, which are absolutely outstanding. Since Roman times this was already a wine region; it was the valley of the cellars.


If we focus now on Pasqua, 2015 marked a crucial milestone for the history of your company with your 90th anniversary. Could you give us an overview of the genesis of your company and its growth throughout the years?

The company was founded in 1925 by my grandfather Riccardo, so we are celebrating our 91st anniversary this year. He founded the company in Verona when he came up with the idea of importing wines from his hometown, Trani, which is located in the region of Apulia.

I say importing because back then the wines were very different. They were more of a complement for the meals, and the wines made in the south were more full bodied than the ones in our area. He opened up a wine bar to sell these wines and he was very successful. Then he opened a second one, a third one and so on, until he had 10 osterias all around the city. Thanks to that success, he called his three brothers and together they opened their own cellar. Then he bought an old convent from the Church and they started the winery in the eastern part of the town.

The second generation came on board during the 60s with the idea of developing exports and quality. We were one of the first families to start investing for export production and who understood the potential of the world. We first exported to our neighbors in Germany, Switzerland, and the UK, and then eventually we went overseas.

The third generation brought internationalization to the table, meaning that we are one of the very few winemakers to have a subsidiary in the USA importing its own products. This started in 2009. After having many doors slammed in my face, I said to myself that I should go personally to the USA and open Pasqua USA. I would skip the typical importer stage and I would open the distribution on my own. From the moment I arrived there I decided to conquer 50 states, and nine provinces in Canada. I had no idea of how I would do it by myself, so I decided to find a partner to complete my portfolio. I had a friend from Chile who had done the same thing many years before. He was a very important wine manager back then–I called him the wolf of the wine business. One day we met and discussed the details of the Chilean American subsidiary of their company. After that, we decided to work together and join our efforts as a sales team. So we did and it was very successful.

Over the last six years we opened in 47 of the 50 states in the US, and we grew substantially. Now America is our first market by far. Furthermore, the USA is now Pasqua's main asset because by skipping the importer we have a direct relationship with the customers that nobody else can touch. Secondly, from a business perspective, the margin of the importer has become ours, so we can control the leverage, decide on more aggressive pricing, reach a greater marketing budget, and therefore make more profits. That has been one of the reasons for our strong numbers in 2015.

Owning the distribution is the most important pillar of our strategy. We will try to replicate it first in the countries with more potential. Even if everybody is talking now about Asia and China, our strongest customers are more traditional, for example Germany.


Can you tell us the story behind your last innovation, Mai Dire Mai?

Absolutely, Mai Dire Mai is part of the second pillar of our strategy, which is selling and promoting the excellence of our valley, Valpolicella. The new project wants to position itself in the luxury sector and, as with all projects of excellence, it starts from the very roots of the product, which in the case of wine is the vineyard. It is a project that starts from the opportunity my family had to work on these unbelievable vineyards in Cellore d’Illasi, which is the rising star of Valpolicella, in the eastern part. This piece of land is absolutely perfect; it stands 400 meters above sea level, with the ideal position, soil and density.

Everything started from the opportunity of working on this piece of land. That is the origin of the name as “Mai Dire Mai” means “never say never”. We thought we would never be able to find land to buy in that region. Valpolicella is one of the coolest and mostly sought after wine regions not only in Italy but also in the world. To give you an idea of the situation, during the last years, only three hectares changed of hands.


You participated in the 50th edition of the VinItaly, one of the most important events for the wine sector. Can you give us a little bit of the highlights of this event? What did it mean for you and your company?

First of all, I am very proud to be one of the very few wineries that participated in all of the 50 editions. It was a successful event for us, since it was very glamorous and global. This year, apart from Italian dignitaries such as President Mattarella and Prime Minister Renzi, we had as a very special guest – the Alibaba founder Jack Ma. This brings to the table the importance of e-commerce for wine and sets the discussion about where it is going to be or where it is going to end. He is an important player for the conquering of the Chinese market.

Vinitaly is an unbelievable event in Verona, since during those days the city becomes completely energetic. There are events around every corner and wine tastings everywhere. Being a Veronese producer, I must say that it was very positive to gather important decision and opinion makers and let them visit our wineries.

Another event we had was an important meeting with all the European ministers of agriculture.


The wine sector is exploding and the most sophisticated markets show higher awareness of the quality and properties of the products. What is the best way to pair your wine with Italian food?

I can say that Veneto is the first exporter to North America. We have three big categories: Pinot Grigio, Prosecco and the red blend from the western Veneto, Valpolicella. Prosecco is becoming popular and strong because people understand its versatility; you can have it with every meal. It is a perfect pairing with nice appetizers, seafood, finger food or shrimps, for instance. Pinot Grigio is perfect for light white meat meals or a nice salad. The red blends from our valley are perfect for a rich pasta or risotto. Amarone is great with red meats and rich steaks but it is also a good pair for chocolate.