We interviewed Geralyn Brostrom, one of the 14 Italian Wine Experts in the world, the highest certification of the Vinitaly International Academy. We spoke about his career in the world of wine, his work as educator and the current state of the American market, where Italian wine is a leading star.

First, we would like to know more about your passion for wine and your job in the sector as founder and director of Italian Wine Central and also as wine instructor.

I would say my passion for wine is equaled by my passion for education. I started teaching first—French to high school students then marketing to university students—and then evolved in to wine. I led the first Italian wine seminars in the US hosted by IEEM in 2002. Eventually, I became vice president of education for the then Italian-centric importer Winebow. I later co-founded Italian Wine Central because, at the time, there was no online source where US-based wine professionals could get up-to-date, accurate information about Italian wine in English. Our courses and the website represent the synergy between two of my passions: helping others learn, and the allure of Italy—its language, culture, food, wine, and people. The courses, for both professionals and passionate consumers, take a serious but lighthearted approach to make sure our students become impassioned, not overwhelmed.

You are an Italian Wine Expert, can you describe for us how your love for Italian wines started and developed?

It was during my time at Winebow that my passion for Italian wine was forged, working with some of the best Italian producers there are! I keep in contact with many of the producers to this day. As a compulsive list-maker with an insatiable curiosity, Italian wine studies are a natural fit for me. Lists of regions, lists of never-heard-of grape varieties, lists of DOCs and DOCGs, disciplinari, and of course delicious wines—Italy has it all. In 2006, I became an Italian citizen, and so explaining to others the sheer diversity that Italy has to offer is a continuing mission.

How has the past year of restrictions, due to the pandemic, affected the wine market in the US?

Well, a lot has been written about this already, so I am not sure I can say anything new, but the summary is:

  • Direct-to-consumer activities, specifically online wine sales, skyrocketed. No one knows how much of this trend will stay, but online will remain a factor.

  • During the time of stress, American wine consumers stuck to brands they knew—“comfort brands”—and became less adventuresome. However, they definitely consumed more wine than before the pandemic.

  • Many restaurants pivoted to takeout or closed all together. While wine was sold at takeout, sales shifted away from this channel dramatically. This is an area that must be rebuilt or “re-thought” for any significant recovery here.

  • The supply chain was completely disrupted—as it was worldwide. We are still experiencing supply chain issues, such as bottle shortages and interrupted shipping logistics.

Can you describe how Italian wine is perceived in the US market and what is its positioning?

Americans’ love affair with Italian wine is still flourishing. Italy has long maintained the top position among all imported table wines, and it currently enjoys a 38% market share (according to Shanken News Daily). Italy was lucky in 2020 to escape the tariffs, allowing her wines to maintain market position. That said, consumers still gravitate toward brands they know. With Italy’s wealth of indigenous varieties (in my opinion, the most interesting aspect), there are lots of opportunities, but producers and importers need to help educate sales staffs and consumers constantly.

Can you give some general suggestions to Italian producers willing to export their wines to US, which customer segment to address, strategies to follow, channels to use?

When I am not focusing on things Italian, I lecture on wine business topics in the Wine MBA program at Sonoma State University and I am pursuing my Doctor of Business Administration at Bocconi University in Milan, so I follow the import channels. This is a complex subject, but some quick advice would be:

  • Producers need a complete marketing strategy that includes pricing targets, budget commitments for promotion, and of course a great product (consistency, quality, packaging etc.). Don’t try to conquer the country all at once—it is simply too big. Talk to your importer and start with one or a few states where your product is likely to succeed and build a base from there.

  • Italy is a country of in-person interactions, but don’t disregard the online sales channels that are growing. The best platforms allow for rich product content and stories to be shared with consumers.

  • The 30-to-50 age group is an under targeted group. They are ready to buy wine, and communication can be key. Use social media to actively talk to consumers; they will tell you what they want.

For a complete program on market strategies into the US, readers can access the Vinexpo US Market Education Program I created in conjunction with Sonoma State and Vinexpo America. We covered the three-tier system, price setting, label requirements, approval processes, how to find an importer, and how to evaluate an import relationship.

Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts with Wine Meridian!