Yesterday, Italy—which has recorded the second most confirmed cases of the coronavirus outbreak after only China—took the extraordinary measure of turning the entire country into a “protected zone.” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte labeled the decree as “I stay at home,” telling Italians that travel would be restricted except for “reasons of work, reasons of necessity, or health reasons,” all of which will require explanations. “The future of Italy is in our hands, and they must be responsible hands today more than ever,” he stated.
Though considering the food and wine implications at a time when schools and universities will be closed until at least April 3 and championship soccer matches are being postponed might seem relatively trivial, Italy is known for its cuisine, and the domestic impact alone is huge: restaurants, bars, cafes, clubs, all must remain closed.
Italy’s wine industry had already been feeling the impact of COVID-19. Last week, when Northern Italy was the primary focus of quarantine efforts, the region of Veneto postponed the deadline to request rural development funds that could benefit vineyards. Two days later, Vinitaly—one of the largest wine shows in the world—announced it would be shifting its start date from April 19 to June 14.
And yet, Maurizio Danese—president of Veronafiere, which runs Vinitaly—remained optimistic. “[The move] is a signal that Made in Italy is betting on a prompt economic recovery in the key sectors of the country-system,” he stated in announcing the change. “We therefore hope that the new national trade fair calendar can generate renewed confidence and be an instrument with which to capitalize on the restart of our country.”
But by last Friday, the Wall Street Journal was reporting that wineries in San Colombano del Lambro were struggling as visitors stopped arriving, though thankfully, these last throes of winter are a quiet time of year anyway. Things could be worse for nearby cheesemakers. “With new production stopped, we are going to have a period in 60 to 80 days when we won’t have any product to sell,” Antonio Croce, who runs a facility that makes Gorgonzola, was quoted as saying. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
And none of this yet takes into account the export market. “The Far East is completely frozen,” Sandro Boscaini, chairman of the wine producer Masi, said according to the WSJ. “Nothing is getting shipped there and our agents there are all blocked. Meetings, tastings and presentations, which are key for getting people in Asia acquainted with Italian wine, have all been canceled.”
Keep in mind, Boscaini said that before the quarantine was extended to all of Italy. It's possible the continuing spread of the coronavirus could lead to lockdowns in other countries as well. Regardless, what affects production in Italy affects the world: Though France may be Europe’s most highly-touted wine producing country, Italy is the world’s largest wine producer (followed by France, Spain, and then the U.S.) Vineyards may be relatively quiet now, but the longer things drag out, needless to say, the worse things can get.