It’s been a tough few weeks for the Victorian wine industry, which has been forced to close its cellar doors again, just as businesses were getting back on their feet. Winemakers such as Pizzini Wines have been seeking new ways to connect with customers.
Generous hospitality has always been front and centre at the King Valley winery in North East Victoria, which has been owned and run by the Pizzini family for three generations.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, that hospitality often started with a true Italian-style, warm welcome to cellar door.
Marketing director Natalie Pizzini has revealed how the family is pulling together during the crisis to pivot their business.
She said that while it has been an incredibly difficult time, there are many positives that have come from thinking outside the square regarding ways the famed Pizzini Wines hospitality can be recreated virtually.
“Since COVID-19 we twisted and turned and have not stopped, like most others in our industry,” she explained.
“One of the most exciting changes is engaging and connecting with our wine community online. We introduced two interactive activities, one a paid experience, the other to provide some fun and light relief at what is a difficult time for all.”
“We took our onsite cooking classes run by Katrina Pizzini and created a paid online experience. In late May we introduced an online gnocchi making class that includes an ingredient pack being sent to each participant that includes most of the ingredients and utensils needed to make perfect gnocchi and a Zoom link for the specific class time.
“Participants cook along with Katrina Pizzini and at the end have made their dinner – enough for them and their family! This has been very successful for us and we are in the processes of introducing a pasta and risotto class starting in September.
“The other online experience we’ve been trying is Facebook Live. We have worked with Jane Thomson from Fabulous Ladies Wine Society to run two Quizzy Nights in with Pizzini. These events have revolved around quiz questions, chats with Alfred and Joel Pizzini and lots of prizes to be won.”
Pizzini said customers have been amazing during the pandemic, with the winery remaining in regular contact with its community via EDMs and social media channels to keep them up to date with wine offers and online experiences.
“Our direct sales to our community are really what has kept us afloat,” she said. “Between our wine club and online sales this has not only kept our team busy, but also feeling some sense of positivity.”
Additionally, Pizzini Wines has launched a series of ‘Care & Share’ packs designed to encourage people to send some warmth to those who might need a boost.
“Nonna and Nonno’s kindness and generosity was legendary and still to this day we have people drop into cellar door to tell us stories of when their mum and dad worked on our farm in the 60s and 70s alongside our family,” Pizzini said.
“They were told the stories of how Rosetta and Roberto Pizzini helped them during tough times whilst they were working hard share farming to establish a new life in Australia.
“We wanted to create an easy way for people to send some of this Pizzini hospitality to those who might really appreciate it right now. So, we gathered some of our favourite products from our cooking school and our cellars and packaged them together for the first time.”
Changing consumer tastes
Data from IRI shows consumer buying habits have shifted in recent months. While Australians are becoming more value conscious, they are also looking to treat themselves to affordable luxuries.
“We have noticed some changes in habits and not just in wine style selection, but also purchasing channel,” Pizzini said. “Given the circumstances, many of our sales over recent months have come via our website and sales not just in wine but produce. The recent launch of our Care & Share Packs was prompted by studying the changes in habits and providing a product that was focussed on a moment of joy – either bringing it to yourself or giving it to someone else.”
“We have also seen a swing to increased sales in our Nonna Gisella Sangiovese, which is priced at about $21.50 per bottle.
“It could be the style – fresh, juicy and delicious or the price or even the name – right now we all need some comfort and who doesn’t love a Nonna?”
Innovation in a crisis
In mid-February, Pizzini Wines launched a canned wine range, including Prosecco, Pinot Grigio Spritz and a Rose Spritz.
“With increasing popularity of wine in a can around the world we saw an opportunity to build a new market in this space by offering a premium product,” Pizzini said.
“We launched at a difficult time – right at the start of COVID-19 – so considering this, where the sales are is comforting. We do envisage that when the weather starts to warm up, and we spend a little time on driving the awareness of them, we will see some improvement on this as well.”
The Pizzini Wines cans are currently available nationally in most First Choice, Liquorland and Vintage Cellars stores as well as online www.pizzini.com.au.
The battle to retain the processco name
Winemakers in the King Valley have busy in their own backyards, battling with the daily changes brought by COVID-19, but they are preparing to look outwardly together soon.
“I think in the coming weeks our operators in the King Valley will regroup and begin to focus on this,” Pizzini said. “Our King Valley community has always worked co-operatively together to drive greater awareness for our wine region and I am sure once things settle that we will get back in to the groove.”
As for the ongoing fight to retain the right to call their most famous product prosecco, Pizzini said there is still a long way to go.
“It certainly is a battle and the Italians are worthy opponents,” she noted.
“COVID-19 hasn’t really slowed the conversations, but we are fortunate that Australian Grape and Wine are in our corner and keeping things going with the Federal Government over this trade negotiating period. There is very little to report other than neither side is about to back down!”
Pictured main: Alfredo, Natalie & Joel Pizzini