Silvia Altare, Piedmont: ”The impact on our local, national and worldwide economy will be disastrous”

Silvia Altare, winemaker at Elio Altare in Piemonte.
Andreas Grube
Published 26-March-2020
Interview

”We are struggling in Barolo, as well as in the rest of the country. It’s really not easy to be positive these days, but we stay strong as we are all in this together,” says Barolo winemaker Silvia Altare about the current corona crisis.

When I talk to Silvia Altare, winemaker at domain Elio Altare in La Morra in Piedmont, Italy has been strictly locked down for almost three weeks, and two more weeks have been announced.

”As you know La Morra is a small village, far away from the glamour and the noise of the big cities, so we have always felt privileged and safe, but now friends from the village are sick, and people we know have already passed away. It’s scary and psychologically very intense, not to mention that the effect on the economy is going to be disastrous,” she says.

How’s your daily work affected by this situation?
”We stand strong, and life goes on: in our case, work cannot stop! It’s spring, and we have a lot of vineyards work at this time of year, and it cannot be postponed or cancelled, so all our six workers are active and working in the fields, cutting grass, tying the vine branches, fixing old vineyards, spraying, there is always something to do these days.”

”We are not working in the cellar though; everything that we would normally do at this time of the year (racking, blending, assembling, getting ready for bottling) has been postponed for later when it will be possible to work together in the same space. Shipping and deliveries have dropped to zero and office work is very little compared to what we would normally have.”

Italian restaurants, bars and wine stores have been closed for three weeks, and who knows when they will be able to reopen

What long term effects do you think this crisis will have, both for you personally and for the wine scene in Italy in general?
”The impact on our local, national and worldwide economy will be disastrous. Let’s all be ready for dark times. Right now, importers (from all over the world) don’t know what will happen, so they have cancelled or blocked all orders. Italian restaurants, bars and wine stores have been closed for three weeks, and who knows when they will be able to reopen, and if they will reopen.”

”The only way to stay positive is to think about history: history teaches us that after any recession, any big crisis or major bad events there is always euphoria, the more panic now, the more euphoria after…. the question is still how deep we go and the duration. Another problem is that a lot of customers are now using the coronavirus as an excuse not to pay, or to postpone the old bills, so that leaves us with the problem of cashing back all the old orders we shipped in the past months.”

Are you getting any support from the government at all?
”For our government, the’ agricultural department’ hasn’t officially stopped. The problem is that we’re not just farmers, we’ transform’ and produce something that has to be sold in order to survive. So, in this specific moment, the government hasn’t released any special support for us, they are talking about a’ temporary lay-off scheme’ for employees, but who knows when or if that ever will be effective.”

”We are a financially historic well-established company, so right now I’m keeping and paying all my six employees, but ask me again the same question in six months from now…”

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