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Marco Sabellico, Senior Editor of Gambero Rosso, the leading platform in the Italian Wine Travel & Food sector, told about unique format, his excellent team and shared his impressions about Ukrainian wines.
What is your impressions on your first visit to Ukraine, what do you like or don’t?
First of all, I was really surprised how many people were at the event. My master classes were packed. I received a lot of questions regarding Italian wines and food. There was a very positive attitude towards me and my colleges, we were very pleased. Therefore, we are planning to come back in the future to organize more events because we understand that Ukraine can be an important partner to Italian food and wine cultural exchanges.
Everyone knows how the Gambero Rosso team works, but everyone is interested in who these shrimps are, tell us about the team, about the editorial staff which develop the Gambero Rosso as a brand.
We grew up a lot, Gambero Rosso is a long story started at 1986 from a column on a daily newspaper then become a weekly page and then become a monthly supplement. That is the moment when I joined the team – it was already a well-known monthly supplement of a daily newspaper. After one year, in 1992 we became independent – Manifesto sold Gambero Rosso to a big editorial group, after few months it was sold again and it was bought by our founder and director Stefano Bonilli. Finally, we started on our own without being a part of a group. We stayed independent until 2010, when the founder left GR and unfortunately in a few years later died. So, the new ownership is represented by our actual president Paolo Cuccia who has been managing the company for a couple of years. Now it is a publishing company, but we have a wide range of activities, such as TV, web & social media, schools, organizing the events all around the world. Then we entered in another big group Class Editori, which is a huge editorial group, an owner of a lot of magazines and newspapers and where we present one of the food and wine lifestyle sections. Recently 1,5 year ago very important Pegaso Online University entered in the ownership of Gambero Rosso. We will develop this part of the owing and be a part of this project because they are the main online university in Italy. They specialized in a modern tool of online teaching.
Could you, please, tell more about your team?
Oh, yes, my team, my pride… because it is five of us in GR office in Rome but we control 70 contributors around Italy which are the fundamental tool to make a wine guide. I am in charge of making a wine guide, and this requires a lot of work with contributors which are spread around the country, from North to South, from Piedmont to Sicily. Some of them are writers, some of them – only tasters, but all of them have a very deep knowledge on Italian wines, it’s a real pleasure to work with them. We have carefully selected them through the years and now I can say it is a very valuable team. I am the editor-in-chief of a wine guide but I also have two colleagues which are freelancers (long time contractors) and they do the wine guide with me. One is Gianni Fabrizio, he lives in Piedmont and he is a fantastic wine expert, very well known in France, Germany, Switzerland and in many other countries, a real talent of wine tasting and has an encyclopedic knowledge on Italian wine scene. The other one is Giuseppe Carrus, he joined us only in 2020, but he comes from the GR school. 15 years ago he took a course in food and wine journalism organized by GR for one year after the university. He was the brilliant student and worked a lot as a freelancer and little by little we gave him more responsibilities on the organization of the wine guide and now he is experienced enough to be an Editor-in-chief like me and my colleague Gianni. So these are three of us at the top of the organization.
Please, could you be so kind to clarify how the work with the online project is now going on, what international programs you have implemented, how to participate and how much it costs?
My colleague Lorenzo Ruggeri is in charge of the international projects. He is also the editor of the Top Italian restaurants guide which is available for free on gamberorossointernational.com, in the restaurant section. In this period we have been working a lot on the net and therefore on the new international website which now hosts at least 4/5 news items a day. We also have a digital magazine that comes out every two months, also this for free, which is called Wine Travel Food, while in recent weeks we have launched a free newsletter called Gambero Rosso Weekly, sent out every Friday. It deals with topics concerning food and wine with a strong focus on Italy. All this is in anticipation of being able to start again with international events all around the world as early as June.
How does the selection take place, the first and the second. Is there an advertising campaign and you yourself apply, tell us the internal mechanism. How are the judges selected, who are they?
The wine world knows about the GR event and we cooperate with the producers’ associations (consortiums) and they collect the samples. So, they know that we have a big event in April at VinItaly where all Italian wine world participates, where we also could meet new wineries. From the local Chamber of commerce, we collect all the samples and after VinItaly at the end of April, we start the tasting. Some of the areas send samples to Roma and we start the wine tastings with wine professionals: journalists, wine collectors, wine writers etc., even bankers and doctors with the passion about wine. And everyone who developed enough experience in wine tasting through the years can join us and taste in our team. We have tasters from all over the world. I select the tasters and we are interested to have a lot of them: the more we have, the more objective our work is.
How can one get into your pool of tasters? This is a hint 🙂
We invite every year one or two colleagues which we have met in our events during the year to join us for tastings…
How does the tasting in technical aspects looks like?
Wines, which got the highest score in the regional tasting sessions, go to Rome. In the final tasting, we decide (the Editors-in-chief) who will get the Bicchieri. Actually we have 4 scales for the guide: 3 Bicchieri, 2 Bicchieri, red marked – these are wines which were invited to Rome but didn’t get 3 Bicchieri, and other 2 Bicchieri marked in black which were not tasted in Rome, and one glass. Besides these tastings, we have a number of special awards.
How do you work under these conditions now? Only offline or do you usually organize meetings? How did you make the decision? Do you travel to the regions or gather around the table?
In this situation we all work online, I receive a lot of samples from the wineries, my colleagues do the same. We have a lot of video tastings and a lot of viewers. One of the video project was a TV program: 7 chefs were cooking the receipts with the same ingredients and I was the one to pair wines in the end. We did everything from home with families, made videos and connected with each other by phone. Now we are focused on a project called “Stappa con Gambero Rosso” which is a seriest of short videos (6-7 minutes) shot in Città del Gusto Roma where I present a winery and taste a wine. And all these tastings are then put online on the social media.
What was the hardest?
Yes, it was, because I use to travel everywhere and being for such a long time home was hard. But lockdown is the only way to resist the problem and of course the vaccination. But we were lucky enough last year. We could travel a lot in June, July and August through the regions and we had small commissions, mostly three tasters, to respect the rules of social distancing. Hope everything will change soon. Big news: I had my first dose of vaccine, so from May 3rd I’ll be on the way for the new tastings… The 2022 edition of the Guide is about to take off… It will be our 35th edition…
In incomplete 2020, a team of 70 experts working for Gambero Rosso has tasted more than 46 thousand wines. This is an impressive number. How many wines do you taste per day?
Usually, when we work for the Guide we taste 100 wines per day. My favorite time starts at 9.30 until 14.00-15.00. I never make big pauses, it is more complicated to start again the tasting J. But it depends on timetable, the area, the zone… It is not a rule but we try to taste at list 70-80 wines per day, otherwise we cannot make it. And I never drink coffee during the tasting. I try not to eat even any biscuits or bread, and drink water as minimum as possible.
Tell us about the tensest (hard) and funniest episode in this selection process.
I can tell you about the special things how we work together with my colleagues. After the tasting we collect all the texts and in August work together in the office. We correct and check the Italian language, grammar, insert everything into the database. That is a time when everybody is out of town… We work in a big hall, 5-6 people together. I take my hi-fi equipment, we make cocktails, we cook, organize dinners together, but we work for 8-10 hours a day. We live somehow like a family, nevertheless we work very hard! We do three times proofreadings and at the end I need to read every single page of more than 1200 pages in total. What can I say, 4 eyes are better than 2 and 6 are better than 4, so that is why I have my 2 very experienced colleagues.
I am a very paper person, and I prefer to work with paper, and proofreading is in paper. They criticize me, but I am old-school 🙂 I need to see a printed page in front of me.
I know what you mean! 🙂 But it’s also a pleasure – I’m not talking about proofs – to hold a print edition in your hands! High-quality paper, fonts, shades, design details – digital is more ascetic. And the print suits to the wine 🙂 We see how GR is supported and trusted by so many producers. But at the beginning of the journey, you were very small.
Little by little we became big, and it was a winning decision to organize events outside of Italy and since the beginning the guide was translated into English and German, and that was very important. Then we have Chinese and Japanese markets which are growing and we make a translation also into these languages.
How did your publishing house get the support from such a huge number of producers, consortiums? Certainly not comparable to our producers and our magazine. Our markets are radically different.
People need to know what winemakers produce, what they do and they need partners to explain people what’s new, what’s good, what’s going on. The more you do, the better you do, the more people trust you. Little by little we build the trust, it took us 35 years with a Guide.
You have a GR international Events office. What are your plans in this direction?
We have Tiina Eriksson in charge of the international projects. Develop the international is our main issue and I hope we will increase as soon as it is possible. The Italian producers are asking us to organize such events and we need to do it. And as soon as possible we are back on the track.
You have tasted a wide range of Ukrainian wines. What are your impressions?
My impression is that you have a very interesting terroir, Odessa area. I saw young producers aware of what it takes to make wines of good quality, entrepreneurs that want to invest in this business. They all seemed very professional. What they lack is experience, maybe, but little by little this experience will come. But this start is rather interesting, and I am very positive. I think Ukraine should develop the wine industry. You have what it takes. A suggestion? Don’t follow too much the international style. Try to develop also local styles based on local varieties more than Cabernet, Merlot etc. You have them. You can do it.