Elizabeth Berger runs her own consultancy, based in Tuscany, advising on fine wine branding, export and marketing from Piedmont to Sicily. She began her career in London in 2002, managing distributor Berkmann’s Italian portfolio, and moved to Mentzendorff in 2005, where four years later she was appointed the first female director in its 150 year history.
How did you get here?
It all began with a long walk from Canterbury, Kent to Rome in 2000 – through wine-growing regions – where the passion set in. Shortly afterwards I joined Berkmann Wine Cellars in London, convincing my Italian then-boyfriend we would stay in the city for just 18 months – this evolved into 12 years. In 2013 we relocated to Montalcino, where I set up my wine business consultancy. To many it seemed crazy, but I knew the time was right and haven’t looked back.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The varied nature of it – ranging from securing export routes for producers, to strategic consultancy for start-ups, to marketing consultancy for estates in emerging regions, to scouting and on-territory relationship support for top importers, to acquisition consultancy for foreign investors. My work takes me from Italy’s far north to its deep south, and I feel as if I’m on a constant journey of discovery.
And the worst?
The bureaucracy. Anyone who has spent any real time in Italy knows what I mean.
What’s the most common misconception about your job?
That I work a standard day.
What’s your greatest work moment?
Becoming the first ever female board member of Mentzendorff at the age of 29 wasn’t bad. But actually I take more pleasure from smaller moments – discovering a wine and unlocking its route to export is deeply satisfying.
And your greatest mistake?
My only real regrets are when I don’t make a journey – there is no replacement for a face-to-face meeting.
How do you know a producer and import agency will fit well?
I begin with the certainties, the analytical part: assessing the market, the gaps, the potential and needs of a given importer. These are tangibles and help to focus the selection. What makes a perfect fit, though, is when you know the producer and importer will like one another personally. You can tell immediately, and it gives the relationship the best chance of success.
What wine styles are most in demand?
Market uncertainties tend to drive importers to better-known regions and away from anything that might be deemed risky. I’m also seeing growing interest in whites and lighter-style reds.
What excites you right now in Italy?
When Trebbiano Toscano is made thoughtfully, it stops you in your tracks. Grillo is also exciting right now, and Cabernet Franc on the Tuscan coast impresses me more and more.
How can visitors to Tuscany discover exciting small wineries?
It’s easy to think if you are visiting Tuscany for a few days you can cover off Chianti, Montalcino, Montepulciano and Bolgheri – it’s too ambitious! You’ll enjoy your visit far more if you focus. If you’ve no idea where to begin, it’s worth taking a guide for a day. Also, visit a local wine shop for recommendations.
You’re also selling olive oil en primeur – how does that work?
We set up Frantoi.org in 2016 having identified a handful of exceptional growers/millers across Italy. Each of them owns their groves and mill, and during the harvest each year we offer a selection of their oils for a limited period when the oils are at their freshest. It’s en primeur extra virgin olive oil and it’s hugely interesting.