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(Reuters) - Italian winemakers, usually
wedded to centuries-old traditions, are
Facebook to boost sales that have been hit
by the global economic crisis
.

Italy, the world's second-biggest wine producer after
France, saw export sales drop 6 percent to 3.5 billion
euros in 2009 hit by the crisis and advancing competition
from the "New World" wines, according to industry data.

"In the times of crisis it is important to experiment with new
ways of making yourself known," Susanna Crociani of
family owned Crociani, makers of full-body red Tuscan
wine Nobile di Montepulciano (www.crociani.it) told
Reuters.

Crociani, who says she was the first Italian winemaker to
start a blog in 2004, said she has gained many new
clients -- individual wine lovers, restaurant owners and
professional buyers -- after launching a Facebook page.
She has also started to use Twitter just a few months ago.

"An advantage of social media is that you don't have to pay
(for making yourself known). You have to invest your time.
But it pays off," Crociani said at Vinitaly wine trade fair.

Contacts through social media have boosted Crociani's
online sales with the number of orders doubled to 50-60 a
month, a considerable help for the small company which
makes 60,000-70,000 bottles of wine a year, she said.

Facebook and Twitter, popular among the youth, are
especially important in winning back young consumers
who tend to favor beer or other drinks over wine, Crociani
said.

Keeping with the new trend, consortium uniting makers of
the famous Tuscan red Brunello di Montalcino
(www.consorziobrunellodimontalcino.it), opened a
Facebook page at the end of last year and now lists more
than 10,000 fans.

Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, which has also
activated ConsBrunello profile on Twitter in March, said it
was too early to evaluate the economic impact of such
innovations.

Crociani said Italian winemakers lagged far behind their
U.S. rivals in understanding the growing importance of
social media as new communication and marketing tools,
but first steps are being made.

Crociani has helped to set up a Twitter group "Tweet your
wine" a month ago which unites a dozen of Italian
winemakers. As the word spread around, several
winemakers came up to her on the first day of Vinitaly
asking to join the group, she said.

In the tough times, social media community has created a
kind of safety network as fellow winemakers exchanged
useful information and even passed on clients to each
other, she said.

Some conservative producers prefer stick to more
traditional ways of promoting their business.

Ca' del Bosco makers of bubbly franciacorta wine are due
to launch a new multimedia website
(www.cadelbosco.com) in about a month inviting clients to
an interactive visit to their winery and the Franciacorta
winemaking district in northern Italy.

Hardcore traditionalists reject innovative communication in
favor of personal contact with clients.

"We are part of history, part of a long tradition ... We prefer
to have people visiting our winery," said Vincenzo Protti of Il
Borgo di Vescine winery (www.vescine.it) whose history
dates back about 1,000 years and which now makes
some 60,000 bottles of Chianti Classico red wine a year.
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