Friday, January 10, 2014

Are There Too Many DOP’s in Italy?

Since Italy aligned their wine regulations with the European Community in 2012, the unbridled enthusiasm to rush wine towards the vaunted DOCG position has been stultified. With 73 DOCG’s and 330 DOC’s rolled into the DOP categorization, some have wondered aloud if there are too many (403) appellations in Italy. With more DOCG’s coming on line (Nizza in 2015) and some confusion as to what is a DOP wine (is it DOC? DOCG? Both? Something else?) and looking at the large numbers of wines with appellation (DOC/DOP) that make up a minute amount of actual wine produced, Carlo Flamini (who has submitted some interesting comments here) has written an article in the “Il Corriere vinicolo”, "Tempo di Scegliere", (password required) proposing Italian winemakers (and lawmakers) might step back and revisit how they are promoting "Brand Italy" to the world.

Thanks to Donatella Cinelli Colombini, who lives and works in Tuscany for a thought provoking piece on here website, “Le 327 piccole denominazioni di vino devono sparire?(translated here for English speakers) which in essence outlines a proposal by Flamini to consider eliminating 327 DOC/DOP wines in Italy.

The rational is that 92% of the denominated wine in Italy is produced by 76 appellations and the remaining 327 account for only 8%. For purposes of driving the Italian wine brand in the world, some think the efforts to promote the more obscure ( and small production) wines takes away from the bigger picture of making Italian wine more important and easier to understand to people in America, China and everywhere else that Italian wine is sent via global trade.

There is also talk of folding some of the smaller DOC/DOP wines into larger ones, in order to give those wines a greater chance for promotion and exposure within the larger, more visible appellations.

As one would expect, producers of some of those 327 appellations are concerned that their story will be lost, or at best, homogenized into the story of another territory.

Identity is at the very heart of the issue here. While Italian wines seem complicated to the outsider, to those inside those small wine producing areas, there are generations of families who have husbanded and cared for the land and the name. And really it has only been since the end of World War II that the development of Italian wine has become a more global enterprise. So if you are a producer of, let’s say, Bolgheri DOC/DOP, does it make sense to roll it into the Suvereto DOCG/DOP appellation? All the while there is talk of Bolgheri is fractioning off a new DOC/DOP, Bolgheri Sassicaia. Which direction are we going, towards more appellations? Or Less? And which is the best thing for the individual territory?

I think the producer of Sassicaia think having their own DOC/DOP is a rational evolution. If it’s good enough for Chateau Grillet, it should be good as well for Sassicaia?

But does a small, less visible (or less affluent) territory, like Orcia, or Aprilia, or any number of those 327 DOC/DOP wines run the risk of having their identity disappear even further into the fog of Italian (and now European) wine laws?

What do you think? The logs are on the fire for the debate. In all likelihood the 327 will not lose their place and their appellation. But what are we doing to promote and make aware to wine drinkers around the world these many wonderful (and obscure) wines?

I have not tasted all 403 (currently) DOP Italian wines and I don’t know how many people in the world have. If I were to take a test, I’d probably be able to name 100. After 30 years on the wine trail in Italy, I admit to failure in embracing all that Italy has to offer. But for the producers, the farmers, the winemakers, and young people who live and (have work) work on the land, to be minimized in a country (and world) that it is already proving very challenging to make a life in, I have to stare into the crystal ball and wonder where this is going?

Where is Italian wine being led?

Who has the vision?

Thoughts, anyone?

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Carlo Flamini said...

Dear Alfonso, I just want to be the first to post a comment on my thought. I observe numbers, and numbers say clear things: further to what you've mentioned, in the article mentioned by Donatella there was a simple analysis saying this: Italy produces every year 45-46-47 million hl of wine. The Do/Ig which really end their life in a bottle are about 20 million hl (11,5 Dop, about 10 Igp).
Now, of these 20 million, 66% (13,5 million) is made by 10-11 big appellations (Soave, Valpolicella, Asti, the magic trio Chianti-Chianti Classico-Toscana, Sicilia) or grape varieties which live under a Dop/Igp (Pinot grigio, Primitivo/Negroamaro, Montepulciano, Lambrusco). Prosecco, the very latest phenomenon, was born as a grape, now is a Dop, but for a million people out there is just “Prosecco”, a brand new category of wine (here the table,
It’s not over yet. The total export of Dop/Igp bottled wines is about 11 million hl, half of what we produce and really bottle, the remaining half is supposed to be consumed in Italy. So, in these 11 million hl exported, the percentage of 66% seen before could be higher and higher for those 10-11 big appellation/grape varieties.
Further step: 65% of bottled wine export from Italy goes to 6 countries: US, Canada, Germany, UK, Japan, Switzerland. How much higher can you guess will get the share of those 10-11 big wines restricting the view only on these countries?
Now, the problem is: we pretend to have the most incredible heritage of grapes varieties and appellation of origin, but the reality is another matter, as numbers show. We use huge amount of public money for promoting our wines reserving the same chance of getting them to a Dop of 1 million hl with thousand of wineries as for the small Dop of 3,000 hl, just because “it’s a Dop wine”. The criteria for distributing money is by Region, every Region wants his slice of pie: if not used for promotion, no problem, money will be given for restructuring vineyards, something we could do less after 20 years of intense plans of renovation everywhere. Then, having a small Dop even if just a virtual one is useful for getting money from EU in the Rural development programs, as no-one checks if you bottle wine, but you’ve got the right just because you live in an area where you breath “Dop air”.
Another point: small Dop wines cost a lot of money for quality controls and analysis, if they could get gathered together under a big common Dop, costs of certification could be saved, with benefits both for small and big producers, as the control body is often the same for a region.
As you can see, no one said the small Dop should disappear: if the potential of an area is 1,000 hl and 1,000 hl are bottled, no problems for them, they should just consider the opportunity of saving money for certification, it’s an opportunity, and I do not see as small producers should not get it. But we have Dop with enormous potential which no one believes in. These, yes, should all be fired, leaving room (and money) for the ones who really work.
Returning to the main point, the top 10 wines exported: Italy is the only country which has not yet a strategic plan of development and promotion, I mean a collective plan, something to claim as “Italy = Wine”. Australia got it, Chile got it, Argentina got it, Spain is finally trying to get it. If million people around the world know Pinot grigio, Chianti, Valpolicella, Prosecco, Sicilia and so on (of course Brunello and Barolo, as jewels of the crown), why the only ones who pretend to ignore this are the Italian producers? Why don’t we use the appeal of these “magic” wines for promoting Italy as “a country of wine”, especially in those markets (China) which do not know anything about us? Don’t you think that this could benefit small producers and Dop too? Or maybe is it better continuing to send in the same days 3 different Dops to make promotion in the same countries, the same cities, stealing public one another?
Best regards, Carlo Flamini, Corriere Vinicolo editor

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks for you comments Carlo, and Thanks for reading and for being here.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Oh, my mistake. I thought you left an "E" out in the title.

Never mind.

Alfonso Cevola said...

@ Jeremy - is there a link where we might see that Gaja editorial?

@Ron - wr diting this yar - no _'s

Bicchiere said...

Mr. Gaja made two good points here: First is that for non-Italian observers (like me) there are "many Italies" and each one deserves it's own DOP. Second point is comparison with (so many) appelations of Burgundy, created for just two varieties. And it works, it helps to promote Burgundy and no one wants to make it simple by cutting them and leaving just Burgundy Rouge and B. White. Leave Italy all its colours, tastes and aromas :o)

Diana Zahuranec said...

Striving to become certified may well help save a huge variety of traditional wines, wines that would otherwise fade away (if disciplines were combined) or non-profitability (if regulations were simply too hard to meet, so they throw up their hands and forgo certification entirely).

The complexity of Italian wines is what makes them fascinating to outsiders, fun to try new ones -- and really, once you have a basic knowledge, further details can be filed under what you've already learned. The complexity, on the other hand, might be what saves many traditional wines from disappearing completely.

I don't know many policy details, where the money goes, etc.; but it's clear that more effort and $$ need to be directed towards a cohesive marketing plan for exportation (here I partially disagree with Gaja, who says "marketing is something each individual winery should, in its own way, learn"

Oh, and Jan. 13 marks the birth of Nizza DOCG:

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