Sunday, August 28, 2016

An Italo-American Solution to the Dilemma of Nebbiolo in Piedmont

Self-portrait by Salvator Rosa
How do you handle a problem like Nebbiolo? Piedmont bestows upon the grape any number of iterations within the law to allow it to rise and shine. Among the DOP category (DOCG and DOC - Piedmont has no IGP/T classification) there are 25:

Alba DOC, Albugnano DOC, Barbaresco DOCG, Barolo DOCG, Boca DOC, Bramaterra DOC, Canavese DOC, Carema DOC, Colli Tortonesi DOC, Colline Novarese DOC, Colline Saluzzese DOC, Coste della Sesia DOC, Fara DOC, Gattinara DOCG, Ghemme DOCG, Langhe DOC, Lessona DOC, Monferrato DOC, Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC, Piemonte DOC, Pinerolese DOC, Roero DOCG, Sizzano DOC, Terre Alfieri DOC and Valli Ossolane DOC.

Nebbiolo is also allowed in these classifications outside of Piedmont: IGP Barbagia, IGP Basilicata, IGP Benaco Bresciano, IGP Colli Aprutini, IGP Colli del Limbara, IGP Colli del Sangro, IGP Collina del Milanese, IGP Colline Frentane, IGP Colline Pescaresi, IGP Colline Teatine, IGP del Vastese / Histonium, IGP Isola dei Nuraghi, IGP Marmilla, IGP Nurra, IGP Ogliastra, IGP Parteolla, IGP Planargia, IGP Provincia di Nuoro, IGP Provincia di Pavia, IGP Romangia, IGP Ronchi Varesini, IGP Sebino, IGP Sibiola, IGP Terrazze Retiche di Sondrio, IGP Terre Aquilane / Terre de L’Aquila, IGP Terre di Chieti, IGP Tharros, IGP Trexenta, IGP Valle del Tirso, IGP Valli di Porto Pino, Sforzato di Valtellina / Sfursat di Valtellina DOCG, Valle d’Aosta / VallĂ©e d’Aoste DOC and Valtellina Rosso / Rosso di Valtellina DOC, Valtellina Superiore DOCG.

Diogenes searching for an honest man by Salvator Rosa
The Nebbiolo grape doesn’t lack for exposure. It accounts for a mere 10% of grapes known to grow in Piedmont. So it gets its share of attention. And will continue to be in the spotlight, for many reasons.

The current tempest, a proposal which would allow the use of the word Nebbiolo to accompany the words Piemonte DOC on the label - in light of the many ways Nebbiolo can be utilized in Piedmont, what’s the big deal? What’s behind this? Who is benefitting? Who will be damaged? Are we talking, as we often do in Italian wine and culture, about so many angels dancing on the head of a pin?

It’s already one of those 20 DOC (and 5 DOCG’s) in Piedmont and one of more than 330 in Italy? That’s not special enough? You want to co-opt a shinier, bright DOC, Piemonte, and shove all your Nebbiolo into that category? What’s wrong with Coste della Sesia? Why not just make your Nebbiolo and call it Terre di Alfieri? Why not just let your Colline Saluzzese freak flag fly?

There are some who say the preponderance of these DOCS’s trivialize the appellation process. If so, what real harm could come from taking one of them, Piemonte, and attaching the name Nebbiolo to it? Was anyone paying attention anyway, when Nebbiolo was ascribed to the 20 other DOC’s ( and the 5 DOCG’s)? And some, like Barolo and Barbaresco, don’t give a brooms whisk to have the name Nebbiolo emblazoned on their label. They are, after all, Barolo. They are Barbaresco. Sunt ergo est.

The Liberation of Saint Peter by Salvator Rosa
From Piedmont Michele Antonio Fino wrote me, “I play the double role of a lawyer dedicated to wine regulation and winemaker in a tiny forgotten area of Piedmont. That's probably why I try to reconcile the opposites.

“A couple useful figures and references. Nebbiolo grapes in Piedmont occupy 4,200 hectares in 2010 (according to 3,600 are in the Langhe area (that embeds Barolo, Barbaresco and Nebbiolo d'Alba, roughly). 400 hectares aere in the north: from Lessona to Carema, from Ghemme to Gattinara, plus Coste della Sesia, Colline Novaresi, Canavese. 200 hectares are in the provinces of Asti and Alessandria. The latter could be used to make Monferrato rosso, with no citation of the name Nebbiolo on the labels.

“Currently, Art. 24 of TRIPS agreement (WTO annex) establish no protection in any State of the WTO for the simple name of a grape variety. That means, everybody can cultivate Nebbiolo and make wine with it, calling it with its own name, in every country, but apparently not in Piedmont, except (where) you grow vines in Langhe region.

“With proper regulation, quality and fair competition it could be preserved. In my opinion, there's no need for both exclusion (which lacks a legal basis) and, on the other side, claim for being allowed to use the name Nebbiolo without a deep commitment for quality, carved into a brand new proper regulation.”

Maurizio Gily, a colleague of Fino’s, is an optimist but also a person who thinks deeply on these matters. He questions the acceptability of a notion of whole world being able use the word Nebbiolo but 75% of Piedmont cannot. He has a point. What if we found something we had lost in the last 500 years? What if there were more areas capable of producing a wine of greatness like Barolo and Barbaresco. Shouldn’t producers in Piedmont have the opportunity to find that out?

Self Portrait by Salvator Rosa
One of my young colleagues in California, Stefano Poggi, works for the Batasiolo winery and spends countless hours criss-crossing the United States to educate his peer-millennial sommelier community about Piedmont. After a foundational statement, he expressed a contrapuntal and thoughtful viewpoint in an email:

“While it’s not uncommon in the North to have Aosta DOC ‘allowed grape’ and Trento DOC ‘allowed grape’, I can’t think of any large region that does so other than the bizarre Sicilia DOC ‘allowed grape’ and, of course, Piemonte DOC. However, Piemonte [DOC] exists probably to fill the IGT void. The whole point of the DOC system is to focus on increasing levels of regional specificity for certain grapes, so having such a broad region for a grape seems to run counter, especially for a grape like Nebbiolo that can create vastly different wines from bordering vineyards.

“Sure, you can make Nebbiolo from Valle de Guadaloupe or Australia but does it make sense other than commercially? Are you really making an amazing Nebbiolo based wine that resemble great Nebbiolo wines of the world (some sure cost like they do)?

“Are Asti and Monferrato so cash strapped that they’d rather go for a quick fix than an educational approach? Both areas have rich heritages. While I recently heard the Ferrari Export Manager claim that they made Italy’s first Metodo Classico wine (1902) I’m pretty sure Gancia of Asti has that title (1870). Also, unless I’m mistaken, Monferrato is the most likely birthplace of Barbera (or at the very least the first DOC Barbera).

“I mean, if we continue down this path we risk a multi grape multi region wine like say a wine made with [grapes from], say (hypothetically, for course) Torricella and Manduria from Puglia and Barbera from Alba that could pose to be Iconic of Italy.

Allegory of Fortune by Salvator Rosa
“I don’t think that ‘large cellars [will] start pumping out industrial quantities of Nebbiolo’ (Larner) to the tune of diluting what consumers think of Nebbiolo grape (I also wish that writers would favor ‘full structure’ instead of ‘full bodied’ for Nebbiolo). I also doubt the market would be flooded with cheap Nebbiolo as it is probably economically difficult to do so and would run counter to the reasoning behind it (might as well make good margins if you are going to use the word ‘Nebbiolo’). I don’t see a lot of Piemonte DOC Moscato in the market. Moscato is a key selling word but the grape is too expensive to make cheap faux Moscato d’Asti at any decent level of quality.

“Or, create a Nebbiolo di Monferrato DOC and Nebbiolo d’Asti DOC. Let the Commune’s prove that the wine has standalone merit. Italy has too few DOC’s as it is.”

Bingo - Out of the mouth of babes! Stefano nailed it: “create a Nebbiolo di Monferrato DOC and Nebbiolo d’Asti DOC.” Problem solved. An Italo-American solution to the dilemma of Nebbiolo in Piedmont.

The world stands rapt, waiting for Nebbiolo di Monferrato (#335) and Nebbiolo d'Asti (#336) to join the DOC club.

Allegory of the Lie  by Salvator Rosa

Post Script:
There are truly more important things going on right now than the identity crisis Nebbiolo finds itself in Piedmont these days. For one, there is a tragedy of biblical proportions in the Lazio, Marche and Umbria regions with recent earthquakes. There are scores of well qualified sites bringing up to the minute updates. And for those inclined, please check in with them. I will say this: While thoughts and prayers seem like a good idea to one sitting in their comfortable urban or suburban American dwelling - it isn’t what Italy needs right now. What they need is money. They need material goods, not abstract wishes. “Italy is in our thoughts and prayers” is not a solution. Or an absolution, to those who throw those words out in social media. That is not good enough – stop with the platitudes and send money. And if you do, do it in silence and don’t congratulate yourself on what a compassionate person you are. People and animals are suffering. Stop talking about it. Do something about it. Privately.

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