Vino Nobile producers: just say no to Merlotization!

It’s truly difficult to understand why the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Producers Association recently presented such a peculiar proposal, namely, that the minimum percentage of Sangiovese allowed by appellation regulations be lowered from 80% to 70% while the percentage of “varieties recommended and authorized by the province of Siena” (read Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, etc.) be raised.

It’s even more difficult to understand such a proposed change in the light of the results of a study published by the association in the days following Vinitaly. The association reported that an overwhelming majority of those surveyed responded that they consider Vino Nobile di Montepulciano to be a wine with a “strong identity” derived from its “terroir.”

It’s even more difficult to understand in the light of a proposal made just 20 kilometers away, in the Orcia DOC, where producers wish to create an “Orcia Sangiovese” appellation that would require a minimum of 90% Sangiovese and a maximum of 10% indigenous varieties (as opposed to international varieties “recommended and authorized” by the province).

If the proposed changes are approved, it will lead Vino Nobile toward “extreme internationalization,” as Carlo Macchi has noted intelligently on his blog Wine Surf.

At the recent Anteprima del Vino Nobile 2006 (Vino Nobile Preview 2006), there was no denying that the best wines were those were wines in which Sangiovese played a starring role (perhaps integrated with small amounts of Canaiolo, Mammolo, Ciliegiolo, or Colorino). Leafing through the technical data presented at the preview, the attachment to Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile, as it is known locally) was evident: many, in fact, declared 90-95% Sangiovese in their wines and some reported 100%.

In the light of its strong Tuscan identity and the fact that Vino Nobile is practically synonymous with Sangiovese and Prugnolo Gentile, why on earth would producers want to de-Prugnolize or de-Sangiovize their wines and make Vino Nobile another Cabernetized and Merlotized appellation?

Vino Nobile producers: just say no to Merlotization!

—Franco Ziliani

In 1980, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano became the first Italian appellation to be awarded DOCG status.

Sagrantino cru designation study gets go-ahead

The Sagrantino di Montefalco Producers Association has received the green-light from Italy’s Agriculture Ministry to launch a study of proposed cru designations for the appellation. A commission of Italian and foreign experts, researchers, enologists, and journalists will be announced shortly, according to a statement released by the association.

The “pilot project” has been approved by the Italian Agricultural Ministry and will carried out in collaboration with the University of Florence. The model will be that of the French cru system.

Wine produced within the Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG will be classified according to 3 criteria: quality, notoriety, and price of the individual bottlings. The project was approved on December 19, 2008, by a ministerial decree that authorized a study for new classification system for the wines of Montefalco, to be conducted within the parameters of the current DOCG.

Results of the study, to be spearheaded by Professor Vincenzo Zampi (Department of Economy, University of Florence), will made available by the end of the 2010.

Study points to “generational transition” as cause for drastic reductions Italian wine sector

Roughly 1,700 Italian wine industry operators have shut their doors, according to a study commissioned by the Milan Chamber of Commerce, with an overall reduction of 2% in the sector.

Calabria and and the Marches showed restrained growth, with 40 and 27 new companies respectively, while Sicily (-704), Piedmont (-319), and the Veneto (-242) have experienced a drastic reduction in number of operators.

Click here to view region-by-region data.

“The grape growing and wine industries are important ones,” said Carlo Franciosci, Regional Councillor for the Milan Chamber of Commerce. “They are tied to our local and national culture and they carry the Italian brand and regional brands across the world. In this difficult year for many different industries, wine production has shown a reduction in the number of operators, particularly on a national level, even though Lombardy shows evidence of substantially maintaining its numbers. We still need to study the reasons behind this data, beginning with organizational processes and concentration within the sector. In many cases, the reduction is related to difficulties created by generational transitions that have caused operator to close or to give up their businesses to other more organized companies that have a better market presence.”

“Interregional” Prosecco DOC and Prosecco DOCG intended to battle “agropiracy”

According to a statement published last month by Italy’s agricultural ministry, recently approved legislation creating an interregional Prosecco DOC (covering Friuli-Venezia Giulia and the Veneto) and a Prosecco DOCG (covering traditional areas of production, Valdobbiadene, Conegliano, and the Colli Asolani) was intended to battle what minister Luca Zaia calls “agropiracy.”

“Thanks to this decision,” said Zaia in the statement, “the guarantee of the DOCG will be ensured historical areas of wine production, while all the other areas will be covered by the DOC: the total coverage will guarantee the future of Prosecco, a great Italian wine that boasts of 150 million bottles a year but is often the victim of unfair competition through agropiracy.”

“Still today, only 1 in 10 products sold as Italian actually arrive from our country. We need to combat this phenomenon with all means possible because not only does it hurt our producers, but it also hurts perception of the ‘Made in Italy’ brand.

“From now on, Prosecco producers will have yet another tool that helps them to protect themselves from this type of fraud and whoever — anywhere across the world — bottles wine and calls it ‘Prosecco,’ will no longer be able to do so beginning August 1.”

EU Common Market Organisation reforms take effect on August 1, 2009, and the inter-regional Prosecco DOC and the Prosecco DOCG will be folded into the new PDO Protected Designation of Origin appellation system.

Presumably, Zaia is referring to winemakers like the Brown Brothers in Australia, who produce what is slated to become a popular brand of New World Prosecco.

Some observers, like VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani, have questioned the wisdom of the interregional DOC.

“Are we sure,” wrote Franco in his blog Vino al Vino, “that this hypothetical interregional DOC, which extends to zones where Prosecco does not really have roots and where it its viability and the resulting wines have not been determined, will not end up being a remedy worse than the illness?”

Agreements reached in Brunello investigation, Biondi Santi and Col d’Orcia cleared, as inquiry moves forward for others

According to a report published Wednesday in the Italian daily La Nazione, Biondi Santi and Col d’Orcia have been cleared of any wrong doing in the Siena prosecutor’s Brunello investigation, while other wineries implicated have declassified their wines and reached agreements with the prosecutor, and the inquiry moves forward for Argiano, Frescobaldi, and Valdicava:

    Preservation of evidence hearings will be held on April 10 for three wineries implicated in the Brunello investigation. The preliminary investigation magistrate will nominate confidential counselors [independent investigators] for the wines released from the 2003 vintage by Argiano, Frescobaldi, and Valdicava.

    All of the other producers who have “declassified” their wines (from Brunello di IGT) requested and entered into negotiations. Their lawyers have already reached an agreement with the prosecutor. Now, their “agreement” must be formalized before a judge.

    Investigators will take no action against Biondi Santi and Col d’Orcia, whose owner, Francesco Marone Cinzano, was the president of the Consortium [of Brunello producers] when the Siena prosecutor for the Italian Republic began the investigation.

    [Translation by VinoWire]

No vote held on proposed Montalcino DOC

According to a post published today by Alessandro Bindocci at the blog Montalcino Report, no vote was held last week by the Association of Brunello Producers on the proposed creation of a Montalcino DOC. According to his report, the proposal was put to the floor but no action was taken, although a vote had been expected. Association members agreed to discuss the proposed appellation further.

If approved, the new appellation would take the place of the current Sant’Antimo DOC (which allows for the blending of grapes other than Sangiovese) and Rosso di Montalcino DOC (which requires 100% Sangiovese).

Observers agree that passage is unlikely.

The Italian government has until July 31, 2009 to issue new appellations before CMO reforms take effect and the power to create new appellations shifts from Rome to Brussels.