Italian wine exports to U.S. drop 20% in first quarter 2009

“The worst has yet to come for the world of wine,” said Andrea Sartori, president of the Unione Italiana Vini (Union of Italian Winemakers) in an interview with last week. “We are really suffering [in terms of] exports,” he told the web-based publication. “I expect a tough 2009 but probably a tough 2010 as well.”

In the first quarter of 2009, exports to the U.S. market have decreased by 20%, in Great Britain by 13%, and Cananda by 17%. Sartori did note, however, that the German market has shown modest growth of 3.8%.

Antonio Argiolas, father of modern Sardinian winemaking, dies at 102

The following obituary was posted today on the Unione Sarda website (source: Pane al Pane, translation by VinoWire).

Antonio Argiolas has died. The King of Turriga, founder of the famous Serdiana winery, now managed by sons Franco and Pepetto Argiolas, “Tziu Antoni” [Uncle Antonio] has expired at 102 years of age after a truly extraordinary life. He started out selling cheese and then discovered wine. Turriga is the most famous of his wines but so is Angialis and the winery’s most recent newborn, “Antoni Argiolas,” created by enologist Mariano Murru to celebrate Antonio Argiolas’s 100th birthday. The funeral will be held today at 6 p.m. in Serdiana.

Cantina di Soave becomes exclusive distributor of Constellation Brands in Italy

In a statement issued this week, behemoth cooperative Cantina di Soave has signed an agreement with Constellation Brands making it the exclusive distributor of the U.S.-based distributor’s “new world products of excellence” in Italy — including brands Flagstone and Kumala (South Africa), Kim Crawford and Nobilo (New Zealand), Hardys (Australia), and Mondavi (California).

“This agreement,” said Bruno Trentini, CEO, “brings prestige to our company, from the moment that we have been selected by Constellation Brands as their exclusive partner in Italy.” It will “allow the Cantina di Soave to conquer another band of the Italian market — the sale of New World wines — without eroding the current sales numbers for the company’s core business, Soave, Valpolicella, and Amarone.”

The Cantina di Soave cooperative includes “2,200 producer members, owners of 6,000 hecatres planted to vine,” with “an average yearly production of 30 million bottles and gross profit that exceeds 70 million Euro.”

Franco Ziliani: Render unto Caesar… A clarification on Bruno Giacosa’s decision not to bottle his 2006 Barolo and Barbaresco

The following editorial is an excerpt from VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani’s post Why didn’t Bruno Giacosa bottle his 2006 Barolo and Barbaresco?

In a statement on Bruno Giacosa’s decision not to bottle his 2006 Barolo and Barbaresco, Giacosa’s UK importer Armit wrote: “until recently Giacosa had not been able to personally judge the quality of the wines due to suffering a stroke in 2006 which left him unable to work at the winery.”

I would like to make it clear that I believe this was not the decisive element that led to Bruno’s choice not to bottle the 2006.

To say that the 2006 wines did not turn out well because Bruno was not present at the winery is a patent insult to the person who was at Bruno Giacosa’s side for 16 years. I am talking about Dante Scaglione, who was like a son to Bruno: his close, reliable, and able collaborator. As we wrote in a post at VinoWire in March 2008, Dante found himself in an objectively untenable situation that forced him to give up his position with the Bruno Giacosa winery despite the fact that he was widely considered the person who — together with Bruno, thanks to his technical ability and his devotion — could continue to develop the legacy of the Neive winery.

From what I have seen and what I learned during my visits to the winery over the years and in conversations with Bruno and with Dante, from 1996 through 2007, vinification of the wines was largely in Scaglione’s hand, especially when it came to their management and technical choices.

There is no doubt — and no one can deny this — that with his work in the winery, Dante Scaglione helped to raise the quality of the Giacosa wines even higher. Dante has left the winery and has been replaced by enologist Giorgio Lavagna, who is certainly talented and who certainly has his own opinions. Lavagna has yet to show that he can work with Bruno in the same harmonious capacity. Not to recognize Dante’s contribution is a gesture that I hold not to be up to the greatness of the name, the style, and the class that one should expect not just from any winery but from the Bruno Giacosa winery.

—Franco Ziliani

Italian Agriculture Minister extends Brunello monitoring and certification

According to reports posted by various Italian wine trade news services, a decree signed into law June 5, 2009 by Italy’s agriculture minister Luca Zaia will extend monitoring of Brunello di Montalcino by the Italian government’s ICQ (Central Quality Inspectorate) until December 31, 2009. On July 3, 2008, Zaia signed a decree that made the ICQ the Italian government’s official oversight body for the appellation, which had been the subject of an investigation spearheaded by the office of the Siena prosecutor. (The Siena magistrate had alleged that a small number of producers had adulterated their 2003 Brunello di Montalcino. No formal charges have been made in the investigation, although a significant amount of wine has been declassified by Brunello producers.) The ICQ’s official role was to end on July 3, 2009. In July 2008, following an agreement with U.S. Customs officials that allowed Brunello to be imported to the U.S. if accompanied by Italian government certification, Zaia instructed the ICQ to test and certify samples of Brunello submitted by producers and to issue certification of its conformity to appellation regulations (producers were accused of using grapes other than Sangiovese in the wine; appellation regulations require that it be made using 100% Sangiovese grapes). “The extension was necessary,” said Zaia according to the reports, “because, thanks to specific quality control procedures overseen by the Inspectorate for the monitoring of agricultural food products, we have been able to avoid the indiscriminate blockade of Brunello imports by U.S. customs authorities. The extension will allow us to maintain the flow of exports of this prestigious product and it will restore faith in Italy’s monitoring system.”

Italian wine bloggers protest racist comments by award presenters

The Italian enoblogosphere is an uproar this week over racist comments made during RAI Uno’s Sunday night broadcast of the Premio Internazionale del Vino (International Wine Awards), hosted by Bibenda (Italy’s leading glossy wine and spirits magazine). During the broadcast, presenter Massimiliano Ossini asked the audience what wine would pair best with U.S. President Barack Obama and then responded, Brunello (which, translated literally, means brownish) or Nero d’Avola (literally, black [grape] from [the town of] Avola). The offhand remarks have been widely criticized in numerous posts published this week by some of Italy’s top food and wine bloggers, including Francesco Arrigoni who blogs for the national daily Corriere della Sera and Antonio Tomacelli who writes for dissapore. Pundits and television critics have also chastised the program’s executive producer Franco Ricci for the presenters’s poor pronunciation of wine terminology and winery names and amateurish production values: leading Italian wine writer and blogger and VinoWine editor Franco Ziliani commented on the episode here, as did blogger and sommelier Andrea Gori, who asked “is this the way to solve the problem of the Wine Country that doesn’t know wine?”

The Italians are coming! 12 leading ladies of Italian wine pour their wine in Paris

Click on the image above to view the flier.

In what some have called a historic crossroads in Italo-Franco-enological relations, 12 Italian women winemakers and producers of “natural wines” poured their wines in Paris yesterday at “Les Italiennes montent à Paris, Dégustation de vins ‘naturels’ italiens” (Italian Women are coming to Paris: Italian “Natural Wine” Tasting).

The tasting is part of a growing collaboration and transnational exchange between the Italian and French natural wine movements.

The 2009 season of trade fairs in Italy was the backdrop for Vino, Vino, Vino, a landmark event that combined the top European natural wine movements, Vini Veri (Italy) and Renaissance du Terroir (France).