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Delhi Wine Club
Antinori Reflects on Improving Italian Wine

Posted: Thursday, 16 September 2010 10:42

Antinori Reflects on Improving Italian Wine

Current President of Istituto del Vino Italiano  di Qualitá-Grandi Marchi, Marchese Piero Antinori feels that Italian wines are undergoing a period of Renaissance with most producers now looking for quality, but a big part of viticulture still reflects the old philosophy of quantity though the market doesn’t accept these wines anymore.

Speaking at a tasting of the 17 Grandi Marchi producers at the Institute of master of Wine in London last week he said that at least 30% of the total acreage of vineyards should be dug up and either replanted or pulled out because of the unmarketable wines they produce. 

According to Florence-based Marchese Piero Antinori who also heads the empire of wineries in several regions of Italy including Tuscany, Puglia, Piemonte and Lombardy besides the US, Hungary, Chile, Hungary and Malta, thousands of hectares of the uninteresting grape variety Trebbiano are planted in Central Italy. In southern Italy, especially in Apulia (Puglia) and Sicilia (Sicily) many vineyards produce huge yields of 250hLl/hA (which is many multiples of the highest yields in Maharashtra, India) the report in Decanter quotes.

In the past, wines were either blended and exported mostly to France as really cheap wine, or used as a base for vermouth, he said reportedly. Since the vermouth market is dead these producers must find new markets.

Antinori said that thousands of hectares are owned by small producers who have neither the resources nor the desire to change. Transforming these inefficient acres not geared to the market is a big challenge, and more difficult than one might think. The only solution is to give them subsidies to pull out the wines or replant.

Not everyone has the same reaction though. Angelo Gaja, producer of iconic wines is an artisan producer and quality has been always in the fore for the ‘mad man of Barbaresco’ as Jancis Robinson refers to him affectionately. This is one of the reasons he has not ventured out to regions where he cannot supervise the quality of grapes under his nose. Sharing his views about the Antinori interview in London, he tells delWine:

‘I am a craftsman; I don't buy grapes and wine like Antinori. I don't have the direct knowledge that Piero Antinori has about the different varieties planted in Italy: which of them produce wines easy to sell and which varieties produce wines hard to sell.’

‘Generally the high yield of grapes trivializes the wine,’ he also admits though, adding, ‘it is well-known that the Trebbiano isn't a variety appropriate to produce top quality wines. However, Valentini in Abruzzo in Central Italy, produces an extraordinary Trebbiano, thank to a very low yield of grapes per hectare.’

Veneto based Gianni Zonin, President of Banca Popolare di Vicenza and owner of Casa Vinicola Zonin, heads a wine empire that is flirting with annual sales of €100 million. He also produces wines in Piemonte, Friuli, Tuscany, Sicily, Puglia and in the USA. His range varies from value-for-money-wines for volume sales to the award winning premium quality wines especially in his newer estates  Known to nose the market well, being a banker half of his working time, he is very proud of the  (autochthonous) indigenous grape varieties and is aware of the low quality of the ‘wine lakes.’

‘The great wealth of the Italian vitiviniculture is the great diversity of the indigenous vines. We have different climates from North to South and 350 grape varieties that give us diversity in wines. In the last 15- 20 years we have assisted in the valorization and discovery of some Italian typical wines like Nero d’Avola, Vermentino, Bonarda, Sangiovese, Refosco, Primitivo, Negroamaro and Barbera etc.‘ he tells delWine in response to the statement by Antinori.

‘Consumers have generally preferred these varieties to international varieties. It is the fruit of the Italian vines that are in a position to guarantee top quality, tradition and innovation,’ he feels. 

He is content with the rate of replanting though. He says, ‘Italian vineyard are uprooted and replanted every year to the extent of 10-15, 000 hAs of vines. In the last 15 - 20 years Italy has taken giant steps to improve the vineyard, with many small producers with courage and passion working on the vineyards every day and producing excellent wines.’ He however warns the category making cheap and bulk wine, ‘It is clear that those who do not catch up with the increasingly higher qualitative standards demanded by the market, have no future and must find alternative cultivation on their land.’ 

‘It is important to understand the evolution of the market and being in a position to adapt to the typical position in Europe, thus maintaining the territorial identity in the world.  The long experience and tradition of centuries of our Italian viticulture makes me hope that in this phase of Renaissance of Italian wines, the indigenous grape variety will continue to find increased share in the total market.’

(For the exclusive comments by Gianni Zonin, click HERE.)

As if validating Zonin’s comments, Italian winemakers have already applied for cash subsidy for the removal of 10,741 hectares of vines in 2010 while 11,571 hectares were dug up in 2009, according to research as reported by the Italy's statistics agency ISTAT recently. In 2008, a total of 788,393 hAs of land had been under vines in Italy in 2008.

Meanwhile, the research taken up in conjunction with UIV (Unione Italians Vini) shows that the quality of Italian wine is expected to improve this year with total production coming decreasing by around 1%, according to a report by Reuter.

The EU reform process which started in August 2008, offers cash to less competitive winemakers to rip up vines to reduce the output of cheap wines, as recommended by Marchese Antinori, though at much slower pace. The EU hopes to have only 175,000 hAs of vines dug up out of a total of 3.6 million hA, much less than the 30% recommended by the Marchese. In fact, even if the total quota of land for Europe was dug up for alternative cultivation in Italy it would still be left with plenty of cheap, unsalable wine for years to come.

Whether the producers of Central Italy with the Trebbiano ‘wine lake’ agree with him or whether or not they will survive-only time will tell. But three of the influential producers from Florence, Barbaresco and Gambellara seem to be congruent in their thinking though to a different extent.

Subhash Arora

In India, Antinori sells wine through Berkmann Cellars India while Gaja distributes the Barbaresco, Montalcino and Super Tuscans through Brindco. Zonin markets its range through Mumbai-based Aspri- editor


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