Angelo Gaja’s 2012 vintage notes

Above: Monforte, late July 2012. Photo by my excellent friend David Berry Green, who graciously shared this with me on the spur of the moment.

Angelo Gaja winemaker, Angelo Gaja entrepreneur, Angelo Gaja larger-than-life wine personality, Angelo Gaja writer…

Most don’t think of him as a great writer but he is. In part because of his insights and experiences. In part because of his style and performance (as the Italians say).

Sadly, his “papal bulls” (as I like to call them) are often poorly translated.

And so, once again, I’ve taken it upon myself to translate his most recent notes on the 2012 vintage in Italy (below, sent to me in the original by one of his media outlets). I think you’ll be as interested as I was to read what he had to say.

In the original Italian, he uses a word — farlocco (translated here as easy mark) — a term that most Italians first heard when they read Pasolini’s Ragazzi di vita (published in Italian romanaccio [Roman street dialect] in 1955). Gaja probably first heard it as a youngster in the inflection ferloch in Piedmont, where the term most likely originated, meaning loud mouth. I could devote an entire post to this lemma and its epistemological implications…

In the meantime, I’d like to give the floor to messer Gaja…

*****

A Weatherglass for the 2012 Vintage

Climate change — marked by prolonged summer heat and drought — is the cause for the sharp drop in Italy’s grape production for 2012. It was also the reason behind the light vintages of 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2011.

Now, as a result, another scarce year adds to the lack of wine from previous vintages lying in Italian cellars. In the space of just a few short years, we have shifted from a situation in which Italy perennially produced a surplus of wine to the current shortage.

The shower of vintage forecasts that begin in late July have been rendered an easy mark by climate change. This is because the heat and drought now last for the entire month of August, the period when the grapes are formed, drying them to the point of a berry-wrinkling phenomenon. This condition causes a consistent loss of weight that eludes the hurried predictions.

Wine production in Italy is tightly regulated. The surface area planted to vine cannot be increased. In order to plant a new vineyard, you must grub up an existing one and it must be equal in size.

Wine is a natural product. Its quantities are determined by climatic conditions and the sky is the vineyard’s ceiling. It’s not like producing steel, glass, bricks, or plastic in a well-sheltered factory. And this concept often eludes the world of finance and those who follow the economic bottom line of the wine industry.

There are those who fear that Italian wine will not be able to keep up and that it will not produce enough to satisfy domestic demand while maintaining the export levels that Italian winemakers have worked so hard to achieve. In the last six months, a slow in exports has given us reason to reflect.

But this shouldn’t be cause for worry because the loss is concentrated in bulk wine, much of which was being sold at slashed prices. It’s better that this wine remain in Italy so as to fuel the production of box wine. The average price of exported Italian wine per liter is still one of the lowest in the world, widely outpaced by not just France but also surpassed by the U.S., New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina.

It’s right to be proud of the wines that are produced in Italy. But less so when the wines are sold at highly discounted prices. If supply of Italian wine goes down and demand grows or remains the same, it’s inevitable that the prices will go up.

Grape prices are already strained and wine wholesale prices will soon be strained as well. They haven’t changed for ten years! The retail price of wines under 3 Euros, which represent 70% of sales by Italian distributors, will also begin to go up.

But it’s also possible that higher grape and wine wholesale prices will be good for the wine trade by prompting producers to improve quality, to work to create greater demand in mid-to-low price points, and to become better salepeople.

Climate change has also sparked a generational shift among grape growers. In the Italian regions most affected by the heat, growers are asking that currently prohibited emergency irrigation now be allowed, even for appellation wines. Growers also need to learn how to better protect their vineyards from the evaporation of humidity in the soil.

Certain vine diseases, once believed to have been contained, are now returning and there is an urgent need to use less pesticide in viticulture. The knowledge acquired in the past needs to be rapidly integrated with current research, technology, and the grower’s own capacity for observation. This transition is our greatest cause for concern.

—Angelo Gaja
September 7, 2012

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