On Friday of last week, a number of Italian media outlets published this op-ed by Angelo Gaja, including the national daily La Stampa and Numeri del Vino (an Italian wine industry observer blog that I follow regularly).
I always find his insights interesting, informative, and polemical. My translation of his “open letter” follows.
After years of low grape production due to the reoccurrence of unfavorable climatic conditions, excess heat, and summer drought, there is a shortage of wine in Italy.
What could happen to Italian wine in 2013?
It’s possible that there will be no wine left by June and that wineries that sell at less than Euro 2 per liter (a price floor for more than eighty percent of Italian wineries) will no longer have any wine to offer.
Prudent, far-sighted bottlers might also contribute to the shortage because they’ll begin stocking up in order to avoid being left high and dry in the months that follow.
It’s a “we’ve never seen anything like it” scenario. There could be panic in the grape market when the 2013 harvest arrives because buyers will be fearful of rising prices.
Someone might become curious and start comparing grape production and wine production reports for the 2012 harvest. They might discover that between independent producers and the cooperative wineries some have reported a drop of up to thirty percent and some have reported no drop at all — the very same sky and in identical geographic areas.
It’s possible that in 2013 Italy could lose its record in hectoliters exported, with Spain taking the lead. It’s another “we’ve never seen anything like it” scenario. And there will surely be those who merely crunch the numbers and blame the Italian wine industry for drops in production and competitiveness. They don’t recognize that wine is a natural product and that the sky is the vineyard’s ceiling. If the weather causes growers to produce fewer grapes, then it’s impossible to sell more wine.
It’s possible that cooperative wineries in Italy (who control more than fifty percent of national grape production) and large winery groups will soften their refusal of the European Union liberalization of planting regulations. It’s also possible that they will agree on a shared strategy intended to introduce a mixed system by 2015: a continuation of planting rights for DOCs and DOCGs and liberalization of IGTs and table wines.
It’s possible that springtime budget analysis for large Italian wineries will reveal that 2012 profits were often penalized by the drop in gross revenue in the Italian market and that the recovery of foreign markets was the industry’s saving grace. This could give greater urgency to investment in those markets, even if that means sacrificing some of the resources earmarked for the growth of the domestic market.
Dire times for the Italian wine media, who survive thanks to advertising, just as in other countries. Tough times as well for the more than two hundred journalistic prizes instituted by wineries and public relations firms, a common phenomenon here in Italy and unheard of abroad. They will became hungry for recognition by Italian writers and more generous in their regard to the foreign media.
Brussels has contributed to this sprint toward foreign markets by financing promotional projects for wine in markets beyond Europe’s borders. Italian national pride has found new lifeblood in these initiatives as winemakers — small and large, in groups or on their own — have embraced an open-order quest to conquer Asia.
And in the meantime, we continue to learn how to explore the world that will come to be.
Above: I took this photo of Angelo in June of last year in New York.