Today’s post is devoted to my translation of an article written and published today by my good friend Giovanni Arcari on the Italian wine blog Intravino. It was edited by Alessandro Morichetti, one of Italy’s leading wine bloggers.
Above: Umberto D.
“How To Not Get Things Done in Italy”
A case study in vineyard registration in Alta Langa.
Premise: A love for classic method wines and for the Langhe Hills inspired me to partner with a Monforte d’Alba producer who wanted to produce Alta Langa [sparkling wines]. Unfortunately, nothing is ever as easy as it seems and the story that follows is as simple as it is demoralizing. There are appellation regulations to be observed and we followed them to the letter. The producer acquired land; he planted the right grapes (7,500 Pinot Nero and Chardonnay vines in Serravalle Langhe); and then he applied for the authorization to label the vineyard “Alta Langa.” From that point forward, the process was disastrous.
A week later, a message arrived in the form of a cold shower: “registration of vineyards for the production of Alta Langa is closed,” wrote the Classic Method Alta Langa Producers Association.
We asked for an explanation and resigned ourselves to our fate.
But then, by chance, we came across this brilliant declaration on September 5 of this year: “… the association is working to expand the planted surface area intended for the production [of Alta Langa]. This process will be carried out through a ‘targeted’ authorization of new vineyards in the growing zone. Its scope is that of favoring those projects where grape production already has a specific destination that will not inflate the grape market. The goal is to have more bottles on the market that make an even greater difference.”
Well, you might call this good news, especially in the light of the fact that we were asking for authorization for a sole hectare. We already have a project and the “destination” for our roughly 100 quintals of grapes is very clear: a fine, artisanal classic method sparkling wine. Case closed.
Nothing doing! We hear nothing from the producers association but on October 24, we discover that it has been taking applications when we read an announcement on the Coldiretti website. [Coldiretti is Italy's national growers confederation.] Coldiretti isn’t exactly known for its lightening speed: the application process was opened on August 2 and today [November 30] is the last day.
But that’s not the real problem here.
Do you want to know the criteria by which surface area planted to vine will be expanded? In short, if you sell your grapes to commercial bottlers, you’ll be fine. But if you by land, plant it and sow the seeds of your dreams there, you’re screwed.
Authorization is granted on a points-based model. And it’s not entirely clear how you obtain “points, rights, and priority.” To have the maximum number of points, seven, you need to be a “professional agricultural entrepreneur who already produces and/or sells classic method sparkling wine or owner partner in a cooperative winery that already produces classic method sparkling wine.”
To obtain five points, you need to be a “professional agricultural company or entrepreneur that already owns vineyards with agricultural-environmental characteristics in conformity with the Alta Langa DOCG appellation regulations (but that are not suited for authorization) and that has an at least five-year contract for the transformation [vinification] of the fruit into Alta Langa DOCG that guarantees the total application of the grapes.”
Three points are award to a “professional agricultural company or entrepreneur who has obtained [land] rights, plants new vineyards intended for the production of Alta Langa DOCG, and who possesses an at least five-year contract for the transformation [vinification] of the fruit into Alta Langa DOCG that guarantees the total application of the grapes.”
And for a “professional agricultural company or entrepreneur different from the points above,” the association grants only one miserable point.
It sends a chill down your spine, doesn’t it?
Obviously, we were given only one point. Translation? A new winery CANNOT produce Alta Langa.
Why isn’t the grape market regulated so as to encourage the entry of new players who could enrich the appellation? Why is there such interest in Alta Langa to purchase grapes and not to have anyone else get in your way? Who profits from this?
This system stinks.
—Giovanni Arcari (via Intravino)
Above: Alessandro (left), Giovanni (right), and I had breakfast in Alta Langa on Sunday morning.