Soylent Merlot: the Montalcino Syndrome infects Calabria

It’s the year 2010… People are still the same. They’ll do anything to get what they need. And they need MERLOT.

I couldn’t help but think of the classic horror movie Soylent Green (1973) when a desperate plea appeared in my feed this morning.

Yesterday, the authors of the blog In Difesa dell’Identità del Vino Cirò (In Defense of the Identity of Cirò) posted an open letter to the Italian Association of Enologists* asking them to examine the absurdity of what’s happening on the ground in their appellation in Cirò and Cirò Marina, Calabria (the letter was reposted today by one of Italy’s top wine blogs Esalazioni Etiliche and Mr. Franco Ziliani and I posted about it at VinoWire today as well).

Essentially, this is what has happened… Back in the summer of 2009, before EU reforms came into effect, a relatively small group of commercial producers in Cirò got together and rewrote appellation regulations to allow Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for the first time in Cirò. Calling themselves the “Consortium of Cirò producers,” they submitted their changes to the Italian government, even though their group did not include the flagship producer Librandi, nor the majority of Cirò producers. As a result, today, the EU is considering said change in the appellation even though it was proposed by a minority of greedy, commercial producers.

Mr. Franco Ziliani said it best when he first posted on what was happening there back in June 2009, calling it the “Montalcino Syndrome.” The parallels are crystal clear: a small group of large, industrial wine producers are lobbying (successfully) to eclipse their smaller competitors who not only play by the rules but actually care about the people, place, and grapes that go into their wines. (Remember what Baldo said in the Brunello debate in October 2008? Italian appellation regulations are intended to protect the territory, not the consumer.)

It’s unlikely that the blog and accompanying petition will stop the changes from being approved by Brussels. As a result of the amendment, commercial producers will pump up their Gaglioppo with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (easier and cheaper to grow) and the wines… well, we already know what the wines will taste like… Soylent Green, anyone?

Here in Texas, btw, we eat Soylent Greens accompanied by Charro beans and hot sauce.

*I’m not linking to the Association website because it requires that you download the latest version of Flash to view it.

20 thoughts on “Soylent Merlot: the Montalcino Syndrome infects Calabria

  1. This is very sad news indeed. When will the Italian DOC/DOCG’s realize that it’s their regions’ history, culture, food, and unique grape varieties that will allow them to compete in the world market?

  2. What can you do when the best selling wine in the US is pinot grigio from Santa Margherita?

    Big wineries (who have the power to change the law) will always try to sell the wines that the major part of consumers like, and small producers who care about terroir and indigenous grapes will have a harder life to talk to the same consumers, trying to convince them to drink a pure gaglioppo.

    The real problem is that most buyers care more about the price than about the typical wines (let’s say about quality), and big companies will always have the power to lead the market and the consequent decisions.

  3. Jeremy, I think you tastes my Terre di Balbia grapes that we vinificate in Friuli. We have no doc where we are but if a producer is serious consumers can trust him after their palat.
    And definetly a Gaglioppo cannot be confused with a Magliocco and both cannot be mistaken with a Merlot or Cabernet. If this is true producers that starts making now Merlot or Cab in Calabria will easily find out that there is a lot of competion out there and the only way to survive is making wine with a great sense of site that only indigenous variety can provide.
    Giampaolo Venica

  4. Very eye opening post. I’m again struck by the short sightedness and blatant greed of the big wine producers of Italy. Not that they are overly different from US corporate or Aussie giants.

  5. This is completely predictable and absolutely typical. A year or so ago Nestle, Hershey and the other big producers lobbied to redefine chocolate so that it didn’t have to contain any actual cacao. The agribusiness and chemical industries have been chipping away at the legal definition of “Certified Organic” to allow the full range from Roundup to 2,4-D.

    Let someone else do the hard work. Then monetize their reputation by coopting it, passing off trash as quality and ultimately destroying it. Hurray for corporate capitalism.

  6. This isnt just an issue of big producers, Kevin. Go to the consorzio website[ http://bit.ly/aN2dUU ] and scroll though some of the producers on it. If you can get through their Flash-platform websites (if they have a slow server, which in Calabria is very possible, makes for a tedious exercise)) you will see more small producers with wines made from Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet. So it is an issue of identity (or maybe pride). Identity, in that people are looking to make a style of wine for the world stage, a world that is looking more and more for authentic wines, wines that aren’t international. Italians are still in love with “important: wines, wines with barrique and international varieties. But that tide is shifting, thankfully.

    So it isn’t just about greed, it is about knowing what the market is looking for and looking to supply the market with that product.

    I am not interested in Cabernet or Merlot or Syrah from Calabria. Gaglioppo, yes, but not made in a “Cabernet” style, high in alcohol and full of oak. So even if the producers use native grapes like Gaglioppo or Aglianico or Magliocco or Calabrese, if they “style” them towards a taste they perceive is wanted, it’s a loss in the long run. Does that make sense?

    I do wish the Italians would stop using Flash on their websites. When I find a simpler site, not all spoofed up with Flash, I usually find the wines to be more like what I am looking for. Maybe that’s just a coincidence.

    • We want no Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah in Barolo, Barbaresco, Sagrantino di Montefalco, Brunello di Montalcino, Taurasi and Ciro.

      There should be a tend to make Chianti Classico and others 100% native varieties again.

      I am totally with Alfonso Cevola, style plays a big role here, we don’t want big powerful oaky wines, we want wines that show the earth. What a coincidence that Bartolo Mascarello and Giacomo Conterno don’t have a website…

  7. I totally agree on what Eder, Alfonso and Giampaolo say. The market’s rules are unfortunately the ones that Todd describes.

    So, nothing more to add. I only want to quote my good friend Fred who said earlier today in another post: if only journalists wouldn’t promote this wines and rate it the 62 points they deserve instead of giving (or selling) it 92 points, we would be without these worthless wines in just a few years.

    • Too many journalists with no real interest on real wine. I admire Jeremy Parzen and Franco Ziliani for their great defense of italian culture…

  8. Interesting discussion. Thanks to Jeremy.

    I am a small wine producer from Ciro. I together with other producers (Tenuta del Conte, Acting, Crapisto, Arcuri etc.) am trying to avoid that a wine unique and inimitable becoming a wine without soul.

    We are not conservatives or traditionalists, we want the wine of Ciro speaks of the terroir. I am totally with Cevola is a matter of pride and style. I am convinced that the Gaglioppo grape may make an elegant and surprising wine.
    I believe it.

  9. Very interesting.
    I am importing Francesco’s Ciro’ to Australia, a country of giant producers (but also many small great ones), a country in which you are even allowed to add acid to wines. Nowadays it is common to find pleasant and balanced wines, they mostly all are: what it is difficult to find are wines capable to offer you emotions.Wines created by “winemakers” become more similar to Coca cola than wine.
    Wines like Francesco’s Ciro’ are in the other hand NOT REPLICABLE; wines that are incredibly approachable and so elegant and expressive at the same time. Some of the best wines I ever tried are produced by people who don’t even have a winemaker; winemaking is too often confused with chemistry. Healthy and expressive grapes, indigenous yeasts, experienced hands,..should remind people how wine should be made!
    I really agree with what Dettori writes on the back of his wines: let be the wine what it’s meant to be and not what you want it to be.
    Allowing to add merlot or other international grapes in wines like Ciro’ is an other example of how italian regulations upon wines (and more generally food products) are a nonsense. Regulations that should preserve tradition and increase quality end up to decrease the quality and spoiling landscapes.

  10. Pingback: Postcard from Cirò: “I am trying to avoid that a wine unique and inimitable becoming a wine without soul.” « Do Bianchi

  11. By adding Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to Ciro these producer are not going to have the result that they expect. I believe that they will sell less wine if this changed is approved. Ciro will lose its identity
    and just become another internation style wine and no one will care. More and more producers are going back to the idea of using native grapes and that the wine should taste like the land it comes from. The winemakers in Calabria that want to make these changes
    are as we say in English a day late and a dollar short. They should lean to promote what they have and what makes in unique

  12. History repeats and no one learns. US and Australia did it (and some still do) and most regions in Italy have, at some point, flirted with internationalizing their wine. Sicily did the same thing and paid no attention to the lessons learned in Tuscany a few years earlier. Hopefully forums such as this encourage the smaller growers to stick to their guns and make the most of their unique, autochtonous grapes.

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