Above: Nebbiolo grapes in Piedmont.
Italian wine writers and bloggers have been up in arms this week and last over two controversial proposals for major changes in appellation rules.
The first, which is to be voted on today by growers, is the creation of a new Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC modeled after the current Delle Venezie IGT, which includes wines grown in regions of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto, and Trentino-Alto Adige.
If approved, the new appellation would allow growers to produce Pinot Grigio with yields of up to 21.6 metric tons per hectare “in good vintages.” That’s more than 9.6 U.S. tons per acre, a high yield by any measure. (To put this figure in perspective, “the U.S. has one of the highest national average yields, at 6.5 tons/acre,” according to the Oxford Companion to Wine.)
“Before [the creation of] this new appellation that applies to all three regions,” said Luciano Moretto, president of the Pramaggiore Wine Exhibition, earlier this year, “every region had its own [Pinot Grigio]. This will change everything. With this single mode of production, we can really take off in certain markets. I’m thinking of the United States, Russia, and China, nations where we need to compete with many behemoth producers and where counterfeits cause damage to us. This will be a source of considerable profit.”
In an op-ed published on Friday, the editors of the Slow Wine Guide wrote: “Who is the winner in this case? Industrial agriculture: producers of chemical fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, etc. Because [with the creation of this DOC] vineyards will be transformed into assembly lines, where everything is pumped and everything needs to be perfectly clean, without even the smallest trace of disease.”
Today’s vote comes on the heels of another controversial proposal for changes in the Piemonte DOC. In a draft of new appellation rules circulated this month among members of the Asti Monferrato Consortium, the authors call for the creation of a Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC that would give growers greater freedom in using the word Nebbiolo in labeling wines grown across the region (and not just in Langhe and Roero).
If approved, these would include, among other categories: wines made from only 85 percent Nebbiolo grapes; rosé from Nebbiolo; and even sweet and sparkling wines. (Source: Slow Wine.)
Piedmont’s Regional Commission will consider the proposed changes in an assembly in September.
Pointing to the creation of the Prosecco DOC in 2009, some industry observers fear that the creation of a Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC as proposed by the Asti Monferrato Consortium would lead to overly aggressive expansion of Nebbiolo plantings in the region and subsequent degradation of the Nebbiolo “brand.”
“We oppose this request,” said Produttori del Barbaresco cooperative director Aldo Vacca in an interview published by La Stampa last week. “Langhe Nebbiolo is the appellation that has seen the biggest growth in the entire region. It’s obvious that the big producers have caught a whiff of a good bargain. But if the goal is that of releasing great quantities of low-priced wines into the market, we run the risk of compromising the entire of balance of Nebbiolo” produced in Piedmont.
His concern was echoed by that of Pietro Ratti of Renato Ratti, a legacy producer of Barolo.
“Nobody wants to stop people from growing a successful variety like Nebbiolo,” he told La Stampa, “But it’s one thing to plant a grape variety and another to manage an appellation. Today, there’s no denying that the Piemonte appellation represents a second-tier category while Nebbiolo is a first-class wine. It’s a delicate issue because it affects the economy, the region, and consumer perceptions.”