Italy maintains large market share

Italian winemakers harness ProWein to intensify their export business

The Italian showcase at ProWein 2009 promises to be colourful and diverse. With over 700 exhibitors, Italy will once again be represented by the biggest contingent after Germany. The spectrum extends from the mountain vineyards of the region of South Tyrol to sunny Sicily and the list of acclaimed winemakers is just as long. It includes the likes of Alois Lageder and Francesca Planeta who will be introducing their latest vintages in person. Many of the oenologists can be met at Club Italia, the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade (ICE) or suppliers specialising in Italian produce such as Pellegrini, Saffer Wein, Weinvision, GES Sorrentino or agencies based in Italy including Palorino, Export Union Italia, Enobis and Antonio Zangara. The fair is also a non-negotiable date for market leaders such as Gruppo Italiano Vini (GIV), Cavit and Gruppo La Vis from Trentino as well as Zonin and Botter Vini from the Veneto.

What’s on the minds of winemakers south of the Alps?
If you ask winemakers in Italy about how they foresee 2009 turning out, the current economic climate is often part of the response. “The changes can be felt in all markets; even in new markets such as India and Russia, there’s an unmistakable shift in buying habits,” said Emilio Pedron, managing director of Gruppo Italiano Vini (GIV), Italy’s biggest producer of Quality Wine. In the coming years, the primary objective will be defending market share in markets important to the Italians. These are in Germany and the USA, followed by the UK. Second-tier markets are Canada, Switzerland, Scandinavia, the Benelux states and Japan. “Although the effects of the financial crisis are tangible in all markets, the German economy is holding up the best,” continued Pedron, who plans on hiring additional staff for the GIV branch in Germany, thereby clearly defining his company’s priorities. The export business covers very varied terrain: For example, consumers in India, Russia and China added together imbibe slightly less Italian wine than the small Alpine republic of Austria (export figures for the first half of 2008. Source: Corriere Vinicolo). While the Brazilians enjoy Lambrusco sparkling wine, Asti Spumante and, of course, premium wines are the big hits among the Russians.

Quantity and quality in Italy
The good news for price-conscious consumers who shop for wine at supermarkets is that products from well-known appellations and varietals such as Prosecco and Venetian Pinot Grigio, Chianti as well as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Nero d’Avola (Sicily) are more likely to cost less next year than more. “That’s because stocks are available everywhere and demand is trailing slightly behind supply,” said Andrea Sartori, president of the Unione Italiana Vini (UIV) national association, giving his assessment of the current situation. This is despite the fact that the Italian yield was small for the second year running, at 45.5 million hectolitres (42.5 million hectolitres were harvested in 2007 after as much as 49.5 million hectolitres in 2006).
As far as quality is concerned, 2008 is a complete reversal of the situation in 2007. Back then, the southern Italians in Apulia and Sicily were faced with serious quality problems and crop failure while the north (including Tuscany) benefited from ripe, healthy grapes with a well-rounded aroma. This year, the beaming smiles at the mention of the harvest are south of Rome. In the north a cool, rainy summer meant that the red-wine grapes didn’t ripen to the extent reached in the previous year. Buyers will therefore be faced with two very different vintages that represent a task both stimulating and challenging.

Demand for further training
While there can be no stinting on quality, a wine’s emotional appeal can be just as strong a selling point today. Consequently, there is a growing number of events in which experts talk about the distinctive flavours and advantages of a specific wine region. “Above all, visitors are looking for expert knowledge transfer rather than a media extravaganza on wine,” commented Giuseppe Liberatore, director of the Chianti Classico Wine Consortium. The trade fair serves as a key information platform for the Italian wine trade where facts and figures are conveyed in person instead of virtually. For some years now, educational offerings have been available not only from the Tuscany-based Chianti Classico Wine Consortium, but also from the Friuli region, the mountainous regions of South Tyrol and Trentino as well as the province of Treviso with its famous Prosecco and regional specialities such as red wines made with the Raboso varietal. For the first time, the Piedmont region will be staging a series of seminars on its exciting appellation wines.

Wine market regime causes confusion
Talking about denomination of origin, many alarmed winemakers are asking: “Are the traditional DOC labels about to disappear from the scene completely?” Andrea Sartori reassures everyone that “These concerns are unfounded as the EU acquis regulations protect all denominations of origin.” Confusion is nevertheless widespread and is being further fuelled by false information. Admittedly, there are still some unanswered questions about the new wine market regime, which comes into effect in August 2009. For this reason, a commission tasked by the ministry in Rome is working flat out to solve those issues. The new regime aims to create a uniform system of traditional denominations of origin for the whole of Europe. In the end effect, Italy’s DOC and DOCG appellations will be changed into Denominazione di Origine Protetta (DOP) and IGT into Indicazione Geografica Protetta (IGP). “Although protection of the labels will then be guaranteed at a European level, new institutions at national level will verify and ensure adherence to production requirements,” said Giuseppe Liberatore, vice president of the umbrella association for DOC wines, Federdoc. EU bureaucrats are also wrestling with which appellations deserve protection. Should a wine be referred to just as Brunello or Brunello di Montalcino or both? And could a Brunello also be made in Hungary? Question marks also hang over the new table wine regime although in 2009 the listing of the grape varietals and vintage will be permitted. Nevertheless, there are numerous restrictions in this regard, too. For instance, if the grape varietal used in the table wine is already protected under a DOP, as is the case with the red wine denomination of origin, Barbera d’Asti from Piedmont, then it may not be indicated on table wine. There’s a lot to consider, which means plenty of material for discussion at ProWein 2009.