Italy to present strong vintages at ProWein 2008

“Germany remains the most important export market for the Italians,” emphasises Emilio Pedron, Managing Director of the consortium Gruppo Italiano Vini (GIV). This is no idle statement, as the GIV is Italy’s largest producer of quality wine and owns vineyards from Piedmont to Sicily. The consortium also sells over 20 million bottles annually in Germany. Numerous small and medium-sized producers take the same view as Pedron, so it comes as no surprise that Italy, with over 500 exhibitors from all its winegrowing regions, will in 2008 once again rank as ProWein’s second largest exhibiting country after Germany.

Trade visitors to ProWein 2008 will find the vast majority of Italian stands representing specific regions and producer cooperatives or consortiums. The northern Italians in particular avail of the opportunity to host cooperative presentations at the fair. The Friuli region, for example, will present wines from the DOC regions Collio, Colli Orientali Friuli, Isonzo as well as Grave Friuli, and visitors will be able to sample their special characteristics in hosted wine tastings. Vintners from the mountainous South Tyrol and Trentino regions will also be present in large numbers. These include renowned wineries such as Alois Lageder (South Tyrol) or Jermann (Friuli), along with major wine cellars like the La Vis group and Cavit, which rank among the top ten largest Italian wine companies.

Price hike for popular north Italians
ProWein always throws up a rich harvest of topics for discussion, and this year will certainly be no different due to the significantly higher prices commanded by Pinot Grigio, which is the main variety cultivated in these regions and in the rambling Veneto lowlands. The wholesale bulk price for Pinot Grigio IGT wines from Veneto has almost doubled from around EUR 70 per hectolitre in September 2006 to approximately EUR 150 per hectolitre today. The same applies to the IGT Prosecco, production of which is restricted to eastern Veneto, while the price of DOCG Chianti from Tuscany has also risen noticeably compared to last year. How much of this increase will be passed on to consumers is, of course, the burning question to be answered at start of the year. It’s worth remembering, however, that this will primarily affect the large volume contracts sold in supermarkets, not the wineries that operate their own vineyards. These smaller producers are announcing moderate price increases in the single-digit percentage range at most. “The price increases for Pinot Grigio and Prosecco cannot be attributed to an excessively small harvest because it matched last year’s level in the northeast,” comments Andrea Sartori, Managing Director of Sartori Wines and President of national wine body Unione Italiana Vini (UIV). Market participants cite increased demand in America and Asia as well as the positive effects of more stringent controls on wine quality implemented by government authorities as causing these price hikes.

Small wine harvests and powerful vintages
The fact that Italy’s 2007 harvest of just 41 million hectolitres is the lowest in 60 years is due to the significant losses incurred in Sicily and Apulia. The long-term average is around 50 million hectolitres of wine. It will only be possible to assess how quality has turned out across the regions after ProWein 2008 – the first in the annual cycle of trade fairs. Official Italian sources are talking of a good harvest in the north of the country, but a difficult year in the south.

Vintners in the Barolo region near to the city of Alba in Piemonte are raving about an outstanding 2007 vintage – surpassing even the legendary vintage of 1990. Following last year’s successful appearance at ProWein, the consortium is coming to Düsseldorf boasting a list of wineries that has swollen to include 40 operations. The Barolo 2004 is currently available for tasting, while over at the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, visitors can look forward to sampling the hot 2003 vintage of what is considered to be Italy’s second icon wine. “We are seeing plenty of interest in the top wines, but both the consumer and the trade are looking much more carefully nowadays than they were a few years ago,” comments Stephan Pellegrini of wine agent Pellegrini & Grundmann.

The Italian wine community gathers at ProWein
“Not only German trade visitors, but also international customers from Benelux, Great Britain and Scandinavia are taking advantage of ProWein’s proximity,” says Giuseppe Liberatore, Director of the renowned Chianti Classico Wine Consortium, adding that “ProWein is the Italian wine industry’s biggest and best rendezvous north of the Alps.” It’s an argument that certainly holds water, if not wine. Be it one of the well-known agencies such as Antonio Zangara from Rome, GES Sorrentino from Delmenhorst and Landau-based Pellegrini & Grundmann or in the well-organised Club Italia, there is hardly a single exporting producer that visitors will not track down displaying their wines at ProWein. Italy’s share of Germans’ wine consumption is immense and many producers have an established track record in this market dating back twenty years or more. The fact that the last ten years have seen a huge wave of new operations from southern Italy and the renowned DOCG regions in the north penetrate the market ensures continued German interest in Italian wines. Expressed in figures, it’s clear that Italy, as the origin of 664 million litres of imported wine (an increase of 8.9 percent) is a long way ahead of its two closest competitors France and Spain, with around 240 million litres each (period: Sept. 06 – Aug. 07, source: German Winegrowers’ Association). Accordingly, Italy accounts for 44.7 percent of German wine imports. So it’s definitely good news for the Italians that the average price has also risen, climbing 10.9 percent to EUR 107 per hectolitre.

An overview of the Italian wine industry:
Of 800,000 wine growers (Azienda Agricola), approximately 30,000 sell bottled wine – with roughly 1,200 companies selling a total volume of between 14 and 17 million hectolitres abroad. This means that the Italians export appreciably more wine than German winegrowers produce (9-10 million hectolitres annually). The country produces around 50 million hectolitres of wine on average from a vineyard acreage of 755,000 hectares (source: Federdoc). Statistics still in circulation, which refer to over 900,000 hectares, are long since out of date and are based on information collected at the beginning of the nineties.

For further information about ProWein 2008, please visit http://www.prowein.de/.

Author Steffen Maus is a freelance journalist for various wine publications.