Thursday, August 09, 2012

Teaching an old DOCG new tricks

Last week in San Francisco I presented a piece to a group at the Society of Wine Educators conference. Called Deconstructing DOCG, it was an effort to offer a path from the past to the present (and possibly leading to the future) regarding the changes that are coming to Italian wine laws as they assimilate into the greater European Union discipline.

Anyone who peruses the pages of On the Wine Trail in Italy know I have been a bit obsessed with noting the changes in Italian wine laws. Here is the text from the talk. It was accompanied by a loosely related PowerPoint presentation (by the way, I am not a fan of PowerPoint, except to offer visual markers that relate to something I am talking about). It was accompanied by a tasting of four of the five original DOCG's awarded back in the 1980's. In any case, the talk seemed to be a success (aided by lubrication from Brunello, Barolo and Co.) and I am including it. Here goes:


Deconstructing DOCG

• On July 12, 1963, Italian wine entered the modern age. That day was when the Italian wine law of 1963 was decreed by the president of the republic of Italy. This was the dawn of the day when Italian wines would finally submit to “regulations for the protection of the denominations of the sources of musts and wines.”

• Prior to that day, Italy, recently a unified country had a long history of winemaking. And indeed there were many great wines that came out of Italy prior to that time. Only a few wines were protected from the time of the 1930’s. Now there was the need to be seen and respected on the world market for their excellence.

• 1963 was the establishment of Base camp. Over the next generation Italy would proceed to climb their very own Mt. Everest of wine. It was the beginning of one of the most historical and exciting times in Italian wine history.

• Italian wines had been for ages, wine for local consumption. In Roman times, wines from the Empire made it to Rome where they became famous. Wines from Southern Italy, especially, made inroads to greatness, enjoyed and exalted by the political classes.

• With the ascendancy of the Holy Roman Empire, the curate class developed vineyards, technology and the beginnings of the cru system, whereby through science (and faith) they determined optimum terroirs for selected grapes. Usually a cloister, a church or a monastery would grow up around the selected vines to develop the quality, often over long periods of time (i.e. centuries).

• With the unification of Italy in the late 1800’s, the Italian Diaspora to North and South America brought a class of people hungry for work and opportunity. Their children and grandchildren would make up future markets for imported Italian wine, especially along the eastern seaboard of North America.

• Prior to Prohibition (1920-1933) Italian wine was imported in a haphazard manner. Local controls were nonexistent; quality and safety levels (for food and wine) had not yet been regulated.

• After prohibition there entered a period in Italy of national consciousness. Mussolini was determined to enhance the image of all things Italian in a neo-Empire modality. Viticultural practices were modernized and wines, especially ones grown in historical areas, were given special protections and momentum not only in Italy but to the export market. It was very important for the new, unified, strong Italian country to impart a robust profile to the world. Unfortunately WWII put a hold on that momentum.

• After WWII, American soldiers in Italy brought home stories of places where they had been and had enjoyed the victory of liberation with the local wines.

• Some of the soldiers started to import Italian products to the US. With the country in an infrastructural and political shamble, regulations were not on the top of the priority list. Bulkage, cash flow, trade, jobs, food on the table – that was the impetus.

• As the post war world advanced economically, the need for refinement become more important. Fashion, sports cars, specialty food and wines from Italy made their ascent. There started to be a discussion of the role of Italian wine in the world.

• Already Italy and France were providing most of the imported wine to the world, but France seemed to have captured the fine wine market. Italians decided they needed to compete.

• Italy entered the modern world stage with a bang. Overnight, it seemed, Italy was the place to be. But while modernity was being embraced in urban Italy, rural Italy and those governing it had a way to go yet.

Podere -  a self sufficient country estate with farm house 
• The Italian farm, historically, has been a family matter. Small plots of land, worked intensely, passed on from one to the next generation. Even today the average size of an Italian vineyard hovers around 3 acres.

• So to modernize, standardize and regulate the winemaking of millions of independent minded souls was nothing less than an Olympian undertaking.

• When the laws finally were signed in 1963, it was a major accomplishment. But the summit had not yet been attained. Although DOC and DOCG were established in 1963, the first DOC was not awarded until 1966 (Vernaccia di San Gimignano), and the first DOCG not until 1980 (Brunello di Montalcino).

From Italian Wine for Dummies by Mary Ewing Mulligan, MW
• 1980 – First DOCG’s – Sangiovese and Nebbiolo grapes
• Barbaresco
• Barolo
• Brunello di Montalcino
• Chianti
• Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

What happened that it took 17 years for the first DOCG’s to be officially recognized?

Enrico Fermi
• Two forces: history and politics.

• History – although Italy has just been a unified country since the late 1800’s, the collective consciousness of Enotria was laid down millennia before. Just because a few mortals cannot agree in reality doesn’t mean the intent of the larger purpose should pause. Call it survival, call it destiny, but walking in the wine fields of Italy one can feel the calling. Roman centurions and Catholic monks alike heard it. Illiterate farmers and educated nobles did as well. The particular Italian terroir for wine decreed greatness. It was merely a matter of getting the mortals on earth to agree on it.

• Politics – Not always a factor of long-term vision, politics deals with the schemes of mankind, which is often vain and short-lived. In the case of Italy and the inevitable reckoning with regulations leading towards more recognition ( and trade) on the world stage, a good part of the thrust came from the post war energy, increased communications and infrastructure in the developing world trade market, economic growth, tourism and the resulting evolution, really from the Marshall Plan, forward.

• Eventually the train left the station
What proceeded from 1966 until the present has been a gradual refinement combined with unchecked growth. Some of it political, some of it simply particular to the Italian psyche.

• Still there is confusion about which wine has received DOC or DOCG.

• Until recently there wasn’t a place to find a listing of the current DOCG’s – it was pretty confusing.

• On a dare from a SWE colleague, I made it my mission to find out how many DOCG’s there were. And it went from 32 to 73 in that time.

DOC’s were harder to figure out.

• Finally it seems we have information about DOC wines (see Angelica Sbai’s list) – 330 DOC’s

• DOCG’s too - 73

• Then on Nov 30,2011 the decree came down from Rome pertaining to the Italian laws and their integration into the EU appellation system.

• Now DOC and DOCG are combined into one DOP = 403
IGT = IGP ( 118)
• The NEW old Pyramid

A Different Perspective on the “Buckets” ~ by  Italia Wijn

• The NEW complement – a different way to look at Italian wines “outside the pyramid”






wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy Teaching an old DOCG new tricks

2 comments:

TWG said...

When will new labelling start?

Angelica Sbai said...

Great post Alfonso. I can't wait to see what type of turn this story takes over the next 5 to 10 years as regions want to obtain that "DOCG" level of acceptance.

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