Allegrini 2018

Barbera d’Asti DOCG, 10 years to re-launch the “pop” Piedmont wine, par excellence

In Costigliole d’Asti for the birthday of the first 10 years of DOCG, ideas and considerations on the future of the Italian territory and viniculture

In 2014, a little over 5 years ago, there were just over 3.900 Barbera d’Asti vineyards planted, which was the historical minimum, at least starting from 2000 onwards. It was more or less half way to the first 10-year mark of the DOCG recognition for the everyday and “pop” wine, par excellence, of Asti and Piedmont. Since then, however, thanks to wine producers that are more committed and are working together, and the Consortium of Barbera d’Asti and institutions, a revolution has taken place. Hectares have returned to normal growth (today there are more than 4.129), production volumes have returned to positive signs (in 2017, 21.1 million bottles), and the market has started to soar, not only in quantity (51% of volumes exported) but also in quality, and there has been a progressive shift from the retail channel to the much more remunerative one of HoReCa. Plus, land values have grown and practically doubled in 4-5 years, today reaching 100-120.000 euros per hectare.
“At the beginning it required courage to follow this path, and it still does now, to keep going, working above all on communication, brand positioning, price, and, of course, quality”, as Filippo Mobrici told WineNews, at the celebration-review of the first 10 years of Barbera d'Asti DOCG.
“The mother of other areas such as Nizza, today’s territory of top quality, which will be receiving its DOCG in a few weeks, has contributed greatly to the revival of the wine and the territory”, said Mobrici, at the opening of the conference where the territory was discussed, and other topics of a wider scope, such as the future of viniculture itself, and the naming system.
“Today we can say that Barbera is healthy compared to the past”, added Mobrici, “but we must be careful and manage production volumes, using the whole pyramid of denominations we have in the territory to the utmost, from Nizza to Barbera d’Asti Superiore, Barbera d’Asti and Piedmont Barbera. It is a large area to work on, which allows us to have “everyday wine”, one of our strong points, and more. The objective is clear. First of all, maintain the economic sustainability of the vineyards and the dignity of the work of the winemakers; otherwise, the territory will not be kept up: this is our challenge for the future”.
The future is being built thanks to those who have always believed in the potential of Barbera, like the Michele Chiarlo winery, which brought Nizza to the top the world over, as Nizza Cipressi 2015 was number 1 on the Top 100 rankings of the American magazine, Wine Enthusiast.
“What has changed for Barbera”, explained Stefano Chiarlo, “is the perception of Barbera d'Asti. Small and medium-sized producers have invested in quality that requires years of investments, which are key, because the most advanced markets are no longer content with good wines, they also want authentic wines, and Barbera is. Further, it is a modern wine, “food friendly”, great fruit but also acidity, and has become a modern, attractive and winning wine on the world market. The consideration of Italian and international critics has grown with respect to the wine and the territory, and the phenomenon of wine tourism has contributed quite a lot, too, mainly due to the visibility it has achieved because of the Unesco recognition for Langhe, Roero and Monferrato”.
The analysis of Barbera’s successful relaunch was “also possible because policies have been put into place on the territories, and also people and businesses capable of enhancing them, and it was not taken for granted”, stressed the Piedmont Councilor for Agriculture, Giorgio Ferrero.
Still, the territory cannot stop going forward, just as reflecting on viniculture and the role of denominations must continue. “They are important tools, but they impose different choices in different territories, because the strategies of a denomination like Prosecco cannot be the same as Brunello di Montalcino, to mention two different cases, but both are successful”, said Nicola Lucifero, Professor of Agricultural Law and Agri-Food at the University of Florence.
“Creating a DOCG”, Lucifer said, “means linking the product to the territory, enhancing the identity of the vine and the places where it is produced. However, the denomination must be defended on the world markets, where there is fierce competition, and one must consider that in many markets the naming system is not recognized, so people work on brands, which are another tool”. It is a complex situation, which requires delicate choices and also influence from higher regulatory levels, such as the European Union. Regarding denominations then, it is necessary to make further considerations.
“Today the specifications of Italian denominations are still based, agriculturally speaking, on models that came before “climate change”. Indeed, there are indefinable words, such as “typical”, perhaps anchored in the 70s jargon, or also “irrigation of emergency aid”, but that are not legally defined in a clear manner. Perhaps we need to rethink them, and consider disciplinary measures that, regarding the link to the territory, provide the possibility of different expressions, as multiplication of the offer is what actually works”, underlined Michele Antonio Fino, Professor of Foundations of European Law and Director of the Master in Wine Culture Communication and Management of the University of Pollenzo.
There is also another aspect to take into consideration, which the Dean of research and culture of wine in the world, Mario Fregoni, honorary president of OIV has presented. “Today the most cultivated varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet, to name a couple, are being grown increasingly, not only around the world, but also in Italy. And while viniculture is expanding more and more even in cold territories, hybrid varieties are being used. We have to realize, then, that in order to keep our native varieties and the mix that makes up the different bases of the vine identification platform of each Italian Region current and competitive, there is a lot of work to do. And, we will soon be talking about nominating Vitis Vinifera a Unesco heritage”.
However, in general, it requires an open mind towards the future, guided by the awareness of what the past has given, as Vincenzo Gerbi, professor of oenology at the University of Turin, explained: “It is true that in the past, there was much more Barbera in Piedmont. Part of what we have lost, though, is certainly not to be regretted. For example, in the distant past, studies have shown that just 30% of Barbera placed on the market had successfully completed the malolactic fermentation. We have to think about the future, Today, evaluate all the possible tools, and not say no to everything, regardless. Therefore, research is needed, and public investments, which are fewer and fewer, are not enough to carry out studies, so wine producers must get involved as well”.
There is yet another aspect that will increasingly involve wine, and that is the growing attention to everything related to health, even on the table. “And on this topic, we must take into consideration that so far we have not managed to make that jump to another level in our thinking, and consider wine not a drink, but a liquid food, which it is”, said Giorgio Calabrese, president of the National Food Safety Committee of the Ministry of Health, who added, “everything this slogan summarizes it all, that is; we drink the water, we taste the wine”.

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