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From declining harvests to declining exports: a difficult 2023 for Piedmont wine as well

Vignaioli Piemontesi & Regione Piemonte analysis: production value up (1,362 million euros); vineyards down (from 2017)
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A vineyard in Piedmont

Less quantity but excellent quality, a market in chiaroscuro, with exports remaining afloat despite a negative sign, both in value and volume, for the great reds, with growth for Italy's most famous sweet bubbles, namely Asti. Vineyards that, for the first time in many years are decreasing, but a production value that is instead growing. All this with so many challenges to face in this 2024, which started with doubts caused by old and new international geopolitical tensions, and with the challenge of finding the meeting point with the tastes of new consumers who are crumbling the habits of the past and a fight against climate change that makes people worry more and more. Even in Piedmont, one of the most important wine-growing regions in Italy, and not only, home of red wine pearls such as Barolo and Barbaresco (which, as emerged in recent days from “Grandi Langhe”, are in excellent health), but also of sparkling wine with Asti, and with the rampant Alta Langa, that of 2023 was not a vintage to remember, from a quantitative point of view, with -14% (a figure even higher than the national average, which stopped at 12%), although there is satisfaction in the qualitative aspect, with technicians describing the 2023 harvest as “very good” and “eight stars” out of ten to the average quality of the grapes. A lot of interesting data emerged from the analysis, carried out by oenologists & agronomists, in “L’Annata Vitivinicola in Piemonte 2023”, the annual publication, edited by Vignaioli Piemontesi and the Piedmont Region, in which technical data and evaluations of the harvest just past and the general economic performance of the wine sector are analyzed, presented, in recent days, in Turin, in the Region’s Palace. Two climatic factors characterized the 2023 wine year in Piedmont: record temperatures and prolonged drought. No reversal of the trend from the year before, except in the grape harvest: this time the weather strongly affected by decreasing production by about 14%; 2.06 million hectoliters were produced compared to 2.26 million in 2022. The grape harvest was quite early, generally taking place between August and September. For the Vignaioli Piemontesi technicians, many grape varieties are placed between “eight stars” (Arneis, Favorita, Nascetta, Dolcetto, Grignolino, Nebbiolo Alto Piemonte, Chardonnay) and “eight and a half stars” (Cortese, Erbaluce, Moscato bianco, Timorasso, Barbera, Brachetto, Nebbiolo (Langhe)); nine stars for Freisa, Pelaverga Piccolo, Ruchè while seven and a half stars to Vespolina, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir. “The most appreciable character of 2023”, the technicians write, “could be that of “downsized” alcoholic potencies also more in tune with new market demands”. In general, prospects for better balance and length in wines, as well as greater complexity, are outlined. For the first year since 2017, Piedmont’s vineyard hectares are declining, now numbering 44,285 (it was 45,823 in 2022). Looking at the numbers, over the past ten years (2013 - 2022), the Piedmont vineyard has shown a basically stable trend with an increasing situation until last year. In 2013, Piedmont’s vineyard area had 44,169 hectares, in 2014 43,893, in 2015 43,553, in 2016 43,500, in 2017 44,202, in 2018 44,449, in 2019 44,677 hectares, in 2020 44,737 hectares, and in 2021 45,420. The recovery of the area under vines lost in the past (45,823 hectares) also continued in 2022, with a sharp increase over the 2013 value. The production of wines with designation of origin accounts for 94% with 1.95 million hectoliters declared in the 2023 vintage, assets resulting from 59 appellations with 18 Docg and 41 Doc covering about 83% of the regional production; almost all of historical native grape varieties.
Positive economic data for Piedmont's agribusiness sector to which wine also refers: according to the latest data from the Piedmont Region, the value of Piedmont’s production is 1,362 million euros (it was 1,235 million in 2022) out of an Italian total of 11,334 million euros, the region is confirmed as the second nationwide in terms of turnover impact. 33% of wine production in Piedmont comes from the cooperative world: 35 cooperative wineries in Piedmont are associated with and represented by Vignaioli Piemontesi with about 8,000 members. Slightly more than 19 million euros, on the other hand, are the resources allocated by the Piedmont Region in the 2023/2024 annuity to the promotion on third-country markets measure of the Wine CMO for the internationalization and export of Piedmont wineries, broken down as follows: 8.4 million euros for the promotion of wines on third-country markets measure; 6.9 million euros for the restructuring and reconversion of vineyards measure; and 3.8 million euros for the Investments measure. 7.1 million euros are the resources allocated by the Piedmont Region for the transitional biennium 2023 - 2024 for the sub-measure 3,2 Psr 2014/2020, in support of information and promotion activities, carried out by producer associations in the EU internal market for the enhancement of Piedmontese productions covered by quality schemes.
Chapter export: it affects 60% of the wine produced in Piedmont, of which 70% in EU countries and 30% in non-EU countries. An export that holds but with different speeds according to the products: Piedmontese PDO wines did better than the Italian average, Asti spumante did well while still reds contracted. In the markets, as is well known, Italian wine has not had an easy year: Denis Pantini, head of Nomisma Wine Monitor, analyzed the performance of Piedmontese wines, particularly abroad. For exports of Italian PDO wines (-0.3% in value, -3.9% in volume), those from Piedmont fared better than average, Asti spumante PDO grew by 5.2% in value and slightly declined in quantity exported (-0.9%) with Piedmont’s PDO still reds, on the other hand, contracting by 2.6% in value and 5% in volume (against, respectively, a 5.6% and 8.1% drop that affected the entire category of PDO reds).
Looking at the main export markets for Piedmontese PDO wines, the changes over 2022 manifested themselves differently. Thus, in the case of still reds and looking at values, the main declines involved Canada, Norway, Germany, and the United Kingdom while at the opposite end there were increases in France and Sweden. On the other hand, in the case of Asti Spumante, the value of exports (from January to October 2023 when comparing with 2022) increased in Latvia (these are mostly re-exports to Russia), Germany, Uk, Poland and Austria while it decreased in the US, Mexico and Japan. Looking to the future, in addition to the international scenario, a focus was devoted to Italy’s demographic evolution and the approach to wine consumption by new generations. Demographic forecasts released by Istat show a country that by 2050 will be less populous (-5 million inhabitants compared to today) and older (35% of the population will be over 65 years old). This, according to the analysis, will result in less wine consumption (in quantity), which, by the way, has already dropped by almost 30% in the past two decades.
In order to maintain the production structure of the Italian wine industry unchanged, with all the positive implications it expresses at the socio-economic level for the Country System and for individual territories, it will be necessary both to export more, also seeking new markets, and to understand in time the evolution of the tastes and consumption habits of today’s young people. Young people who, currently in the choice of buying a wine, seem to prefer attributes partly shared also with the generations of the less young (such as territorial origin, enhancement of indigenous grape varieties), others indicated with greater emphasis (sustainable wines) but still others where the gap with the average Italian consumer is very evident. This is the case of “limited edition” wines (promoted by influencers or made in collaboration with companies from the world of fashion and fashion), but especially of wines suitable for mixology. For Giulio Porzio, of Vignaioli Piemontesi, “we are facing a vintage where on the one hand we give great quality to the consumer, on the other hand with criticalities from the production point of view. It is time to address the problems: water scarcity and diseases, first and foremost flavescence dorée, which together lower the yields per hectare and therefore the income of winemakers. This makes us extremely vulnerable. It is time to do and not to profess. We must look to the future and invest in new strategies to give viticulture in the Unesco hills and those who work there a tomorrow”. Piedmont Region Agriculture Councillor Marco Protopapa highlighted how viticulture and Piedmont agriculture in general are “facing an epochal change: first of all in the vineyard where the climate is putting our viticulturists to the test. In our region, too, a drought that has been prolonged for two years now, high summer temperatures, snow that does not arrive and, as a result, water reserves that are becoming increasingly reduced, are all sources of great concern for agriculture. The most immediate consequence is the decline in grape production. Added to this is uncertainty coming from international markets and affecting the Italian wine system in general. It is clear that the wine sector faces significant challenges; however, in the midst of these difficulties, it is important to recognize and take advantage of the opportunities that may emerge. Investing in the promotion of local excellence, such as quality cuisine, fine wines and our UNESCO World Heritage-listed scenic beauty, can become an asset in attracting tourism. This, in turn, could provide essential support to the local economy, creating job opportunities for young people and those involved in the industry. In recent years, Piedmont has been among the top destinations in Italy for wine tourists, with an increase in the presence of foreigners in all months of the year”.

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