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Garda DOC: versatility is the strong point, though a better defined identity is necessary

The future of a rapidly growing denomination (from 6 to 18 million bottles in 6 years), linked to Lake Garda (27 million tourists each year)

Garda DOC is consolidating the present and mapping out the future. Garda DOC commissioned a study conducted by CIRVE in Padua to take stock of their present situation and imagine tomorrow. Garda DOC is a young and popular denomination that covers a very large wine territory, renowned for other wines that have more or less high visibility. It was recognized in 1996 for valorizing varietal wines produced in the area of Lake Garda, where, between Lombardy and Veneto, there are 10 historical denominations: Riviera del Garda Classico-Valtènesi, San Martino della Battaglia, Lugana, Colli Mantovani, Custoza, Bardolino, Valpolicella, Valdadige, Lessini-Durello and Soave. These DOC wines have made grown rapidly in the last few years, therefore the Protection Consortium decided to examine their strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities. The Consortium commissioned the study to the team of Eugenio Pomarici at the Center for Research in Viticulture and Oenology of the Studies in Padua, from which a proposed series of strategic elements to develop the offer of the denomination wines originated. The picture - presented recently at the Dogana Veneta in Lazise as part of the “Garda Wine Stories” meeting of Italian and foreign journalists - also included an in-depth analysis of the interest in the denomination wines on the web, by Angelo Zago of the Department of Economic Sciences at the University of Verona.
“Garda DOC has great potential”, Paolo Fiorini, president of the Garda DOC Consortium, emphasized, “and therefore, to develop it and move forward, we must understand precisely what our critical points are to be able to overcome them, through the studies we have commissioned. This “transparency operation” on the DOC, in the third year of my mandate, follows the insights presented in the two previous editions of “Garda Wine Stories” (the climatic framework and the pedological analysis of the denomination, ed.). The analyses confirmed the National and International popularity of Garda DOC wines. They also offered fundamental ideas for future marketing and promotion strategies, to enhance in a growing and collaborating way the link between the Garda area and its wines”. promotion strategies, to enhance in a growing and collaborating way the link between the Garda area and its wines”. The remarkable quantitative growth (+46% from 2017 for 410.000 quintals of grapes in 2023, while the number of winemakers increased +20% over the same period, and bottles produced increased from 6.1 to 18.6 million in six years), went hand in hand with an exceptional capacity for innovation, diversification of the range, a strong element in the face of today's consumers’ changing needs, and quality growth. Following the debut of Garda DOC wines, which mainly affected mass retail trade, they have rightfully entered the traditional channel of higher-priced wines. These wines are offered by a vast group of small and medium sized companies that have an integrated supply chain, are strongly linked to their territory and focused on quality products. Furthermore, Garda DOC presents a rather complex offer divided into 13 different varietal specifications, and the possibility of producing both white and rosé sparkling wines. Still white wines now represent 76% (71% varietal and bi-varietal and 5% white without varietal specification), and significant growth in the past few years (+135% on 2017), in line with current market trends. The reds that were 7.1% of the total in 2023 (-78% compared to 2017), are now paying the full price, while the sparkling typologies (mainly white) are unchanged at 13.5%, and bubbles at 3.3%. In this context, however, there is a production prevalence of four types, which are: Garda Chardonnay (29% of the total), Garda Garganega Pinot Grigio (22% of the total), Garda Pinot Grigio (16% of the total) and Garda Bianco Frizzante (14% of the total). Plus, there is a multiple price positioning on the market. Wines are placed in very different price ranges, private labels in mass retail at the entry level range (under 3 euros/bottle), premium wines (6-9 euros/bottle) and super premium (over 9 euros/bottle). They are, therefore, at the same price as wines of other historical denominations, as well as popular premium wines (between 3 and 6 euros), commanding slightly lower prices than those of historical DOC wines. Various strengths and opportunities highlighted in the SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) by the Pomarici team involved 20 privileged witnesses, chosen from Garda DOC producers and players in the intermediate and final trade channels, both National and International, as well as from information received on the questionnaires from 7 other producers of the DOC.
“The overall analysis of the competitive position of Garda DOC reveals a situation that in spite of the complicated wine market scenario, indicates ample possibilities of quality and quantity growth”, Eugenio Pomarici, of the Center for Research in Viticulture and Oenology in Padua, explained. “The name “Garda” is easy to memorize because it is short, and most of all it recalls the beauty and unique characteristics of Lake Garda. It therefore contributes to a positive perception of Garda DOC wines, especially in Central Europe, which is also the origin of most of the average 27 million tourists a year the area welcomes. The competitive position of Garda DOC wines is strengthened by wines from International white grape varieties sought after especially abroad, an excellent quality level and an excellent quality-price ratio. The last, but especially strong point, is the positive perception of the Consortium’s work, which, in addition to protecting the name, effectively carries out promotion, communication and valorization activities, which contribute to the growth and development of the DOC in Italy and abroad as well as to unity among the producers”. The study also revealed, however, that there is a lack of a “specific identity” of the DOC, which is the result of an imprecise price positioning of the wines and an extremely varied offer. This is the reason why the perception is that consumers buy Garda DOC not for the denomination itself, but for the variety or the company brand or the convenient price. Development of production and commercial strategies is further hindered by all of the stakeholders’ inadequate knowledge of the DOC supply system and its potential. “To overcome these critical issues”, the economist explained, “regardless of changes to the regulations in a restrictive sense, which require complex procedures and mediations, the way to go forward is to focus on a few types of products. The majority of the stakeholders identify these products in the Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio varieties, to be implemented with targeted communication actions, research projects that highlight the suitability of the DOC territories to the vines, training and informing the producers for a more in depth discussion on possibilities of offers and therefore formulating adequate strategies in individual companies. In addition to this, we must introduce value mentions (Superior, Reserve) in the specifications to facilitate positioning in higher price ranges even by those companies that do not have a strong brand”. There are various opportunities available, such as creating a unified network among the producers all over the entire area, tour operators, accommodation facilities, and restaurants. And, of course, promoting the local wine tourism offer to expand the large tourist flow in Lake Garda, thereby creating a unique image of the “Garda” territory. This would create a bond that gives visibility and International recognition to the denomination, further facilitated by the versatility and quality of its wines, which respond to the needs of the modern consumer looking for freshness and light white and sparkling wines. “Regarding threats”, Pomarici continued, “in addition to those that affect wine in general (climate change, reduction in consumption and so on, ed.), Garda DOC must guard against possible speculative operations that could lead to a reduction in supply prices to mass retail trade. This is a risk that can be mitigated with a strong, moral suasion action especially towards the professionals in this channel who must be motivated to maintain, first of all in their own interests, the integrity of the Garda Doc offer.
The considerable interest in the term “Garda” has been confirmed by the web analysis of Google Trends data, which explored how users from various European countries and some Italian Regions search for terms linked to Verona wines, especially Garda DOC wines. “The term “Garda”, Angelo Zago, of the Department of Economic Sciences at the University of Verona emphasized, “has gained considerable interest especially in Germany, Austria and Holland, as well as the Italian regions of Trentino Alto Adige and Lombardy. Regarding, instead, the specific categories of “alcoholic drinks”, the countries that have shown the greatest interest in Garda DOC wines are Austria, Germany and England, as well as the Italian Regions mentioned, where Garda is the leader over other denominations, such as Valpolicella and Lugana”.

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