Allegrini 2024

Maintaining identity and values while resisting the sirens of investors: Langhe looks to the future

“Langhe (not) for sale, the identity and value of community”, the theme chosen by the Consortium for “Changes” on the opening day of “Grandi Langhe”

Diversity understood as a value, the unparalleled role of those people who live the territory and have made it great, hands and minds that have laid the foundations for success, which has attracted so many investments that have caused vineyard prices to skyrocket to close to 4 million per hectare in Barolo's most prestigious “cru”. But also the message launched precisely for the wineries, the true protagonists of a miracle of territorial excellence, the custodians of identity in a territory that has maintained, still today, in the vast majority of cases, its productive “family” dimension, but where there is no shortage of “sirens” from outside, perhaps from industrialists from other sectors, or from funds or large investment groups to whom the “paradise” of the Langhe is tempting; the fear, therefore, of being able to lose that uniqueness that makes them successful in the world, but also the awareness of changing times. On the plate is the value of community and the identity of wine territories at a particular historical moment, and of generational transition, that even one of Italy’s great wine terroirs is, of necessity, having to face, in an area where tourism has literally exploded in recent years as well, with presences, in the Langa and Roero, rising from just under 238,000 in 2004 to more than 845,000 in 2022, another demonstration of the great appeal that one of Piedmont’s jewels is enjoying, is one of the great challenges, perhaps the greatest, to be faced by the wine sector, which is also an important economic engine.
A future that cannot forget the past but grapples with increasingly peculiar variables, from wineries, many of them, that cannot afford to buy new hectares, given the cost, but which would provide that continuity invoked by so many, to new consumer habits that do not see wine at the top of their preferences. So how, then, can culture be preserved and how can all this coexist so as not to stifle one’s identity? And most importantly, how do the new generations of winemakers see the potential arrival of big investors, a threat or an opportunity? Do they think like their fathers, or is the vision different? If the attachment to the Langhe is the same, but is articulated with different nuances, there are many questions but also generational points of view that emerged from “Langhe (not) for sale, the identity and value of the community”, the theme chosen by the Consorzio di Tutela Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe e Dogliani for the 2024 edition of “Changes”, a moment of debate and confrontation organized at “Grandi Langhe”, the two-day event of presentations and previews of the wine productions of Langhe and Roero (January 29-30 at the Ogr in Turin). A topic that served to explore and analyze different trends, to assess the “sentiment” of winery and vineyard owners with respect to the hypothesis of selling, or not, their farms, thanks also to the presentation of the research signed by the Research Center on Community Development and Coexistence Processes (Cerisvico) of the Catholic University of Milan and Brescia and coordinated by professors Maura Pozzi and Adriano Mauro Ellena. A topic that is obviously close to the hearts of many because it is synonymous with the future but also a potential “wake-up call” in reference to one’s own connotations. As Matteo Ascheri, president of the Consorzio di tutela Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe e Dogliani, explained, “without people, wine loses its soul, the Langhe is such because we are many and different. “Irregular”, in a sense. The capital that has invested here and still wants to do so is important because it brings benefits, planning, but it is also true that today buying a hectare of Barolo is complicated for a company that makes its living from viticulture, because we have arrived at prohibitive figures, and the risk is to give more value to capital, to finance, which sometimes is also speculation, than to the identity and distinctiveness of the product, which is our characteristic”. Ascheri spoke about the concept of “irregularity”, understood as “diversity”, and while it is true how, of course, tomorrow will depend on the choices of the individual, the Consortium president is keen to remind us how “we have become what we are because we are family businesses. The human factor is intrinsic to the product, it is a resource”.
The results that emerged from the research, which in fact not only investigates economic aspects but also psychological and social ones, show how the issue is experienced differently by different family generations. “Juniors” (under 40, ed.) consider investors (the Gie, Big External Investors, ed.), in a complex and structured view - not monolithic, but differentiated with respect to the various types (investment funds, multinationals, large groups, individual investors) - bearers of industrial projects and strong capital endowments. “Seniors” (over 40, ed.), on the contrary, have a more unambiguous view than “outside” investors operating for speculative purposes and driven by pure trend and finance logic. Different psychological processes are activated for both clusters depending on whether the investors belong, or not, to the wine sector. The position with respect to the sale of the winery of the “Juniors” is seen as a community issue, that is, one that affects the identity and value heritage of the territory, and for this reason it must be weighed and evaluated from a collective perspective and one of strong attachment to the roots of the Langhe. The “Seniors”, on the other hand, make it a business issue because they identify with it to the point of connecting the sale of the business to the sale of part of themselves. Both care deeply about the territory, but the younger ones are not afraid of the new and seem to have an openness that the “over 40s” do not have. The topic was then further explored in the round table discussion attended by the President of the Consorzio di tutela Barolo, Barbaresco, Alba Langhe and Dogliani Matteo Ascheri, as well as Massimo Romani, CEO Argea leading group in the wine sector in Italy; Francesco Mulargiu, of the Associazione Vini Mamoiada (“It was only in 2000 that we began bottling our wines, and today our association has 25 producers who have signed a very restrictive protection specification to enhance the product and the work of those who have chosen to promote our reality. Only producers who reside in the area can join our association. We feel a bit similar, with due comparisons, to the Langhe, because the passion and attachment to our social fabric is the same that I found when I visited the Langhe wineries, and what I think is the plus that ultimately makes the difference even in wine and in the way of telling and experiencing it”, he recounted) and by Massimiliano Cattozzi, head of Intesa Sanpaolo’s Agribusiness Department. “The model we believe to be a winner”, said Massimo Romani, CEO of Argea, a leading group in the wine sector in Italy, “is that of a correct mix between external investments, made, however, in the logic of continuity and direct involvement of the former owners, and a fabric of companies, often family-owned, that keep the social fabric and values intact. A coexistence of souls that can guarantee the best future for the territories”. For Matteo Ascheri, “it is not possible to think of development and growth that does not come from maintaining the distinctive values and quality that have made the Langhe, over the decades, an excellence. If I think about tomorrow I imagine more than growth, in terms of production, an increase in quality, made by people, wineries and values. Comparisons with other areas cannot be made in terms of development model. It is the people, their traditions and their stories that count. This is the heritage we must pass on to future generations in order to guarantee them a prosperous tomorrow”. Ascheri also addressed the current (and future) wine scenario, stating that “wine consumption is bound to decrease but the quality product will not lose. The vineyard impacts, having fewer vineyards means impacting less but also decreasing prices with labor and being able to sell wine at a higher price”.

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