Slow Wine 2024
Allegrini 2024
IDEAS OF THE FUTURE

Quality wine faces its most critical era. But it will overcome it, with everyone’s work

Reflections of businesses and institutions from Congress No. 76 Assoenologi, in Brescia. President Cotarella: “enologists are the champions of wine”

Between a market that does not shine, a climate that is changing the game and is increasingly difficult to manage, and regulations that change and often complicate things even more, as on the delicate issue of labeling, passing through the attacks of what, in no uncertain terms, are called the “anti-alcohol lobby”, but not only that, wine, Italian and otherwise, is going through one of its most delicate and difficult phases ever. And it has to deal with “regular” consumers who are fewer and fewer, with young people who are looking more and more to sparkling wines and less and less to still wines, especially reds, and again with markets that, in the future, will stock less and order smaller and more frequently. But also with the realization that, perhaps, too much wine is being produced and in too many places with little vocation for the quality and distinctiveness of wines, which is increasingly crucial. Important issues that, in perspective, may also lead to radical choices. Yet, the sector has overcome many crises, often more related to external than internal factors, and it will be able to do so again, provided that every part of the supply chain, from the vineyard, to the winery, to the trade, to the institutions, play their part, synergistically. And, in this sense, “the presence, at the closing of our Congress No. 76, of Minister Francesco Lollobrigida, and of MEP Paolo De Castro, a member of the Agriculture Commission of the European Parliament, gives the measure of the weight gained over the years by oenologists”. With this consideration, Riccardo Cotarella, president of Assoenologi, closed the organization’s Congress in recent days in Brescia, which, with 600 participants, marked a record number of attendees.
The growth of the “pervasiveness” of oenologists in the wine sector - outside the winery, from the vineyard to business management and marketing - has been Riccardo Cotarella’s goal since he first took office as Assoenologi president. He emphasized this, claiming the role of the Congress in in-depth study of hot topics in the sector and not professional updating to which other areas and venues are deputed. “We are in the most critical phase of the era of quality Italian wine”, Cotarella stressed, "due to adverse weather phenomena, incidence of diseases, to which we cannot attribute all the responsibility, drops in production and markets that have not given us great satisfaction also due to the continuous tensions on international scenarios. Added to this are the attacks on wine on the health front, with European countries, above all Ireland, promoting the introduction of health labels to highlight the dangers of alcohol, which, in wine, represents a small percentage. A folly that we have repeatedly challenged, on the strength of scientific evidence attributing health benefits to moderate wine consumption. The leitmotif chosen for the Congress, “Giving true value to wine and territories”, is intended to call all categories transversally to a “mutualistic symbiosis” in the awareness that wine is a national asset to be defended”.
The comparison of 2023 versus 2022 data - illustrated by Denis Pantini, Nomisma’s Agribusiness and Wine Monitor Manager - on the market, positioning and prospects for Italian wines did not appear reassuring, with data that, both on the tout court market front and looking at young people, i.e., the future, are certainly not bright. Among the causes inflation, geopolitical instability and changes in consumption due to age and number issues. “Between 2021 and 2050”, Pantini explained in this regard, “we will see a decline in “frequent users” of wine due to generational turnover, which will also produce a shift toward the types most sought after by Generation Z, which prefers sparkling wines to reds and whites”.
Debating the market conjuncture in the first round table of the Congress, in light of the numbers presented by Denis Pantini, were four protagonists of the sector, who focusing on different aspects nevertheless said they were optimistic and confident in the sector’s reaction. “Considering the phenomenon of “super storage” that occurred in the pandemic and the market rebound had in 2022, the hues seem less gloomy”, began Renzo Cotarella, CEO Marchesi Antinori, “and what the Italian economy expects from the wine world is not immobility for fear of market risks, but are new ideas, experimentation and everything that can be effective to overcome this moment. The trend can be reversed, negative signs can become positive. Just answer the right questions: how much wine to produce, what kind, and for what consumers”. Then perhaps the time has come to look at reducing production: “2024 will have to be the year in which we producers will have to make decisions”, commented Luca Rigotti, coordinator of the wine sector of the Agri-food Cooperative Alliance and at the top of Mezzacorona, “because a sector where a misfortune (downy mildew, ed.) solves the problem (overproduction, ed.) cannot guarantee a future. And so the problem is no longer conjunctural, but is structural: we have begun to think about temporarily limiting, for one, two, three years, the annual increase in the area under vines by 1% (as provided for in the relevant European Union regulation - in the less suitable areas and at the same time limiting production. It is not possible to ask for a distillation or a green harvest and then the spring after have the increase in area. I hope that the problem will be solved not only with limits, but also with a stronger assertion of Italian wines in the world. Of course, we need to continue working on quality, in which we are at a good level, and on sustainability also from a social and ethical point of view”. Talking about grubbing up vineyards is a failure, however, in other parts of Europe, such as in Bordeaux and Rioja, it is being done. “I think the issue must be addressed by taking into account market segmentation”, Renzo Cotarella further argued. “There are price ranges that go and others that do not. You cannot think of linear cuts, as we are used to doing because of inability to go deep, the risk of displeasing someone: we must have the courage to understand which wines work and where, and which do not. But, in Italy, in some realities, they are still debating whether to still produce 400 quintals per hectare or 300. Authorizations should be given only to areas of higher suitability, even higher percentages, leaving out lowland areas, where yields are high, and high fertility makes them suitable for other crops as well. Choices should also be made by looking at orography, enhancing those areas that, without viticulture, would be completely abandoned”.
On the regulation of supply, Consortia can also exercise their role and transform the fate of an appellation, as was the case with Doc Lugana, under the presidency of Ettore Nicoletto, now president & ceo Angelini Wines & Estates. “That of Lugana was a virtuous example of how a consortium can act as a regulator of a denomination, not only for the management of supply, but also for the equalization of value along the entire supply chain considering also its composition”, Nicoletto recalled. “These are measures that can succeed in balancing distortions in the short term, but not achieve structural changes in supply. However, these are very powerful tools. In the case of Lugana when faced with excess production that had created significant stocks and crushed grape and wine values, we used a mix of storage for two years and blocking of claims to stop the uncontrolled growth of production. In the space of 18-24 months, grape and wine prices have risen rapidly and have brought Lugana back to the prices of before 2019 and thus to being a super premium Doc in terms of value production along the upstream chain, but also of strong positioning on the shelf or in any case on the distribution chain: these are actions that are effective if shared in the board and explained to the members so that they are aware of the measures and are convinced executors of them”. On the performance of Italian wine in the markets, particularly in the U.S., which is the most important in the world in terms of volume and value, the attitude is optimistic, particularly that of Renzo Cotarella, also in light of Antinori’s acquisitions in the U.S., in Napa Valley, where the historic Italian winery has acquired Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar, and where it will directly import its wines with “Vinattieri 1385”.
“I am very optimistic about U.S. wine consumption, and not only that. If you look at what has happened from mid-2021 to now”, Marchesi Antinori CEO Cotarella said again, “wine consumption has not decreased, in fact it has grown more than before Covid. In 2022 there was an exaggerated increase in sales, and in 2023 a realignment of stocks was to be expected and therefore a moment of reflection. This is also evidenced by the “not normal” growths in the 2022 budgets of wine companies. In the U.S., despite the difficulties, GDP grew by 5%, demonstrating its economic flexibility, which is completely different from the rest of the Western world. The U.S. market is particular because of its very strong segmentation, and I think it is important to look at consumption in the different ranges of value and quality perception. All the products that are under $7 to $9 are in a strong crisis: because of inflation and lower affordability mean that people are spending on necessities and drinking less. However, wines above $13 to $25 are on the rise indicating a shift in consumption toward higher value-added products, so I remain optimistic especially for quality wines and brands. Commodity wines, on the other hand, are having difficulties because of the economic impoverishment of the weaker segments, and this is where social considerations come in because widening the gap between rich and poor does not work”.
“Today an additional critical element is the cost of money. The U.S. market is reacting violently for better or worse”, added Sandro Sartor, CEO of Ruffino and at the top of the Constellation Brands group, “and it is experiencing a period of “suspension” due to the wait for the upcoming elections. So I believe that in the second half of 2024, if not before, there will be a full recovery”. “Of course, a lot will also depend on how the elections go”, commented Angelini Wines & Estates president & CEO Ettore Nicoletto, “and, in any case, the current cloud of uncertainty over the United States today will disappear. I expect the inflationary grip that has led to a small drop in demand to ease. People are paying their bills and buying one less bottle of wine, it’s not happening on the super premium and ultra premium bands that become “refuge areas”, because those who could spend to buy a bottle at $30-40 last year can afford it again this year”. And on the subject of the new wine labeling regulations, which are keeping the sector apprehensive, Sandro Sartor, in his capacity as Wine Moderation president, reiterated his requests to the European legislator: single regulations, because it is not possible for each country to make its own law, as Ireland has done; presence of the e-label only to avoid translations in all languages; a message based on science, specifying that abuse is bad for health and not that consumption, for example, causes cancer. And then, concluded the Wine Moderation president and also CEO Ruffino and the heads of the Constellation Brands group, “there are to be standardized indications on alcohol consumption that differ from country to country”.
Moreover, in addition to the issue related to the positive health effects of moderate consumption, there are many other good reasons to defend viticulture and wine, as Renzo Cotarella pointed out, emphasizing the value of viticulture as a resource for the maintenance and care of the land, particularly the hilly land that is very present in Italy. A free care for the community “that, in some cases, also gives income”. The suggestion is to defend culture, history and territory with real and solid arguments like this and not with fake stories.
Europe is moving in an increasingly less Mediterranean logic, and this, as Angelini Wines & Estates president & CEO Ettore Nicoletto warned again, is a gigantic risk for our industry. “In the European Parliament there is a very strong and stubborn anti-alcohol lobby and a narrative against consumption, not abuse. And the positions of the World Health Organization (WHO) are also heavy. The antidote is to communicate the science and to do it in a very limpid, very clear way. At stake is €1 billion a year in contribution measures between the CAP and CMO that are essential for the sector. It is no coincidence that there is a general mobilization on this, and the European Union, Wine Moderation and all the industry representatives and categories such as Assoenologi are dealing with it”. “Wine and the great variety of territories dedicated to viticulture are”, then reiterates Assoenologi president Riccardo Cotarella, “a unique and inexhaustible heritage of our country: they are our real gold mine that must be even more valued and communicated in Italy and abroad so as to give it real value. We oenologists are more and more the champions of the defense of wine, we are in the front row in the vineyards and in the winery to face the difficulties dictated by the weather and we are always ready to counter theses and claims of all those who do not wish well to the world of wine. But we are also professionals who work in favor of wine marketing, because the winemaker of the present is an indispensable figure in the wine-growing industry, which, without us and many enlightened producers, would still be stuck 60 years ago”.
And, looking to the future, a part also goes through no-alcohol and low-alcohol wines, with Italy still waiting for legislation, while other countries are investing in it. < B>And, on the issue, WineNews, asked the Minister of Agriculture, Francesco Lollobrigida, for an account: “Low and no alcohol wine? We cannot prohibit what Europe authorizes, but for me it is not wine. Italy’s added value is quality, and wine deprived of alcohol is not a quality product as we understand it”. And to those who ask if, however, Italy is not losing market share in a segment in which many other countries, including European ones, are investing, Lollobrigida responds, “I am not so convinced that Italian producers are worth investing in this market segment. The government’s commitment is to support our excellence, our flagship products, including certainly wine, which, despite some people trying to demonize it, is an excellence that goes through history, it has been part of our food for millennia and we are a long-living people and, therefore, to say that wine is not a quality product is a mistake”.

In the Assoenologi Congress, as always, the “special awards” of Italian oenologists (which, in the past, has also been awarded to WineNews) were also given to those who have particularly distinguished themselves in the valorization and communication of the wine world. The Best Italian Research Award, worth 2,000 euros, went to Piergiorgio Comuzzo, professor in the Department of Agri-Food Sciences at the University of Udine, for his work “Using high-pressure homogenization to accelerate the aging on lees of white wines”. The Award for Applied Research went to Antonio Tirelli, professor of Enology and Enochemistry at the Universities of Milan and Turin and president of the Graduate Program in Viticulture and Enology at the University of Milan. The Award for Communication in Italy was won by Daniele Cernilli, wine and food journalist, and the Award for International Communication went to Kerin O'Keefe, U.S. writer and journalist.

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