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Allegrini 2024
WINE AND TERRITORY

The “Abruzzo Model” is still improving in quality. Next challenge: defining its different identities

At “Anteprima Montepulciano d’Abruzzo”, Colline Teramane Doc and Docg wines presented together, experimenting with a first subdivision into sub-zones

33,000 hectares of vineyard area (including 17,000 of Montepulciano); 3.4 million hectoliters of wine produced, of which more than 1 million are claimed as DOC, 80% represented by Montepulciano d'Abruzzo; 6,000 grape producers, 35 cooperative wineries and more than 250 wineries. A market that is declining in volume, but unexpectedly increasing in value, both in Italy and abroad. Here are the first viticultural clues of Abruzzo version 2024, a 65% mountainous region, 34% hilly, with only 1% of plain remaining, represented by 130 km of coastal strip. A region of which 36.3% of the territory is under environmental protection and where, from the moment you unfasten your skis from its Apennine massifs to the moment you lunch on the Adriatic Sea, only 40 minutes pass. A geological, climatic and floral-faunal richness that in past years has never been sufficiently communicated in promoting its wines and that, instead, has sought a solution in the “Abruzzo model”, devised by the Consortium of Abruzzo Wines (https://www.vinidabruzzo.it/) in 2022 and that has been taking more and more shape ever since. A few months ago, for example, the protection and enhancement of the Colline Teramane Docg (the region’s first and only Docg, recognized in 2003, which has 42 producers, 172 hectares of vineyards, and an average production of 600,000 bottles a year) came under the Consorzio Vini d’Abruzzo to work together in synergy. While a final step in this evolution was the “Anteprima Montepulciano d’Abruzzo”, the region’s princely grape variety, which saw both Montepulciano Doc and Docg wines united in tasting, in separate panels for the last time, but on the same day, with the Doc wines divided among the 4 provinces envisaged by the new regulations (which will be effective on the label from the 2023 vintage).
The decision to unite the protection of the two appellations was made for several reasons. The first is the quality of the work carried out for some years by the Vini d’Abruzzo Consortium, which goes precisely in the direction of identity enhancement that had led Teramo companies to join together to promote their portion of the territory. This management has fostered exchange between the two consortia, increasing their collaboration. The second reason is economic: the communicative and economic strength of the Doc was incomparable to the small Docg, which obviously remained excluded (with its own flagship wines from companies producing both labels) from any event organized within the Doc: it had become strategically convenient for both to unite in promotion within a shared program strongly linked to quality. The third reason is identity. That awareness that had prompted the producers of Colline Teramane to break away in order to better define themselves is the same to which the Consorzio Vini d’Abruzzo now aspires, precisely through the “Abruzzo Model”. with the differentiation of the four provinces and their mention for the Riserva and Superiore labels-Terre di Chieti, Colline Pescaresi, Terre dell’Aquila and Colline Teramane (not for Montepulciano)-and the addition of the sub-areas of Terre dei Vestini, Alto Tirino, Terre dei Peligni, Teate and San Marino sulla Marrucina.
Then again, the awareness of identity arises by contrast. Enrico Cerulli Irelli, the latest president of the Consorzio Colline Teramane, is firmly convinced of this when he recounts how necessary it was 20 years ago to define itself as a Docg, separating itself from the Doc, and how it has become necessary today, instead, to reunite, thanks to a common language, which the Doc has learned precisely by looking at the Colline Teramane. “The Consortium Vini d’Abruzzo has recognized the work of promotion and quality that the small DOCG has done over the past 20 years, and it was precisely this that opened the window of dialogue, which led, for example, to the first election of a president of a private winery, precisely from the Teramo area. The challenge now will be just the identity of the other 3 provinces of the Region: understand if this new frame will be a good opportunity to form four provinces distinct style and characteristics”. This new qualitative pyramid defined by the “Model Abruzzo” is in fact a container useful to support and peculiarities of different territories Region. But the content cannot drop from above: it will have to be defined by the producers and actors in the provinces themselves, their sense of community, their ability to network and emphasize their territorial specificities and how these translate into the wines they produce. Comparing themselves with others as well. Comparison that serves to distinguish but also to accept each other.
Another work that the Consorzio Vini d’Abruzzo is carrying out in the “Abruzzo Model” is that of “in bringing together the Abruzzo of value and the Abruzzo of volumes and making them coexist profitably. A complex project”, explains the vice-president of the Abruzzo Wines Consortium, Franco D'Eusanio, “that starts from making clear a narrative that unites similarities, in the albeit important substantial differences related to the great malleability of Montepulciano”. The commitment to increased quality that began a few years ago has also invested wines produced by cooperatives and for large-scale distribution. “Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is the princely vine of our region”, continues Franco D’Eusanio, “in recent years we have aimed, both through changes to the production regulations and an intense promotional activity, to raise the value of the appellation in order to be increasingly competitive and to guarantee our vine growers a proper income”. A path that is bearing its first fruits.
In a complicated year for the Italian wine market, Abruzzo, in fact, goes against the trend by scoring +4.5% in value for exports. This emerges from the analysis of the first 9 months of 2023 by the Nomisma Wine Monitor Permanent Observatory: “Abruzzo Wines are holding up in the first 9 months, analyzed by the Observatory”, explains Alessandro Nicodemi, president of the Consortium Vini D’Abruzzo, “although with different performances on the various markets: we have grown on European markets, where Germany stands out as the most important marketplace for our wines; on the other hand, volumes are falling in the United States (the second largest market for us), where, however, consumers are increasingly opting for wines in high price ranges; even on the domestic market, it is high quality that has won the day, thus finding, for example, for Montepulciano d’Abruzzo a 2.2% growth in value”. Going to analyze the off-premise sales of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo in the United States, it shows a decrease in the first 9 months of 2.2% against a growth in value of 3.6%, driven in particular by sales in the price range between $12 and $20 per bottle. The same trend for an important market such as Germany (first export market), where instead Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grows in the retail channel by 29%, both in value and volume. It must be said that part of this increase comes from a “technical rebound”, which had seen sales in 2022 fall by almost 14%, especially in the lower price ranges. In the first 9 months of 2023, sales increased both in the first price ranges, recovering from the 2022 slump, but also, and this is the interesting fact, in wines positioned in the 5-6 euro and 7-10 euro per bottle range, an encouraging sign for positioning. Even on the domestic market with regard to sales of the main Abruzzo wines in the Italian large-scale retail market, discordant trends on the Italian average are shown: the first 9 months of 2023 continue to show a reduction in quantities sold for Montepulciano d’Abruzzo of 5.8% compared to the same period of the previous year, with reductions always concerning the price range up to 4 euros, while for all the others there are increases in volume sales, so much so as to bring the overall growth in value to 2.2%. A fidelity of sales that affected the higher price ranges of this wine.
It remains, however, to look with concern at the year to come:
the difficult climatic season of 2023, characterized by very strong pressure from vine pathogens, has drastically reduced grape production in Abruzzo as well. The shortfall is as high as 70%, which the Consortium has calculated to be about 2 million hectoliters of wine, which translates as a conservative estimate of damage to the wine industry of no less than 380 million euros. Meanwhile, the 2024 market will be addressed, with the 800,000 hectoliters of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo bottled in 2023. Bottled that was partly tasted in the “Preview” of the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Doc and Colline Teramane Docg, the “Abruzzo Wine Experience”, staged, in Borgo Spoltino, on March 1, under the incessant rain they have been waiting for in the Region, since the heavy and torrential ones of June 2023. Several vintages were being tasted: mainly 2022 (but also 2021 and 2020 and even some 2023) and mainly 2020 Riserva (but also 2019 and 2018, in the case of Colline Teramane). The climatic trend of 2022 was droughty, both in the cool spring and in the summer heat peaks; sporadic rains gave relief to the plants that grew grapes of good health status, with limited powdery mildew attacks. In contrast, 2021 had good water supply during the winter, with an early spring abruptly interrupted without serious consequences by a cold April. The 18 percent drop in production over 2020 did not result from frost, but rather from a long, hot and very wet summer that put the vines under water stress. 2020 also carries a legacy of a dry winter, an occasionally cold spring with little or no torrential rainfall until June. A fairly even summer saw a 7% increase in harvest over 2019, with good quality clusters and few plant diseases. In the glass, there is no doubt that the climatic irregularity is felt, with some smearing in terms of tannic roughness and some over-the-top alcohol contribution, but Montepulciano’s structure manages to do well to shore up against the climatic overheating, thanks in part to an acid contribution clearly discernible in most of the samples tasted.

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