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The boom of white wine in the world as seen by the top territories of Italy

Steady growth in global consumption: the outlook for Alto Adige, Soave, Gavi, Marche, Lugana, Delle Venezie, Maremma and Vernaccia di San Gimignano
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Boom in the market of white wines

The growth of white wine, on the global market of consumption, is impetuous, and it will not stop at least for the next decade, as told by the report “White Wine Market” signed by the analysis company “Fact Market Research”, whose forecasts claim that, from now to 2031, the world market of white wine is expected to have an average annual growth of 5%, up to exceed 60 billion dollars in value, from 46 billion predicted for 2022. After all, even from 2016 to 2020 growth has been prodigious, exceeding 35 billion: only the pandemic has slowed down the race, immediately resumed in this 2021. There are many reasons for the success of white wines, starting from a great simplicity of approach and consumption, passing through a versatility that, for example, red wines do not have, up to a quality/price ratio that cannot be found in any other type of wine. This is how, without distinction of age or gender, white wine is slowly conquering wine lovers all over the world, from Europe (where in 2031 the share of white wines will be more than 50% of the total wine consumption) to the United States, to Asia (which in 2031 will be worth 35% of the global market of white wine consumption in the world), with Japan, Vietnam and China as more and more interesting destinations.

And if it is only a handful of international appellations that are making the big bucks, just as happens with red wines (the turnover of Chardonnay in 2022 will reach 6 billion dollars, and in 2031 Riesling will account for 1/5 of consumption), the prospects for Italian production, mostly linked to native varieties, are in line with the forecasts of the “White Wine Market” report, as the representatives of the most important Italian white wine appellations tell WineNews, from Ettore Nicoletto, president of the Consorzio del Lugana, to Andreas Kofler, president of the Consorzio Vini Alto Adige, from Sandro Gini, at the head of the Consorzio del Soave, to Alberto Mazzoni, director of the Istituto Marchigiano di Tutela Vini, the consortium that brings together all the appellations of the region, from Verdicchio to Bianchello del Metauro, from Maurizio Montobbio, at the head of the Consorzio del Gavi, to Albino Armani, president of the Consorzio delle Venezie Doc, from Francesco Mazzei, at the head of the Consorzio della Maremma, to Irina Guicciardini Strozzi, president of the Consorzio della Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

Ettore Nicoletto, head of the Consorzio del Lugana, but also head of Bertani Domains, offers an all-round reading, from the global to the territorial and varietal dimension. “Taking for granted very long term forecasts, which are very difficult to make, the general sentiment is good, we can consider it a legitimate and shareable bet, perhaps on slightly lower trajectories. Italy can play this game, remembering that it has been the leading player on the white wine market for 30 years with Pinot Grigio, which, moreover, shows no signs of difficulty even today, especially in its more territorially characterized declinations (think of Alto Adige and other denominations). I exclude sparkling wines from this analysis”, continues Ettore Nicoletto, “and on the whole, I believe a great deal in territorial expressions, specific, with a potential that may not be enormous, such as Lugana, which in any case produces up to 30-32 million bottles. We have to think about what to do when we grow up, and this is particularly true, for example, for a variety like Vermentino, which is not really native but has a good association with Italy. It is a grape variety that produces wines of enormous appeal, easy to drink and to approach, and that is experiencing a phase of excellent growth, with many productive poles that limit its potential, because Sardinia has had very difficult vintages, due to the climate and its oddities, Liguria and Tuscany, starting with Maremma, are still small, and in the rest of the country we are behind, but it would have great potential, which could allow it to take advantage of the surge of Pinot Grigio, especially in the USA”.

So the focus is even wider, because “at a world level - continues the president of Lugana - our competitors have lost a few trains, I'm thinking of Albariño from the Rìas Baixas, a type that must serve as a reference point, as an organoleptic profile, because if it is managed well it too has enormous potential. These are the types of wine that need to be promoted, the others are niches, or production basins that have bitten the dust over the years, perhaps with very high quality levels but little international appeal. Italy has the potential to lead this trajectory, going beyond Pinot Grigio, with other drivers, working on it and investing in it, with a compact and united front, through the Consortia and the territories, promoting the landscapes. We can’t rely only on rent positions. Also because - adds Ettore Nicoletto - white wine is the key to entry for new consumers, it is easier to approach than red wine, which is more complex by definition. However, we have a very high tangible and perceived quality in the red wine denominations, which allows us to obtain remunerative prices, while we have not worked as well on white wines, and we need to understand why. Looking first of all at the production areas: where do most white wines come from, what is the structure of the production fabric and what is the commercial culture? We need to bring home more value, but we need a generational shift towards the culture of value. We often talk about production areas where 350 quintals per hectare are still made, not a correct approach to get a premium price on the markets. And it is not by chance that white wines are being squeezed downwards: in some markets the demand is inelastic, it is not certain that a low price will sell more, and on the contrary, it is not certain that increasing the price will sell less - concludes Nicoletto - but important promotional efforts are needed to make people understand the value of what we are selling”.

“If we look at Veneto, a region of white wines, the number of hectares is increasing considerably, which means greater production and a growing market, but also the assumption that, in the future, the quality level can also be raised, starting with the historical, hilly areas that have brought prestige to the Veneto”, comments Sandro Gini. “It would be excellent news, the signs are there, then the numbers should also be interpreted, because here we are talking about a very long period, but white wine is actually growing, and it is also thanks to the qualitative aspects, which make them more versatile than red wines, to which they “risk” eroding market shares. In Italy there is a lot of white wine, and it is a segment, in particular in northern Italy, where excellent qualities are being achieved, while keeping an excellent quality/price ratio, a not insignificant aspect. As far as Soave is concerned - continues the president of the Consortium, Sandro Gini - we want to propose Soave wines which are linked to the territory and which are an expression of it, going beyond the name of geographical units, because we need to make known the different expressions of the territory, including hills, volcanoes and calcareous soils. There is a positive ferment, which will also give prestige to our historic areas, because the more interest grows, and with it consumption, for white wines, the more space there will be to make and promote quality”.

“On white wines, in the Marche region but not only, years ago we all made mistakes a bit all, explanting hundreds of hectares to focus on red grape varieties, driven by the great popularity experienced at that time by red wines and the communication on its beneficial effects, thanks to antioxidant components such as resveratrol”, says Alberto Mazzoni. “Now, however, on international markets it is with whites that we are growing, little by little but steadily. The domestic market, as well as the European one, with all that has happened, is still experiencing some difficulties, while companies are investing heavily in Japan, Vietnam and the USA, because in the long run, they will be the market outlets we all expect. White wine is finding more and more appeal among people, both young and old, because it is easier to understand, to love, especially with respect to structured and aged reds. And then it is versatile, it is good for aperitifs and lends itself to many combinations at the table. Italian varietals, and I am obviously thinking first and foremost of Verdicchio, often have the ability to reveal themselves with great surprises, especially among aged wines, but it takes solid companies with the ability to invest, because keeping bottles in the cellar is not an easily sustainable choice. It takes investments - says the director of Istituto Marchigiano di Tutela Vini - just like it was done for red wines. With the awareness that this pandemic will leave us a different panorama in commercial terms, with the big companies called to invest abroad, and the small ones that will have to go back to focus on local sales, often more profitable and definitely more suitable for small producers”.

Albino Armani starts from the numbers, actually in line with the optimistic forecasts of the “White Wine Market” report, who reminds us that “from December to August the growth of the Venezie was 7%, despite a context that was anything but simple. The main white, by volume, Pinot Grigio, converged on these figures. I do not know if, with the increase in prices, these rhythms can be sustainable, but looking back at what has been recorded in recent years, I would say yes. According to the feedback we receive from every corner of the world, our wines are pleasing, modern, not too complicated, supported by an excellent quality/price ratio, on the contrary, maybe we are also under-priced, we should grow from this point of view, in order to be in the average of the worldwide Pinot Gris, knowing that even small price fluctuations can orientate markets differently”. Looking at current events and the production aspects, from which everything stems, “despite frost and hail, we are managing to bring out a good vintage, both in quality and quantity. We hope not to break stock during the year, because the rules we have set for ourselves - which have led to a freeze on the planting of Pinot Grigio for the next three years and to a lowering of yields from 190 to 130 quintals per hectare - have led to a market balance that, with these rhythms of growth, could see us a bit short, but we will see with the next harvest data. We are talking about 27-28,000 hectares, the largest white denomination in Italy, which has grown by focusing on the protection of the product and the producers, so if the market gives us the possibility of further growth, we will be able to talk about opening new plantings, but for now we are not setting ourselves the problem. Moreover, we will have to understand the reaction of the market to the increase in prices, made inevitable by the cost of grapes which is definitely higher than one year ago”, concludes Albino Armani.

“I hope that the forecasted data can be realized and that Maremma can be the protagonist of this growth, because Vermentino is already giving extraordinary signals: the area planted with vines is growing (823 hectares), as is production (1,722,400 bottles) and, at the same time, consumption. I have the feeling that Maremma could become the white version of Tuscany, where Vermentino is already the first bottled wine. It is a versatile grape variety, which can be paired with many different foods and cultures, certainly in Asia, but also in more mature markets, where restaurants have already given an important welcome to Vermentino, a unique and different variety, which in the USA, for example, already has an important consumption niche”, comments the president of the Consorzio della Maremma, Francesco Mazzei.

Remaining in Tuscany, even Vernaccia di San Gimignano, as president Irina Guicciardini Strozzi tells us, “is experiencing steady growth, in line with forecasts, with data, until the pandemic, very positive. After the pandemic, which kept us all in suspense, we are still recording, in terms of distribution of the bands, not only higher numbers than 2020, but also 2019, at very positive values. And this despite the fact that 48% of sales are tied to the domestic market, mostly in the territory, while 52% of exported Vernaccia ends up mainly in the US and Germany, which are still confirmed as the most interesting markets. It is still a delicate moment, but as soon as possible we will be back on the road and dealing with new and emerging markets”.

Maurizio Montobbio, at the head of the Consorzio del Gavi, confirms a “constant trend in recent years, which if it has seen slight drops, as in 2017, it was due to availability problems, not anything else. We export 85% of our production, a constant flow. In 2021, compared to 2020, we are seeing +20% growth in the first 8 months, which brought us back to 2019 levels. Now first we need to understand if the pandemic has actually disrupted consumption habits, and therefore if the growth trend of white wine consumption is more solid. I believe that the +5% mentioned in the research is a credible figure, then it will be up to each denomination to conquer or consolidate its positions, with the right marketing and promotional activities, always taking into account that there are many variables to consider, starting with rosé wines, an important competitor. Certainly, as Oscar Farinetti says, people have more pleasure in putting in their body a fresh beverage than a hot one, for this reason, white wine, in a world where it is getting hotter and hotter, can have more luck and popularity than red wines. If people will really start making free-alcohol wine, and it will be consumed in a different way, it is likely the audience will grow, as well as the occasions of consumption. Then, just like Trilussa's chickens, we will see if we will be among the ones involved in the global growth, but I really believe so. A lot will depend on fashions, which concern types, styles, but also packaging, on which we cannot and must not have any preclusions, we must overcome the cultural heritage that keeps us away from cans and other formats. There is a part of the world, our part, which is connected to a traditional and liturgical way of consumption, but everyday wine needs to be cleared through customs in order to make it easier and simpler to consume. The question is: will we be able to meet the new generations? Because without them, in ten or twenty years time, we will be facing very different markets”, Maurizio Montobbio concludes.

In Alto Adige the growth of white wines is first of all explained by one fact: after decades, Schiava is no longer the most cultivated grape variety, literally replaced by Pinot Grigio, as Andreas Kofler, president of the Consorzio Vini Alto Adige, says. “Alto Adige, which used to be a land of reds, has turned to whites in the last two decades, for reasons that go well beyond fashions, of a purely oenological nature. The challenge today has become that of adapting the varieties to different altitudes and to the ongoing climate changes, because here temperatures are destined to increase even more than in the rest of the world. The growth trend, however, exists, and we are exploiting it as well, just think that as of 2019 Pinot Grigio is the most planted variety, with Schiava also surpassed, in terms of areas planted, by Gewurtztraminer in 2020, and among the white grape varieties, behind Schiava, are Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco. For us, exports are worth between 35% and 40% of sales, with the USA proving to be a very important market, followed by Germany, Switzerland, England and Russia, but in the future, we are certain that Asia will be as well. Among the reasons of the growth of white wines - continues Andreas Kofler - I believe a fundamental role is played by women, who drink more and more wine and, statistically, more white wine than red wine. Moreover, wine is more and more drunk away from meals, and this is another point in favor of whites. Even while eating, however, they are going towards a lighter and lighter cuisine, which is well matched to white wines. Even the pandemic has brought some changes, by influencing both the approach and the purchase of wine, but it has also brought producers and consumers much closer. The wines we drank during the months of Covid were pretty high average quality wines, and this helped us as producers from Alto Adige. We hope wine lovers can in a certain way get used to quality wines, thanks to which we weathered the storm”.

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