Allegrini 2018

The territory in front of the vine: the revolution of Verdicchio starts from Castelli di Jesi

Big, small and cooperation converge on the new quality pyramid of the white appellation facing the Adriatic Sea

A revolution is in sight among the rows of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, the driving force of the Marche region, which has become a reference point for the Italian white wine production, a wine symbol and pride of a territory that, on the white wine born from the vineyards overlooking the Adriatic Sea, has built a success that makes it one of the most important wines of Italy, loved at home and abroad, and the most awarded white wine by the Italian wine guides. In the future, the DOCG will be called Castelli di Jesi, and under it will have four declinations: Superiore, Classico Superiore, Riserva, Classico Riserva. After this definition there will be the word Verdicchio, therefore becoming: Castelli di Jesi Superiore Verdicchio, Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore Verdicchio, Castelli di Jesi Riserva Verdicchio and Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore Verdicchio. This is no small change, but a Copernican revolution, which in the next few years will need the communicative effort of everyone, because what is now known in the world, after all, as a monovarietal, will have to become, finally, the expression of a territory<(B> (to which WineNews has dedicated the last issue of “I Quaderni di WineNews”) that has become a reference point for quality white wine production in Italy.

The changes to the regulations for the production of Verdicchio di Jesi proposed a few days ago by the assembly of the Istituto Marchigiano di Tutela Vini (IMT) aim at giving back to the territory the leading role it deserves, guaranteeing to the vine a less important role, but not a secondary one. Everything goes through a restructuring of the production pyramid which implies a real revolution, supported by another measure: the obligation of bottling in the production area. But let's proceed in order. For now, there is no change, the producers, as Alberto Mazzoni, director of the Istituto Marchigiano di Tutela vini, pointed out to WineNews, have “started the process of modification, the assembly, by a very large majority, approved the proposals of the appellation committee, and therefore the Consortium starts the process of modification of the application to be presented to the Region and to the National Committee. Two modifications will be necessary, a union modification, for the change of the name “Castelli di Jesi” and a union modification for the bottling in the production area of the Doc Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi. An ordinary modification will then be necessary to fix and adjust the other articles”.

On the one hand, therefore, “there will be the territory, with all the most important types, but only in glass and up to three liters, the heart. On the other hand, there will be Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Classico, Spumante and Passito, with containers up to five liters”, continues Alberto Mazzoni. The road taken for years by the Istituto Marchigiano di Tutela vini is the one that leads to the valorization of the product and the territory, and therefore to quality. Closing a circle opened a few years ago and rethinking the production pyramid of what today, and still for a while, is Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, i.e., a denomination that with the 2019 vintage has certified just under 139,000 hectoliters of wine, bottling 137,381, of which 126. 503 within the production zone, with 9.8 million bottles (and therefore bands) marketed from September 2020 to March 2021, to which must be added the 1,578 hectoliters of Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva from the 2019 vintage, which will go to the markets, for the most part, in the coming months.

The path, which will need its time, has been supported by all the productive souls: the big ones, the small winemakers and the cooperation. “Since 1968, the denomination has always been set up in the same way, with the exception of the introduction of the Docg in 1995, which then became autonomous”, recalls Michele Bernetti, at the helm of Umani Ronchi, a leading winery in the Marche region. “The Riserva, however, is a niche, it cannot aspire to make larger volumes than these. The committee was created precisely to reform the specification in order to become more representative of a world, that of Verdicchio, which has changed. Bigger companies have consolidated, both on the markets and in the production of wines of higher and higher quality, and many small companies have entered the medium-high bracket. What is needed is a disciplinary capable of giving a home to the best productions of the biggest wineries and to the smallest ones. It is still a proposal, but Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi today represents a “basin” where the whole production of white wine of the territory converges, also for this reason finding an amalgam was not simple”, continues Bernetti.

The many internal souls, and the many different needs, however, have not prevented us from finding a synthesis, finding a home for each of them. “It was thus decided to exploit two denominations that already existed: one is the Docg, which takes on the development of the territory and, in the future, to detach itself more and more from the vine, emphasizing the Castelli di Jesi. Time will be the judge. And then, to enhance the Superiore category, because it is there that the best quality is to be found, with important numbers and products of absolute quality. On the other hand, there is a need to clean up, even the largest volume productions, which will remain Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, with bottling in the area, and the limitation of packaging to 5 liters, which means giving up the largest formats giving coherence and compactness to the denomination”, Michele Bernetti explains again. “This solution, all things considered, has pleased everyone, in the assembly it passed unanimously, and it is an exceptional result, because we came from contrasts that seemed insurmountable. In this way, we will be able to work in the best possible way. Castelli di Jesi DOCG offers the possibility for all quality production to be enhanced to the fullest, and Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, a product with a little more volume, but still with some stakes, will continue to have its role. It is a process that began in September, with the compulsory label and greater product traceability, and we hope it will end with the reform of the regulations”, says Michele Bernetti, who then emphasizes that the goal is to “promote the Castelli di Jesi: if one day we manage to separate it completely from the name of the grape variety, it will be a great victory”.

From the front of the small producers, who, in the last ten years, have brought a different vision, and needs, within the denomination, speaks Riccardo Baldi, young winemaker of La Staffa. “The die is cast, and the path is now well underway. It's a change that for us small producers closes a circle opened 4-5 years ago, when we began to perceive the need for change. In the nineties, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi was represented by only a few producers, but in the last ten years there has been a real boom of small producers, who make 20-30,000 bottles, taking it upon themselves to carry on the name of Verdicchio. The most titled companies in the area are the smallest, family-owned ones, which make super quality wines. There was a need for a change, and to shift the attention to a territory made of 25 municipalities, within which there is a great difference of territories and expressions”.

For Riccardo Baldi, the new course of the Castelli di Jesi “is a success for us little ones, because at the beginning our ideas were not well considered, but in the end we came to have a collective vision shared by all, big ones, little ones and cooperatives, and this means that our vision is the right one, and with time we have been good at making others see what we saw in the future of the denomination, coming to look all in the same direction”. However, this is not the end of the story, because in the future, according to the La Staffa winemaker, “we will move from talking about Verdicchio to talking about territory, when this change will be in place, and only secondarily, perhaps, about the grapes with which we will make Castelli di Jesi. As of tomorrow, we will have to start working, communicatively, for the Castelli di Jesi and for the promotion and narration of its differences. In the future, perhaps, we could also think about real zoning, which the market still does not perceive, an ambitious undertaking in an area of 2,200 hectares and so different from a production point of view. Let's talk about the Castles and the slopes linked to the history of Jesi, which the city conquered and dominated in the Middle Ages: history offers us an extraordinary assist. It will be a long journey, and it will take a great effort, because until today the communication has been made on the vine, now we will have to make it on the territory”, concludes Riccardo Baldi.

A vision that, after all, also unites the world of cooperation, as Doriano Moncaro, at the head of Terre Cortesi, says. “The possibility of using the grape variety (Verdicchio) has been left, on the understanding that the territory will be given greater prominence and protection. A very important balance has been found between the entire supply chain that represents the denomination today. In the overall economy of the area, the discussion was broad about removing the word Verdicchio altogether and focusing only on the Castelli di Jesi, but we had some concerns, so we identified a path that would qualify the Riserva as well as the Superiore, which will help us to give value to the product, leaving it up to the individual wineries to decide whether or not to keep the type of grape. We believe that Verdicchio, from the point of view of value, is still underestimated, especially when compared to the characteristics and the territory it expresses, but also to the wisdom of our winemakers. Over the decades, an important and transversal policy of qualitative growth has been carried out, but it will not be only the change of specifications that will increase the value of Castelli di Jesi. We have unique specificities and an average quality that has nothing to envy to anyone in Italy”, concludes Doriano Moncaro.

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