Angelo Gaja, a historical producer of Langhe wines, shared his thoughts with WineMeridian on what he believes to be the 3 main changes faced by the vast world of wine production.
Let’s take a look at them:
1. Wine is no longer seen as a normal grocery
Gaja believes that “in any wine-producing country, wine has shifted from being considered a normal grocery item to being regarded as a luxury good, regardless of the price, because it is not essential, it’s not a basic necessity. The country that was most prepared to face this transition was France, where wine as a luxury drink has always had its own very small niche. In Italy, on the other hand, this shift has been more difficult to face from a cultural point of view, owing to the many organisations, regulations and opposition that benefited from wine’s role as a normal grocery item. Luxury goods require different sales techniques: you have to implement appropriate marketing campaigns that are aggressive and coherent over time, rather than just making do with the old, defeatist and losing strategy of keeping prices low”.
2. Climate change
Angelo Gaja then focused on climate change, which isn’t to be underestimated considering that “it has now become an incredibly topical issue with plenty of debate on how to combat its effects. I won’t go as far as saying “a problem shared is a problem halved”, but, today, you can see how other countries are worse off than Italy. Giacomo Tachis, the father of all wine consultants, used to say that “wine loves the sea air”. Our country, with its 8,000 kilometres of coastline, is in a much more favourable position than France and Spain; its topography is such that it has plenty of water (we also sell billions of litres of bottled water). Italy’s hilly terrain makes it possible to reach higher altitudes, in search of cooler climates (which is something that can’t be done in Bordeaux). Italy also has a large number of late-maturing varieties that are less affected by climate change than the early-maturing ones of which France has plenty. For those who want to learn, the 2017 harvest has provided a valuable lesson on the countermeasures that need to be adopted”.
3. Varietal wines
Varietal wines are also important because “a number of non-EU countries that were once potential wine importers, equipped themselves in order to become producers themselves. The US was the first country to do this, inspired by France. The example of the United States was then followed by Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Israel, … (China is also now starting to go down this road). These countries grew their own production with the initial aim of consolidating demand in domestic markets, and then to also become exporters themselves.
All producing the same few French varieties of wine, the ones that, with ill-concealed contempt, we define as having an “international” flavour. These wines enjoy increasing advantages on markets outside the EU: they have the names of the varieties, which are few in number and easy to remember; all of the countries of the new world contribute together to boosting demand; people get used to their flavour, especially new consumers; they are supported by aggressive and differentiated marketing campaigns; the wine cellars that produce them have no public support, meaning they are better at selecting the right business contacts to operate in the market.
Italy, on the other hand, is currently the only nation that produces and generates demand for wines coming from a few hundred historical varieties, exclusively grown in our country, corresponding to over 520 denominations.
That’s why, today, there is cause for concern due to the increased competition on foreign markets. The changes I’ve referred to create new difficulties and problems that need to be faced. To do this, we need to be open-minded, have the ability to observe and be willing to take on business risk, implement new strategies and invest.
Even small-medium sized producers (in terms of the size of their business) are aware of this and many of them are able to take on the challenge involved. Their contribution to supporting the success of Italian wine is often underestimated: those who think that small-medium sized producers are a hindrance to the Italian wine industry are deeply mistaken. These producers are often able to think outside the box and explore new ways of doing things, all using their own means and taking their own risks, without using public money; if they’re successful, they’ll serve as useful examples.
In order for the Italian wine industry to grow, it is essential to cut through the suffocating red tape and get rid of all the rust that has accumulated over time.
Lastly, we should learn to become indignant in 2018 when we hear about wine cellars selling 2017 Italian wine wholesale, to bottling companies, for less than a Euro per litre, when the drop in national production could be more than 30% (are their vineyards growing under a different sky?). What interest does Italy have in competing to produce the largest quantities of wine each year, consoled by the fact that it’s also good quality, only to then learn that, when exported, it’s sold at an average price per litre that’s one of the lowest in the world?”
We’ll let you make up your own minds…