Cevola: Piemonte Under Attack

An interesting article by AlfonsoCevola in his blog:

regarding the proposal in the Piemonte to allow a Piemonte DOC Nebbiolo DOC Nebbiolo put forth by the Asti/Monferrato producers.

This proposal is being fought tooth&nail by the Barolo/Barbaresco producers, fearing that it would dilute their supremacy in the Piemonte and cause their prices to “crash”. In the WE, Kerin O’Keefe came down squarely on their side and opposed this DOC. Alfonso takes a more balanced view on the subject, acknowledges the B/B producer’s fears, but suggests it might lead to wider plantings of Nebbiolo across the Piemonte and, perhaps, the discovery of the next Gattinara.

Anyway, quite a good read on the controversy.

Given that the Asti (Spumante) consorzio is the gorilla-sized player here, one thinks of Prosecco, the explosive development of a new “category”, and the race toward quantity at the lowest price. Those able to develop and market mass brands, or cheaply supply the material for them, prosper; while those producing finer, necessarily more expensive expressions suffer from what may be an existential threat.

In this case, the potential market is surely much smaller. Nebbiolo has not proved to lend itself well to quality production in large volumes or from less-favored sites. Nor will it ever be a wine for mass tastes. So the race-to-the-bottom scenario may be unlikely. And I don’t see any moral hazard in allowing another set of producers to varietally label what they have always grown. But economically speaking?

The market for moderately expensive nebbiolo is already close to saturated. The article notes that market-clearing price has proved to be in the $10 range. If most of the additional nebbiolo produced (or so labeled) will be in the lower and middle quality ranges, and takes aim at new parts of the market (otherwise, where would it go?) the most-likely scenario is not pleasant.

A lot of sometimes good, often unpleasing nebbiolo quickly becomes a majority of nebbiolo-labeled wine in export markets, perhaps most or all of it in many supermarkets / carryouts / family restaurants. Consumers try it once or twice and turn away. That could denature, possibly ruin the reputation of the variety (and with it, the Langhe DOC) with the wider market.

Of course the grape, and some quality producers, will survive. Barolo and Barbaresco would skate above the fray. Soave survived the Bolla era and today supports the small (but I assume healthy?) Pieropan – Pra – Gini niche.

Enough of my speculation. It would be interesting to get a Mike Veseth take on this.

Today’s Alfonso post:
he suggests Nebbiolo d’Monferrato and Nebbiolo d’Ast as a compromise.

I think that would be a good idea as it has more specifity. Though I don’t have a problem w/ DOC Piemonte Nebbiolo and think it should be allowed as well.

I like the compromise, which should indeed be better in the long term for those regions. I think I’d prefer Piemonte IGT for the mavericks (accepting it would also work for the more commodity styled wines)

Yup, Ian…an IGT designation makes more sense to me as well.

The Italian DOC/G system is dominated by the larger producers, and by political considerations. I can see why the Asti producers would want to widen their range beyond Moscato and Barbera, but I would be concerned that adding regions with no history of Nebbiolo production would dilute the quality of the Nebbiolo ‘brand.’ In any case, the only real guarantee of quality is the ‘intention and skill’ of the producer (as Hugh Johnson once put it), not the bureaucracy.

Could be, Oliver. I have no idea what Nebb grown in Asti would be like. But Alfonso argues that DOC Piemonte Nebbiolo might encourage Nebbiolo
to be planted in areas that have never seen it (at least in recent times) and might reveal the next Gattinara. I can see that point. There’s nothing
bad about “cheap” Nebb from an unknown area and will not harm the fortunes the B/B producers…any more than a TraderJoe’s $18 Barbaresco does.

I suppose my worry is that the motive here is financial, not quality-related. Good wines might come from base motives, but it’s not that likely.

Yup, Oliver. Probably right.

Thanks for the additional info. So the change would initially apply to all of 5% of plantings? Obviously no market doomsday. Unless, say, Martini & Rossi then can (and does) decide “nebbiolo per tutti” is an idea worth a try.

Point agreed that IGT/P might be a good solution in both spirit and letter. Harder to agree that “Italy has too few DOC’s as it is”!