Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Italian Wine Woes for 2014 Sobering

By: Alexandra Rhue
Produced and edited by: Olivia Harlow
At first glance, news about the Italian 2014 wine harvest is bleak.  Newspaper and online sites offer estimates of a 15% to 30% shortfall from previous years.  Carlo Giudice, a partner at Col di Corte Winery in eastern Italy, says that he is aware of the shortfall in the 2014 wine harvest, acknowledging that in wine production this year “many companies in Italy have had less.”  In a country that is the world’s leading wine producer, a shortfall of 15% in an annual harvest that usually tops 1 trillion gallons of wine, is a vital economic consideration.
France, Italy’s closest wine production competitor, will move into first place in the world of wine production if the wine harvest shortfall reaches proportions predicted. The ripple effects could extend beyond the economic impact suffered by Italian wineries. Italian wine experts, as well as bottlers, distributors, and owners and managers of nearly 200,000 wineries are keeping a watchful eye on the wine harvest.
Geralyn Brostrom, Italian wine expert, entrepreneur, and educator, points out that “the actual numbers won’t be calculated until sometime after the harvest finishes and producers have been able to assess and report.”

© Col Di Corte Facebook
With the harvest around 50% complete in many areas, it is an intense time in the wineries. Jim Hutchinson, wine importer at Domenico Valentino in New York, says that in areas “like Valdobbiadene-Conegliano where wines are released within months of the harvest, the impact of a severe shortfall will be felt almost immediately.”
Some well-known wine producing areas such as Puglia, Sicily, and Tuscany—all recognized for their vintage wines—are considering scrapping a 2014 vintage altogether.  Large wineries are able to minimize the impact of an unsuccessful year.  Brostrom says that “farmers, whose sole livelihood comes from growing and selling grapes to wineries, will be much more affected than a winery with multiple wines and perhaps even previous vintages to sell.”
Growing up on a farm in Italy, Carmelinda Chilelli, whose parents produced red and white wines, knows the importance of the grape harvest in family businesses.  “Children don’t go to school when it’s time for the harvest.  Everyone helps each other, because there is a lot of work behind it.”
Weather is the culprit for the recent, consistently poor wine harvest. This summer, Italy was cool and wet, a contrast to the country’s regularly warm, dry summers that usually help produce an array of fine Italian wines.  Brostrom reports that producers she has spoken with “have commented on [the weather] as well.”  High rain totals combined with the lower than normal temperatures caused grapes to ripen so slowly that vine disease developed.  Increasing the damage, hail blanketed many of the wine growing regions as storms swept through, decimating grapes already suffering from the cool temperatures and excessive rainfall.
Popular wines, such as the well known Amarone or Ripasso are likely to still be produced.  Mike Veseth, wine expert and writer for The Wine Economist, says that some producers will “omit their top of the line Amarone and divert grapes to other quality levels.”  He remains optimistic that for 2014, “there will be Amarone!”
Italian social media specialist, Federico Maisenti, suggests that “the majority of the population isn’t much aware of the problem,” and notes that he hasn’t heard of any relatives or friends discussing the issue. If, indeed, the harvest shortfall is 15% or greater, Maisenti believes the industry would face serious repercussions both on a local and global scale. “In addition to have less amount of choice personally, the export market would be heavily penalized,” he says.
Other Italians are more aware of the harvest shortfall. Fabio Venturini, an engineer from northern Italy, believes that the average Italian citizen is always concerned about weather and assumes that this year’s harvesting is not optimal.
Pietro Becatti, a young Italian musician, says that he learned of the wine harvest shortfall from newspapers and friends in the agriculture areas.  “I do not think there will be serious consequences. Probably people will use the reserves of the former years,” he says.  “They will get used to a lower quality!”
Hutchinson states, “There are still a significant number of appellations that were not badly impacted by the poor weather.”  While most producers agree that 2014 wasn’t particularly a good year, the impact on wine pricing is less clear all around.
Hutchinson says that if the general quality of wine is considered inferior, prices may go down regardless of the presence of a shortage. Giudice, taking a more optimistic view of the reduced harvest, believes that despite the bad weather, the economic impact is “not a disaster.”

© Shutterstock
Although this is evident issue in most of Italy, a few wine producing areas of the country expect to have a normal or above level and quality of wine production.  The northwest section of Italy, home to several wineries, should be able to bottle some fine vintage wines.  In the Piedmont region of Italy, the Nebbiolo grapes—now ready for harvest—should produce a hearty quality red wine, perhaps even a quality Riserva.
Clearly, the wine industry remains cyclic.  Good weather brings fine wine harvests, while rain and cool temperatures of the past summer result in poorer quality and lesser quantity of grapes. The ability of the Italian wineries to adapt and rebound must not be overlooked.  Brostom points out, “As global warming has affected the wine industry worldwide, savvy producers have also adapted, and a family or company in the wine business for the long haul is also able to adapt.”  He believes that no matter what, Italian wines have been and will remain popular worldwide. Many growers, buyers, and consumers are already looking forward and hoping for a highly successful 2015 vintage. 

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