It is the change in the climate, characterized by long-lasting summer heat and lack of rainfall, which has caused the significant drop in the production of grapes in Italy’s 2012 vintage; for the same reason, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2011 were low-production years as well. To this must now be also added the limited inventory of wine from previous vintage currently in the cellars of the wineries. In a short space of time, Italian wine has passed from a situation of perennial over-production to one of under-production.
The production of grapes in Italy is strictly regulated. The overall surface planted to vines cannot grow, to plant a new vineyard it is obligatory to have previously extirpated a vineyard surface of the same size.
Wine is a natural product, it is the climatic conditions which determine the size of the crop, the roof of the vineyard is the sky: growing grapes is not like producing steel, glass, bricks, or plastic in the covered space of a factory. This is a concept which often escapes financial analysts and those who command the economic fortunes of the sector.
There are those who fear that there will be a lack of Italian wine, that not enough will be produced to both satisfy the demand of the domestic market and to maintain the positions in export markets which have been gained with so much effort. Over the past six months, the exportation of wine has slowed and has begun to recede. But this is not a worrisome sign, because losses are concentrated in bulk wine, a great deal of which was sold at bargain-basement prices: it is better that it remain in Italy where it can increase the quantity of bottled wine to be produced.
Italy can properly be proud of the wine which it produces, but it should be considerably less so of the wine which it sells off. If the supply of Italian wine decreases while demand either increases or remains stable, it is inevitable that prices will increase. There is already much pressure on the prices of grapes, and this will shortly occur as well in the case of wine sold at wholesale, both unchanged for a decade! It is possible, however, that the growth in prices of grapes and of wholesale wine trigger off a virtuous cycle which will stimulate a certain number of producers to improve the quality of their wines, to make a greater effort to stimulate demand in the lower medium price range, and to learn to better offer and sell their wines.
Once again, it is climate change which is introducing epoch-making modifications of the cultivation of the vine. In the Italian regions which have been hardest hit by drought, there are requests that irrigation of assistance, up until now forbidden, be authorized; it will also be necessary to protect the vineyards from evaporation of humidity from the soil. Vine diseases which seemed to have lost their virulence have returned with renewed vigor, while the need to limit the use of pesticides is now a widely shared opinion.
The acquired knowledge of the past will have to be rapidly integrated with the results of research, of technology, and the observational capacities of the individual cultivator. This is the step which, at the moment, is the most worrisome.
Angelo Gaja, September 7th, 2012