by Daniele Cernilli
It is sufficient to cite only a few figures because it seems clear that the Italian wine sector is unique. It should be sufficient to recall that here in Italy there are more or less 800 native grape varieties, more than in the rest of the planet. Or that among the IGTs, DOCs and DOCGs there are more than 500 different denominations with some of them resembling containers holding dozens of subtypes. Or, again, that Italian vineyards, amounting to about 700,000 hectares (1.7 million acres), cover an area greater than the region of Liguria. More than 800,000 owners, including persons and companies, cultivate vineyards averaging less than one hectare each. This fragmentation is without equal in any other country. These proprietors produce the grapes that constitute the production base for more than 25,000 wine estates, which release onto the market millions of bottles each year. And the percentages of exports are the greatest worldwide, whether for quantity or value.
From this brief and initial identikit, it is clear that wine is a fundamental element of the Italian agricultural sector and, therefore, of the country’s economy. It generates sales of nearly 10 billion euros annually with production diffused over a large part of the national territory (there is not one province that is not involved in some way in grape growing and winemaking). At harvestime a large part of the population joins for a couple of months in activities linked to the harvest. Those workers, who number a million and more, collect between 60 million and 75 million quintals of grapes. Those numbers and that data, which are impressive if read one after the other, constitute the emblem of the extraordinary nature of the wine phenomenon in Italy and projects it along with France into the Who’s Who of worldwide viticulture and enology. But that is a macroeconomic or general matter. Anyone who descends into detail, anyone who analyzes, for example, the most representative and economically the most significant sector, that of wines of high quality, is aware of the fact that in the peninsula and the islands 10% of production accounts for about 40% of sales with profitability that is absolutely anomalous for the agricultural sector.
It is possible to define this sector of the compartment with the neologism “advanced primary” precisely because of some analogies with the services sector. In short, it could be said that Italian high-quality wines are to the agricultural sector as fashions are to the textile compartment. Certain brand dynamics are similar. The style, the personalization of products, even a certain taste for the “spectacularization” of events binds the wine world with the fashion sector, Gaja with Armani, Sassicaia with Valentino. Also with the awareness that the work of designers and viticulturists is to give pleasure and create status symbols that are not products of primary necessity.
In Italy all this is also seasoned by a sense and a search for authenticity, territoriality and symbolic value. Wine has become the emblem of its origins for it represents the places from which it comes, in turn becoming something other than a simple beverage. Above all, in a country like Italy, so closely linked to local cultures, aspects such as wine and culinary traditions are supporting columns. It is precisely that fragmentation, which is apparently fragile, that generates great wealth and great diversity. And they make Italian wines unique but also global and absolutely enjoyable. It is easy, therefore, to say that, among the many Italian wines, there is surely one you will like. It could be an elegant Chianti Classico, an aristocratic Barbaresco, an appealing Amarone but also a simple and delicate Soave, a fragrant Asti or a fruity Fiano d’Avellino. All can be drunk without much formality, as has been done in Italian lands as a normal practice for centuries or even millennia. That’s because wine has been a customary part of Italians’ lives from childhood, along with bread and olive oil. It is precisely for this reason that there are few costly wines in Italy. Those that are priced in a reasonable way are much more numerous and it is in this area that Italy should fear no competition, whether in terms of quality or variety. In short, from all this emerges a portrait of one of the world’s most important “wine lands.” Normally no one wants more than a smiling people that makes smiling wines.