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Winemakers scramble to add sparkling varieties amid export boom

by Giorgio dell’Orefice

Everybody’s going nuts for spumante, or sparkling wine. With yet another record year for exports (foreign sales of ‘Made in Italy’ sparkling wines grew by 21.4% in 2016, versus just +4.3% for wines in general), many people are now looking to back the winning horse.

This mainly pertains to producers of labels that have not enjoyed any particular success. They're changing their fortunes by modifying their production techniques; oftentimes, this is necessary in order to adapt to the market’s trends.

One example of this is the recent modifications made by the Agriculture Ministry’s Wine Committee for Asti and Brachetto spumante. The two Piedmont sparkling wines, which are famous for their sweet variations, now have a new “dry” variety—and thus, a reduced sugar content—in order to make their flavors more similar to other ‘Made in Italy’ sparkling wines.

Furthermore, in the case of Brachetto, they’ve introduced a new “flanged cork” version; this kind of stopper traditionally characterizes still wines that are suitable for all meal courses.

For Asti, which produces 84 million bottles between Asti D.O.G.C. and Moscato d’Asti, they foresee launching the new “dry” version (at least 20 million bottles) in the summer of 2017.

As the Asti Producers’ Consortium’s director, Giorgio Bosticco, states, “this should represent an opportunity for integration and completing our range—which aims for the best possible placement, not just increasing our volume.”

Similarly, for Brachetto, the operation aims to secure new market outlets, with production that has already gone from 5.2 million bottles in 2011 to 3.8 million last year.

Another area that could soon make a smashing debut in the sparkling wine world is Pinot Grigio. The label, which was reorganized into the overall “Venezie” controlled-origin denomination, or DOC, (which comprises the Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and Trentino-Alto Adige), has recently seen the launch of a new safeguarding union.

The new DOC has outlined the idea of potentially making Pinot Grigio a spumante. Just the prospect of a denomination that produces 300 million bottles joining the world of spumante startled more than one producer—makers of Prosecco sparkling wine in particular.

“It’s true that this possibility was considered by the producers,” explained the Italian Wine Union's Secretary General, Paolo Castelletti, “I still believe that it’s a remote possibility, at least for the moment, seeing as how Pinot Grigio’s ‘still’ version is proving successful in the markets. As long as things continue, I’d rule out the idea of converting it to sparkling.”

The attention to Puglia is also growing in the South, particularly in the Salento area of Puglia, where the Cantine Due Palme winemakers have made a €1.5 million investment in recent years (cofinanced by OCM Vino’s funding) in order to create a sparkling wine production facility.

“The new production line launched in March 2016,” explains Cantine Due Palme’s General Manager, Assunta De Cillis, “The idea was to end the era of our grapes ‘migrating’ to producers in the Northeast just to be transformed into spumanti, since we hadn’t been able to do so. Now, here in Puglia, we’re producing sparkling wines with our Negroamaro grapes (the Melarosa and Amaluna labels, for the rosé and white versions). In this first year of activity we’ve produced 500,000 bottles of spumante under the Cantina Due Palme brand, as well as 100,000 bottles from other local producers. Demand is growing all throughout the South, and currently we may have the only sparkling wine plant in all of the South.”