Angelo Gaja’s rant – a viewpoint
Angelo Gaja has just put out a rant against the “non Italian” Italian wines found on the market these days. The full rant can be read on the Jancis Robinson website at http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/a201009101.html.
Loveable as they are, organisation has never been an Italian strong point and I can’t see that they are going to change their ways now. I have no sympathy for Angelo Gaja – he’s made his bed and he has to lie on it now – if he’s finding it hard to sell his wines he has a simple solution – reduce his prices. But the problem is that not every producer can afford to do that. It’s also all very well for him to complain about “foreign” elements in Italian wines, but this is not new – in the 50 years that I have been working on and off in Italy there have been numerous scandals not only in Italy but in other countries as well. When I first came to Italy in 1959 there was a scandal about (I can’t remember which DOC it was, now) a wine that was found to have been made in a cantina in the back streets of Milan out of ox blood and the scrapings off the bottom of banana boats and then every so often again over the years culminating in the great Brunello scandal of a couple of years back. Rumour has it that even some Barolos ain’t what they purport to be.
The real problem is the inability to deal with these scandals efficiently and above all, quickly. Compare with the antifreeze scandal in Austria some years back – you will now find that Austrian wines are the squeakiest, cleanest wines in the world, not only due to the teutonic propensity to deal with matters quickly and efficiently, but also by the reaction from the producers themselves in their pride to restore the reputation of their industry.
Another salient point that Gaja makes is that “by now even wine at €2 a bottle is well made.” This is true. You only have to look at Camillo di Iuliis at Farnese Vini in the Abruzzo to find that he has been doing this for at least the last 10 years, even during the time that Gaja was getting three figures for his bottles, so I can’t see why he has to complain about that.
I can’t see any way how, nationally, Italy is going to address the points raised in your post – there is a complete lack of co-operation between rival provinces. I was once judging wines in Emilia where the producers objected to having tasters from Toscana. (But not to me, funnily enough). I have been trying over the past year to put together a series of wine travel guides for various Italian wine regions, where we have been seeking help with the origination costs, but internal jealousies and the “not my department” mentality has prevented this. These costs would be but a spit in the ocean against the millions of euros spent on lavish stands at international wine fairs which have proved to be cost ineffective. You only have to look at some of the best producers (including Gaja himself) who have pulled out of exhibiting at VinItaly over the last few years to prove that. What is also shortsighted is the inability to understand that these costs could be easily recovered by the regional organisations selling some of these guides at home and internationally.
So there you have it. Italy has thousands of wine producers and hundreds of grape varieties. It also has a multi-layer of bureaucrats who are far from being as dynamic as Mr Gaja. Maybe he should take a lead and start his own organisation.