Pinot Grigio: From Lady Gaga to a new consorzie delle Venezie

Not all grape varieties are so famous that Lady Gaga writes a song about them, but pinot grigio is. The north-eastern corner of Italy is the regions where most pinot grigio is produced in the whole world. Now the three regions Veneto, Friuli and Trentino are investing in common cause for pinot grigio to keep their place in the limelight.

All the Pinot, Pinot Grigio girls

Pour your heart out

Watch your blues turn gold

All the Pinot, Pinot Grigio girls

Keep it real cold

‘Cause it’s a fired up world

Oh, oh, make it all make sense

Oh, oh, it all makes sense

Oh, oh, make it all make sense

That’s how Lady Gaga sings in her song Grigio Girls and the lyrics also fit as soundtrack to the first conference of the newly formed “consortium” DOC delle Venezie held in Venice at the end of October. (Ed: The Consortium, consorzie,  is the organization largely responsible for rules and marketing in Italian wine districts.) The Consortium, which unites three regions, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Trentino, has really “poured their heart out” and would like to continue to see “the blues turn gold”.

A Venice canal

A Venice canal, copyright A Johansson

And that’s a lot of gold, that one can see looking at the consortium’s numbers. Trentino, Friuli and Veneto account for 43 percent of the world’s production of pinot grigio and 85 percent of the Italian production. The total area of pinot grigio in the three regions reaches 26,400 hectares and every year more than 200 million bottles are made. There are more than ten thousand growers selling grapes (or grape must) to the 362 producers bottling under their own name. Most of it is sold abroad; only four percent is sold in Italy.

The president of the DOC delle Venezie, Albino Armani, says he thinks it is important to convey that you they for quality and that they are associated with their country. The newly formed consortium has a gondola as a symbol and wants to convey even more strongly that they are “made in Italy”.

“We must become stronger on the domestic market and convey that we stand for quality. Our wines are controlled by fifty different delegations so you can be sure you get a good product when you buy a pinot grigio DOC delle Venezie,” Albino Armani says.

Map of delle Venezie pinot grigio region

Map of delle Venezie pinot grigio region

But the international market is getting tougher.

“Our competitors are not other white wines such as sauvignon blanc from New Zealand but, instead, it is sparkling wines such as our own prosecco and rosé wines from Provence,” says Ettore Nicoletto, who until recently represented the group Santa Margherita, who made thunderous success with their pinot grigio in the USA. North America is the largest market together with England; taken together they buy seventy percent of all pinot grigio exported from Italy. But in the two countries there is a risk of being taken for granted and it is important to reach out to younger consumers and make use of a more modern packaging.

Christy Canterbury, Master of Wine and journalist from New York, showed how the premium segment in the US market is growing and how Pinot Grigio retains the third position among the most consumed grape varieties in the country. “Despite strong pressure from the American pinot gris, the Italian pinot grigio always remains a wine appreciated by the average consumer. But it is necessary to work towards higher quality, territorial identity and a more modern packaging to promote a new image of DOC delle Venezie, especially among US sommeliers and opinion leaders,” she said.

Landscape, vineyards, hills and villages, in Veneto

Landscape, vineyards, hills and villages, in Veneto

British Emma Dawson, also Master of Wine and buyer at Berkmann Wine Cellars, agrees.

“Pinot grigio must work on not being the cheapest wine on the wine list, as it is today. There are great opportunities to succeed on the English market unless Brexit puts pinot grigio off course,” says Emma Dawson with a touch of irony in her voice.

She also says that they must work on conveying a stronger territorial identity and a higher quality to get away from the image of being a simple, cheap mass-produced wine.

Sandro Sartor, from Constellation Brands, one of the world’s largest wine, spirits and beer companies, thinks it is important that DOC delle Venezie is written in larger letters than pinot grigio on the labels. “In this way, the consumer can more easily distinguish a pinot grigio from Italy from other pinot gris,” he says.

Albino Armani concludes by pointing to the importance of working together and focussing on a common cause to make the Italian pinot grigio’s success story continue.

And in the background, Lady Gaga sings:

Oh, oh, make it all make sense

Oh, oh, does it all make sense

Oh, oh, make it all make sense

Åsa Johansson is BKWine’s person in Italy. She lives in Florence since the early ’00s. Asa writes regularly on wine and food in Swedish and Italian publications as well as online.

This post is also available in: Swedish

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