A vote before Piedmont's Regional Advisory Committee Sept. 12 defeated a proposal to add Nebbiolo Piemonte to the Piemonte DOC created in 1994. The outcome sent a message that producers of Nebbiolo in Piedmont are willing to protect their patrimony.
And for good reason. Let's look at the Nebbiolo grape: At home, in the Langhe hills and Alto Piemonte, it is capable of complex, ethereal and long-lived wines. Outside of these areas, with the exception of Valle d'Aosta and Valtellina, it hasn't been successful. Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, Nebbiolo doesn't seem to travel well, preferring the mix of calcareous marl, clay and sandstone of its sub-Alpine hills. It performs best at specific elevations and needs warm days and cool nights to develop its particular aromas.
That's why out of the total 11,860 acres of Nebbiolo planted in Piedmont, a little more than 10,000 acres are within the Langhe area, including Barbaresco, Barolo and Roero DOCGs. Another 865 acres are in Alto Piemonte-Gattinara, Ghemme, Boca, Lessona, etc.
The proposal was initiated by the Consorzio Barbera d'Asti and Wines of Monferrato. Small quality producers and large bottlers backed it. With the popularity and success of Nebbiolo-based wines on the rise, the producers of Asti and Monferrato wished to expand the area of planting Nebbiolo. Currently, the Piemonte DOC is used for Barbera, red blends and some white varietals, but excludes Nebbiolo.
It was opposed by the Consorzio di Tutela Barolo Barbaresco, Alba Langhe and Dogliani, which controls much of the region's Nebbiolo. As president of the Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe and Dogliani association, Orlando Pecchenino explained, "Any reclassification increases production and reduces the analytical parameters, usually switching to a lower-quality product." For example, the maximum yield for Barolo is 3.2 tons of Nebbiolo per acre. The aging requirement is 38 months, 18 of which are in wood. The proposed Nebbiolo Piemonte DOC suggested similar parameters for Langhe Nebbiolo, which is currently made in all the communes of Langhe and Roero, with a maximum yield 20 percent higher than Barolo, no wood aging and a minimum alcohol level of 11 percent, compared with 13 percent for Barolo. In addition, the area of cultivation of Nebbiolo Piemonte DOC would extend to all of Piedmeont.
Rather than taking an exclusionary stance, the Langhe producers just wanted to ensure quality and robust prices in the market. "Of course we are perfectly aware that grapes have no homeland and that you can plant them everywhere if you want," Aldo Vacca, managing director of Produttori del Barbaresco told Wine Spectator. "In principle, we do not have anything against creating a new Nebbiolo appellation, but we think the production area should be clearly defined and rules—yields, altitude, exposure, etc.—should be strict in order to give Nebbiolo a chance to make good wines."
Filippo Mobrici, president of the Consorzio Barbera d'Asti and Wines of Monferrato expressed satisfaction that the discussion was productive and cordial in a press release after the vote.
The decision is a victory for quality and for protecting unique wines that can't be replicated anywhere. It's a victory for growers who care about their land and tradition and the heritage that they have. Ultimately, this is a victory for consumers who love great wines made from Nebbiolo grown where it reaches its best expression.