Beginning with the 2001 vintage, producers in the Soave appellation of northeastern Italy's Veneto region may be able to use a new designation on their wines: the Soave Superiore Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita.
The DOCG designation, which is the highest category in Italy's wine-classification system, is supposed to reflect a step up in quality from the existing Soave Denominazione di Origine Controllata designation. But its approval by Italian agricultural officials on July 14 has caused a stir among a number of the region's small producers, some of whom doubt that the new regulations will be an effective way to boost the region's suffering image.
"The purpose of the new Soave Superiore DOCG appellation is to encourage Soave producers to cut back on the quantity and improve the quality of their wine," said Cristiano Saletti, spokesman for Soave's growers association, Consorzio Tutela Vini Soave, which proposed the new designation. He noted that the move ties in with a European Community initiative to provide funding for producers who replant their vineyards to certain quality specifications.
Soave is currently the largest DOC appellation in Italy, with 15,500 acres of vines, 5,000 growers and a total annual production of more than 6.6 million cases per year. The Soave DOCG area encompasses the hilly areas of the region and includes more than 11,100 acres out of the roughly 15,500 acres in the Soave DOC.
The reputation of Soave, a dry white wine, has been damaged by the often-bland bottlings released by many large producers in the region. The main grape in Soave is the largely undistinguished Garganega, which makes up 70 percent of the DOC blend, while the remainder can include various proportions of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Trebbiano di Soave.
Soave's mediocre image already prompted well-known winemaker Robert Anselmi to drop the DOC designation last year in protest. His latest wines instead carry the broader Veneto Indicazione Geografica Tipica designation, allowing him to try to improve quality by using nontraditional grapes, blends, viticultural practices or vinification techniques that are not included in DOC standards.
To carry the new DOCG designation on their labels, wineries will have to cut back production levels from the current maximum of 100 hectoliters per hectare (7.35 tons per acre) to 70 hectoliters per hectare (5.1 tons per acre) and increase the density of their plantings to a minimum of 4,000 vines per hectare (1,650 vines per acre) from 2,500 vines per hectare.
But Anselmi and other top-quality producers think those levels of production are still too high. "To make a DOCG wine we need to radically change the viticultural methods of the area," said Anselmi. He thinks they should further increase the density of the plantings -- to between 6,000 and 6,500 vines per hectare -- and further reduce yields.
But what has some Soave winemakers outraged is that, in conjunction with creation of the new DOCG appellation, a group of producers and cooperatives were seeking an increase in production levels for DOC wines. The request was not approved this summer, but the measure's proponents are expected to try again this fall, according to Aldo Lorenzoni, director of the 3,400-member growers association.
"This motion has been drawn up by the big cooperative producers who make 80 percent of Soave DOC wine," complained Teresita Pieropan, wife of Leonildo Pieropan, one of Soave's top producers. "It's the big cooperatives that lay down the law. They are the ones interested in raising the yields for Soave DOC. It's no good producing a DOCG, which guarantees a higher quality, unless we first change the image of Soave as a wine-producing area."
Franco Roncador, managing director of Soave's largest wine-producing cooperative, Cantina Sociale di Soave, argued that the new DOCG appellation is a positive step for Soave's image and that higher yields for the DOC wines would be justified.
"We need to take a closer look at our marketing strategy," said Roncador, whose cooperative consists of 1,200 members and makes 2.5 million cases of wine per year. "Garganega is a grape with high yields. Cutting back on quantity is too costly for many farmers. We need to be competitive in price and channel our wines to markets which absorb high quantities at a contained price." He added, "The real difference in quality will be in the new DOCG appellation area. This is a market niche which has potential to be developed."
Read past news on this subject:
Italy's Anselmi and Allegrini Drop Soave and Valpolicella DOCs