Wine consumption has slowly but steadily been losing ground in Italy, although the consumption per capita is still high. How much have the numbers fallen, and why? Angelo Gaja lends his opinion to the discussion, contributing a voice from the heart of wine country in Piemonte, Barbaresco.
Wine consumption in the traditional producer countries of the world has been declining for the past several years. In the meantime, the US has become the world’s largest market in 2013 for total consumption. In Italy, consumption fell by 0.8 mhl (consuming 21.7 mhl) and in France, by 2.1 mhl (consuming 28.1 mhl), while the US consumed 29.1 mhl of wine in 2013 (International Organisation of Vine and Wine).
Even though American drinkers stand behind both the French and Italians in the amount of wine per person consumed, trends clearly show a failing popularity among drinkers in these traditionally wine-centered cultures. Several reasons have been cited for these changes in consumption habits, including increasing competition from other alcoholic beverages.
Empty wine glasses. Photo from Joel Mann, Creative Commons. License found here.
Angelo Gaja, president and owner of the Gaja Winery and named the “undisputed king of Barbaresco,” has written a letter in response to online discourse and concern over the subject. Already a sensation on Italian wine websites, here we publish it in English for those wine consumers who are curious to hear from a voice in the midst of the phenomenon. The words come from a man who is internationally acknowledged as one of Italy’s greatest winemakers; who has lived through this northern Italian region’s relative obscurity on the world market to high acclaim; and, finally, who has been named as “the man who dragged Piemonte into the modern world.”
What do you think? Why is wine consumption falling in Italy, and what can be done to counter it?
Emphases his own.
" There are innumerable analyses on the unstoppable decline in wine consumption in Italy; but no one ever speaks about the confusion that abounds and effectively distances young consumers. The alimentary function of wine is gradually losing ground to that of hedonistic consumption: instead of drinking with the belly, people drink with their heads. As a result, a multitude of niches are growing from consumers who want natural, organic, biodynamic, sustainable, clean, fair trade wines … and producers feed their requests, invoking new controls and new certifications. They are welcome to it, provided they don’t use public resources.
The code of wine that governs winemaking practices allows all this and more; all we need to do to counteract it is create a list of the most invasive practices that some producers choose to utilize, and make it obligatory to write it on their label.
Wine, as a result of the rightful actions against alcohol abuse, ends up regrettably bundled together and confused with spirits and other alcoholic beverages, notwithstanding its history, culture, and values that are profoundly different and that set it apart.
The number of wine guides in Italy is five times greater than that of France. There are copious rankings of the 100 best Italian wines, and each one is inevitably different from the next. In Italy there are more journalistic awards created for praising wine writers than in all other European countries combined. We continue to hold promotional touristic events by dragging our wines out into the piazza, when the consumption of alcoholic beverages should be authorized in licensed locales only. Large volume producers who manage their wineries never decline to don the title of vinegrower, “vignaiolo,” even though it’s defined as “one who (manually) cultivates the vineyards.” Controversy is wearily dragged behind us, brought to life by the producers themselves and outside advisers who discuss the way we understand wine, how to produce it, how to sell it.
To counter the decline in wine consumption, we need to dispel all this confusion; and to do that calls for respect and courage. "
May 28, 2014