Sauvignon consolidates the region’s reputation as a prime source for stellar white wines
By Sharon Nagel
The snow-capped mountains forming a backdrop to the city of Udine, in the heart of the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region of north-eastern Italy, offer a clue to the area’s propensity for producing top quality white wines. This year’s Concours Mondial du Sauvignon, from March 8 to 10, 2019, provided tangible evidence that this is indeed the home of some of Italy’s greatest whites.
Better vineyard management
The world’s largest wine store, www.wine.com, agrees that Friuli-Venezia Giulia is “the source of some of Italy’s best and most distinctive white wines”. Divided into many sub-zones, the region’s unique characteristics stem partly from its location, at the point where Italian, Germanic and Slavic cultures converge. Stretching from the Alps to the Adriatic, it is typified by its rolling landscapes – hence the name of one of its appellations, Collio – and bucolic lifestyle. But its ability to produce fresh, aromatic Sauvignons – which is still very much a work in progress – can also be ascribed to a determined effort by local wine growers to maximise the attributes nature has given them. “Italy is generating increasingly positive performances for the quality of its Sauvignon Blanc”, explain Dr Federico Nassivera and his colleagues from the Department of Agricultural, Food, Environmental and Animal Sciences at the University of Udine. “One of the reasons for this is undoubtedly the greater attention that producers are paying to agronomic techniques and therefore to management of the fruit that will end up in the bottle. It is now established that aromatic precursors are mainly conditioned by the expression they obtain from correct and rational vineyard management. The growth in the quality of Italian Sauvignon is therefore closely linked to the increased skills and professionalism of producers and their consultants, to whom they often turn for management of this precious cultivar”.
White vine varieties cover more than 80 % of acreage in Friuli and Sauvignon blanc now ranks as the fifth most widely grown variety. A staggering 35 % of Italian Sauvignon is produced in the region, so it was no surprise that nearly 80 % of all Italian wines entered in the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon competition this year were local to the region. The medal count followed a similar pattern. This recognition is viewed “not as a finishing point but as a starting point”, comments Dr Federico Nassivera. “The success that is being rediscovered and achieved at international level is leading several producers to plan and direct production in order to meet the needs of overseas markets primarily. Although the domestic market seems to be holding up, internationalising the product is increasingly necessary to capitalise on recognition of the region’s suitability for vine growing. The area is also increasingly explored for its specific food and wine culture that goes hand in hand with the beauty of the landscapes”. Dr Nassivera and his colleagues therefore believe that vineyard acreage set aside for Sauvignon blanc in Friuli-Venezia Giulia should post a slight increase in the future, but would prefer to see rationally managed growth rather than “an unbridled surge”.
Finding favour with Millenials
Researchers at Udine University are therefore studying potential outlets for the region’s Sauvignon blanc wines. Recent research has shown that Millennials form the most interesting market segment, due to their appetite for new products and wine producers. While displaying medal stickers from competitions such as CMS is a valuable tool in promoting wines to this target audience, other marketing techniques can also be factored into the mix. “An equally interesting aspect that is emerging, again regarding the behavioural attitudes of Millennials, is their search for opportunities to gain experience of products in a company context. Wine tourism, or better still, food and wine tourism in Italy, is increasingly gaining traction and becoming more interesting and rewarding for industry players every year”, say Nassivera and his colleagues. In fact, medal-winning wineries are a strong draw for this captive audience, and “a decisive factor in the decision to visit a winery”.
Sauvignon for a flagship
The University of Udine’s vision is that Sauvignon blanc should be considered as a flagship amongst the range of wines produced region-wide. Although not all producers have embraced this vision yet, the researchers believe that the varietal’s status has been recognised in the marketplace, an endorsement that is ultimately more compelling and pivotal to strategic development. “New policies for the Friuli wine industry should be identified on the basis of good prior knowledge of the market and changes in demand. Initial signs indicate that the Friuli Venezia Giulia wine region could continue to focus on the production of Sauvignon. This would allow it to maintain recognition on the national and global wine scene as an area suited to vine growing and winemaking with a rational orientation towards the production and enhancement of varietals such as Sauvignon and the characteristic expression of its wines”. The comments may have a slight flavour of academia about them, but they are a clear incentive for the region to keep up the good work.