Barolo: Too Much Bulk?

Barolo has neither image nor sales problems. The only issue is that the bulk wine market is still too large and the vineyards are too expensive. Veronika Crecelius reports.

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Barolo En-Primeur at Christie's
Barolo En-Primeur at Christie's
  • Strict quantity and quality control from the consortium capped harvest yields for Barolo at 8t/ha despite the potential for a larger harvest
  • Impressive growth in sales, particularly in HoReCa, despite Covid restrictions and general downturn for premium appellations
  • Barolo DOCG now contains the most expensive vineyards in Italy sparked by foreign investors
  • A new platform has been launched that strictly monitors the Barolo brand online for use of the word, misinformation, fakes and market supply. It will be presented to winegrowers after harvest
  • "Barolo en primeur" international charity auction to take place again 28 October 2022, with a livestream connection to Christies in New York

The harvest of Nebbiolo grapes for the production of Barolo DOCG was in full swing during the last week of September. The winegrowers had to bring forward the harvest by ten days. Heat and drought reduced grape weight by 30-40%, but significant losses are not expected, according to the consortium. A few more grapes were left hanging during the green harvest to compensate for the decrease.

Only 8 tons per ha are allowed by the production rules, so the producers wanted to bring in at least these. Normally, the rules even allow a 20% surplus if the harvest is good. However, at the request of the consortium, the Piedmont region has excluded this possibility for Barolo, due to strict quantity and quality control. 5% of the surplus harvest may be used for the production of generic wines, however the remaining 15% cannot go into winemaking, they must be distilled or used for other purposes. This restriction has been in place for three years.

Surprisingly good figures

The "king of wines" has strengthened in the pandemic years. While in 2020 there were often losses among the premium appellations, especially those sold in the on-trade, sales of Barolo DOCG actually increased by 4%.

The growth in 2021 of 22% is all the more impressive. It's based on a positive year-end, despite the fact that 2021 didn't even come with a highly acclaimed 2017 vintage. Of course, the Riserva of the great 2016 vintage plays a role, but on average 80% of the vintage is sold during a calendar year. In 2022, the fine, fresh and approachable 2018 vintage will account for the bulk of sales.

"In our 2022 mid-year review, we were able to maintain the growth of 2021. Bulk wine prices are around €9/l, but particularly good lots are also traded above that," informs consortium director Andrea Ferrero.

Brunello di Montalcino as a bulk wine is always more expensive than Barolo, currently by 95 cents. This is simply due to the higher volume. In Barolo, about 25% of production still goes to bottlers; in Montalcino, the bulk wine market barely exists.

Most expensive vineyards in Italy

In September 2022, the financial platform Pambianco published a study on the prices of vineyards in the well-known appellations of Italy. With 1.2 to 4 mill. €/ha, the DOCG Barolo has the most expensive vineyards in Italy, Barbaresco is in third place with 0.5 to 1.5 mill. €/ha and Brunelo di Montalcino is priced between 750- 900,000 €/ha.

The price explosion of vineyards and the resulting discrepancy with the wine prices began with the arrival of the first foreign investor in the Barolo area, when the American company Krause Holding bought the dream winery Vietti in 2016. At that time, top vineyards were already costing up to 1.5 mill. €/ha. 

Andrea Ferrero, Director of the Consortium
Andrea Ferrero, Director of the Consortium

E-commerce: rigorous protection of the brand

It took three years to develop a platform that monitors the word Barolo in international online commerce. In August 2022, the project called "Pinin" was finally completed, which alerts producers and consortium to irregular use of the brand, misinformation or fakes, and can also provide an overview of the market supply on the internet. Producers are not yet connected to the platform. After the harvest, the consortium will organize a congress to present the tool to winemakers.

The harvest for Barolo 2022 began ten days earlier than last year
The harvest for Barolo 2022 began ten days earlier than last year

Barolo en Primeur - charity and promotion

After the success of the first edition last year, the international charity auction "Barolo en primeur" will be held again this year on October 28 at Grinzane Cavour Castle. The auction house Christie's in New York will be connected by livestream and will auction 14 out of 15 barriques of the 2021 vintage, the last barrique will be sold as last year during the truffle auction in Alba.

The Fondazione CRC and Fondazione CRC Donare are sponsoring the project, and the Barolo, Barbaresco, Alba, Langhe and Dogliani Consortium is organizing the event. This year, 70 producers provided 1,200 additional bottles of Barolo 2021 to increase the number of interested buyers. 2021 generated proceeds of €660,000, which benefited 17 charities.

Ultimately, "Barolo en Primeur" has a special appeal for the Francophile Piedmontese beyond the good deed. To be able to sell the wine while it is still maturing in the cellar is the ultimate for the Barolista. With the prices of the vineyards, they sometimes come close to Bordeaux, where 2-3 mill. €/ha are paid.

Barolo strengthened in the crisis
Barolo strengthened in the crisis

The general introduction of the en primeur system is far away in Barolo, but at least it is considered worthy of the region. Our sister publication WEINWIRTSCHAFT has tested how befitting the result is: Click here for more HERE.




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