Recent years have seen the spotlight in Trentino primarily on the sparkling wine Trento DOC, a focus that makes sense given its dynamic growth. This has allowed the northern Italian wine region to step out from the shadows of its neighbors, South Tyrol and Veneto.
Yet, in terms of sheer volume, still wines hold greater significance for Trentino. The most widely cultivated grape variety here is Pinot Grigio, accounting for 2,550 of the region's 10,200 hectares of vineyards.
“Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay are the most extensively grown grape varieties, covering 55% of the vineyard area. Both are important; Pinot Grigio is a pillar for the export market, while Chardonnay underpins the sparkling wine Trento DOC,” explains Andrea Nicolini, Export Manager of the cooperative Cavit. This consortium, with its eleven subsidiary cooperatives, represents over 60% of the region's vineyard area.
In Trentino, vintners face a challenging choice in marketing: they can use the DOC Pinot Grigio delle Venezie, the DOC Trentino with varietal designation, or the DOC Valdadige.
"Each of these protected origins is valuable to us," says Nicolini. Their usage varies depending on the market. "The DOC Trentino represents the pinnacle of our offerings, while DOC delle Venezie is more suitable for countries like the USA, where quantity is crucial," Nicolini adds.
For Trentino's second-largest producer, the Mezzacorona winery cooperative, Pinot Grigio has become "the prince of white grapes in Trentino after more than a century of adaptation to the region's vineyards." This northern cooperative celebrates Pinot Grigio across all lines and quality levels, particularly leveraging the DOC Trentino.
The Endrizzi family is fully committed to DOC Trentino. "Pinot Grigio delle Venezie is rarely used in Trentino. It offers opportunities for producers buying Venetian grapes. We take pride in our region and believe it is essential to use only Pinot Grigio DOC Trentino. This way, we can offer consumers the original and unique flavor of our mountain terroir," the Endrizzis explain.
Searching for character
But what makes Trentino's Pinot Grigio stand out? "The harvest in Trentino is entirely by hand. Our Pinot Grigio is more concentrated and intense than others. Its structure is elegant, accompanied by a distinctive Williams pear aroma," say the Endrizzis.
At Cavit, Nicolini highlights the unique aspects of cultivation. The Pergola system, hand harvesting, and high temperature amplitudes contribute to low yields, ensuring acidity and fresh fruit.
Mezzacorona points to Trentino's long association with Pinot Grigio. Particularly in the Rotaliana Plain, the birthplace of Mezzacorona, production dates back to 1883. Pinot Grigio plays a diverse role in Mezzacorona's portfolio. For their Riserva, they use a fermentation process that starts in stainless steel and continues in barriques, where aging also occurs. Their "Nove," on the other hand, focuses on a natural alcohol content of 9%vol.
Emilio Zierock from Azienda Agricola Foradori is critical: "In most cases, Trentino's Pinot Grigio lacks identity, being a neutral, standardized, technical mass-produced wine. We work with long maceration times and have found a specific identity for the grape. Our Pinot Grigio, compared to macerated counterparts from Friuli, has more elegance and less alcohol, and compared to those from the north side of the Alps, a spicier character."
With Fuoripista, Foradori has created an exceptional Pinot Grigio that can be seen as a counterpoint to the simple variety. "We believe the beauty of Pinot Grigio lies in the skins, so we macerate it. This process gives a new dimension to Trentino's most cultivated standardized variety. The complexity and potential are surprising. Pinot Grigio has shown that there are no 'boring' grapes; it's people who make them boring.," says Zierock. He even goes as far as aging Fuoripista in amphorae (Tinajas) to impart an oxidative maturation without a woody note.
While the Foradori winery deviates significantly from the standard, it follows the regional trend in one respect. The Teroldego specialist has no plans to expand the role of Pinot Grigio in its portfolio. This aligns with the trend in Trentino's vineyard area, which remains stable at a high level.
The halt in further growth can be attributed to several factors. Most notably, the success of Trento DOC has made Chardonnay the rising star of the region, with rapidly increasing cultivation. Consequently, Pinot Grigio is less essential as a growth driver for Trentino compared to Veneto and Friuli – the other regions of the DOC Pinot Grigio delle Venezie.
Andrea Nicolini from Cavit summarizes: "Pinot Grigio is a long-standing strategic asset for us, one that we aim to protect so it continues to play a key role in the market. At the same time, we are focusing on developing Trento DOC, which is becoming the second pillar of our business."
Aside from the rise of Chardonnay, the naturally limited area of the vineyards, constrained by the Alpine foothills similar to South Tyrol, plays a role, as it makes extensive expansion of vineyard areas challenging.
Pinot Grigio in the face of climate change
Emilio Zierock points out another factor: "Pinot Grigio struggles with climate change, especially in vineyards at lower altitudes. In hot vintages like 2022, it lacks acidity and ripens too quickly."
Yet, this also presents an opportunity for Trentino to distinguish its Pinot Grigio, as within the DOC Pinot Grigio delle Venezie, Trentino must be labeled as a 'Cool Climate' area.
The Endrizzis view the situation more positively: "The Pergola training system allows the grapes to ripen more slowly, so the optimal harvest time doesn't depend on a few hours. Moreover, the abundance of leaves helps shield the grapes from intense heat. More importantly, in Trentino, we have the option to plant vineyards at higher altitudes, between 200 and 1,000 meters." Nevertheless, the Endrizzis are not planning to increase their production of Pinot Grigio.
Cavit is confident about the climate resilience of Pinot Grigio, yet they are actively searching for more resistant clones and have equipped themselves with drip irrigation systems for use in emergencies.
Pinot Grigio is a significant asset for Trentino and is highly regarded by its producers. Its plateauing growth, in contrast to other regions, is less about a lack of market demand and more about the rising success of Trento DOC. In the near future, Trento DOC may surpass Pinot Grigio as the predominant product of the region, mirroring the trend already seen with Chardonnay in vineyard expansion.