02 January 2016

Tradition in a bottle

Tradition in a bottle
Pinot grigio from Italy's Friuli-Venezia Giulia region features a pink-orange color. Photos provided to China Daily

Pinot grigio is flowing into China, as drinkers enjoy more white wines and explore more varieties. Mathew Scott visits an Italian winery making the most of the growing interest.

We're driving past lush green fields and on toward the Italian commune of Dolegna del Collio when Giampaolo Venica points to the hillside to the right of the road.

It is there, Venica says, that his great-grandfather Daniele came in 1930 and laid down the foundations of what would soon become the Venica & Venica winery.

Today, you'll find around 55 individual plots of vines spread out across the property's seven rolling hills. They host a range of grape varieties, including the Friulano and the Magliocco grapes respectively used to make the winery's popular Tre Vignis Collio and Balbium vintages.

But today we have made the trip to Venica & Venica, situated in Italy's Friuli-Venezia Giulia region and about a three-hour drive from Venice, to focus on a wine long savored in this region that has over the past decade spread its fame - and that of the region - across the globe.

Tradition in a bottle
The light and crisp dry white wine known as pinot grigio produced in this region traces back to when the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte came marching through from France in the early 1800s. They brought with them all the necessities of life, including cuttings of the vines needed to make the wine to, presumably, keep the soldiers happy.

"It was the French who first brought the grapes here, but what we have now is unique to our region and we have found pinot grigio 8 is suited here in terms of both the local conditions and the local tastes," Venica says.

As China's taste for wine continues to grow at extraordinary rates, so too has the country's interest in white wines, such as pinot grigio, according to the people at Vinexpo, the world's premier wine industry gathering, which hosted its 2013 edition in Bourdeaux, France, from June 16-20.

Vinexpo's studies show China's overall consumption of white wine grew by more than 53 percent from 2007 to 2011, when 12.36 million cases were consumed over the year. The organization predicts growth exceeding 56 percent from now until 2016.

Italy prides itself on its role as the world's leading wine exporter by volume. On the eve of this year's Vinexpo, the organization reported the country is now the fourth largest supplier of wine to China, with exports rising 261 percent between 2007 and 2011.

"Today, imported wines account for almost 20 percent of the full volume of wine drunk in China and are worth 44.42 percent of the total retail value of wines sold in China," Vinexpo's chief executive Robert Beynat explains.

"France remains the leading supplier of the Chinese market, following by Australia, Spain and Italy. Three of these four countries - Spain being the exception - are famous for their pinot grigio.

"As the Chinese market is becoming more mature, consumers have improved their knowledge of wine, and they still are curious about products. Instead of choosing a chardonnay or sauvignon, people want to taste some different varieties of wines, such as pinot grigio."

Back at the winery, Venica has just taken us on a tour of the production facilities, explaining the traditions of making pinot grigio. He tells about his winery sticks to a method that gently macerates the grapes, pressing them under the CO2 that prevents oxidation while maintaining the juice's natural pink-orange color.

"You'll find that, the darker the color, the more intense the flavor," Venica explains.

"And the cheaper the wine, the less color you will have in your pinot grigio."
Venica & Venica's own Jesera pinot grigio has a rich, almost coppery tinge and has been acclaimed by the likes of noted US wine critic James Suckling as "full and flavorful".

Venica puts its success down to the traditions his family follows and the region's unique climate. The location between the nearby Alps and the Adriatic Sea means vines are treated to cool nights and hot days.

"It's ironic that the things you hear us complaining about every day - the cold at night and the heat in the day - are the things that make this wine so good," Venica says.

"These conditions are perfect for helping the grape to grow and to produce their natural flavors."