You want to really insult the French? Hit ’em where it hurts the most: their wine. The French have always relished in the fact that they have been the number one importers of wine to the US. But 2006 painted a different story: the numbers are in and for the first time since 1975, Italian wine imports in the United States have surpassed French brands — tallying an incredible export of more than 2 million cases resulting in sales exceeding 1 billion dollars.
The news doesn’t necessarily come as that big a surprise. Industry experts spotted a trend as early as the first five months of 2006 when total export volumes showed signs of 7% growth. Italy was already coming off a decent year in 2005, when — according to www.Forbes.com — 243 million bottles were exported to the US from Italy, representing 31% of the American market and a growth of 10.5% on the previous year. Ultimately, 2006 recorded a stunning increase of 9% over 2005.
And to think, that back in 1975, Italy only exported an estimated 366,000 cases resulting in dismal 40 million dollars in sales.
My how times have changed.
Lucio Caputo — President of the Italian Wine and Food Institute (www.italianwineandfoodinstitute.com) – has every reason to celebrate. An article in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica recounted how Caputo’s offices were originally in Tower I of the World Trade Center and he was lucky to escape from the 78th floor on that fateful day of September 11th. Now relocated to 42nd street and Madison Ave, Caputo is happily celebrating what he coins “The Year of the Billion.“
In 2006 — according to www.winenews.it — Italy doubled the amount of exports by France. Italy and France have always competed in the wine industry and have perennially remained the two biggest exporters in the world. According to the year and the size of the harvests, each year either Italy or France is the biggest exporter in volume. During 2006, the US is the biggest importer of Italian wines in value while Germany is the biggest importer in terms of volume. The Italian wine industry is concerned at the competition in price and in quality that the new world wines present.
According to www.winebusiness.com — as with all wine producing countries — Italy and Italian wine producers face major challenges in the coming years. These are the result of an industry which is becoming truly global in its scope. In fact, the European Union is currently in the process of proposing new reforms for the European wine market under the CAP designed to revolutionize production and restrict the increasing trend for overproduction. Experts say that although global consumption is on the rise, production outstrips demand. The result: today Europe imports just as much wine as it exports. The Italian wine industry, as with those across the globe, must become more efficient if it wants to survive as one of the best in the world.
Italy’s success in 2006 can be attributed to its four categories of wine: DOCG, DOC, ICG and vino da tavola (or table wine). The 4 groups resemble a pyramid structure with vino da tavola at the bottom, and DOCG wines at the top.
The middle tiers — according to Wine News — are what are giving Italy its current drawing power. The category of IGT has become known as a source of innovation. More flexible with regards to usage and less restricted by historical factors, the ICG category offers entrepreneurs the possibility to develop innovative techniques while benefiting specific tastes within the Italian wine sector. A number of vine-growers from the north, having bought vineyards in the south, initially destined to produce vino da tavola, have developed within the IGT category, new products often associated with the peculiarities of a local grape variety to a particular brewing process.
Which brings us back to the present: until now, France has always been the dominant force in the American marketplace. But their image has been tainted since September 11th and their lack of support for America’s war against terrorism.
Italy on the other hand — has grudgingly supported America and has benefited in the long run. Coincidence? I don’t think so.