by Walter Speller http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/a20111007.html
While Italy has barely finished harvesting what is generally considered a hot and early vintage, news has emerged that, against all common sense, the authorities have authorised must enrichment in practically all Italian regions.
This is the practice, sometimes called chaptalisation after Chaptal, the minister of agriculture who introduced it to France, that was regularly used in cooler wine regions pre global warming, whereby before or during fermentation cane sugar or rectified grape concentrate is added to the fermentation tank in order to increase the total alcohol in the final wine. Authorising this practice for Italy in what is considered a hot year seems bizarre to say the least.
One of the first to raise the alarm against this obviously unnecessary measure was the Federazione Italiana Vignaioli Indipendenti (FIVI), the Italian federation of independent growers. In a round robin sent to its members it makes clear its disapproval of and disbelief in the authorisation, stating that this year's growing season had several exceptionally hot phases, making must enrichment completely superfluous.
According to the FIVI, anyone applying for must enrichment in 2011 does so merely to capitalise for the last time on European Union subsidies, which will be phased out next year. In FIVI's eyes, must enrichment will only be used to produce 'artificial wines', miles away from the more natural [sic] and labour-intensive ways of transforming grape juice into wine.
FIVI is joined by Carlo Petrini, founder of the international Slow Food movement, in its concern. Petrini recently published a critical article in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in which he wonders out loud under exactly whose pressure the regions have succumbed to authorise the absurd measure of must enrichment in the hot 2011 vintage. According to him, as well as many others, this year's authorisation is also greatly counterproductive in combatting Italy's grape surplus, which only a year ago led to a collapse in grape prices to the point where, in some cases, producers didn't even bother to harvest their grapes, as that would have been more expensive than letting them wither on the vine.
Finally Italy's production seems to have come down to a more economically sustainable level (not least due to EU subsidies that have encouraged producers to grub up vineyards, also unfortunately affecting old-vine, low-yielding vineyards). The authorisation of must enrichment is therefore seen, and criticised, as an effort to accommodate large, industrial, wine-processing firms, encouraging them to continue to make huge quantities of dirt-cheap wine. Petrini suspects that there are two powers at work: on the one hand the ones who have large quantities of grape concentrate to sell, and on the other the industrial bulk wine producers. The hot and irregular vintage of 2011, however, has made it crystal clear that the subsidised must enrichment measures lead to abuse and only prolongs Italy's image as a wine producing country merely interested in serving the world with insipid bulk wines at apparently any cost, and that with official government blessing.