With a production of almost 300 million bottles, Italian Pinot Grigio is one of the most popular and well-known wines globally. But recent Wine Intelligence research reveals that although many consumers know and appreciate the “Pinot Grigio” category, there is less knowledge about its regional variations
Earlier this year, the Wine Observatory of the Unione Italiana Vini (UIV) and the Alleanza delle Cooperative Agroalimentari (Alliance of Agri-Food Cooperatives) presented research outlining, for the first time in Italy, the state of the national production and commerical level of Pinot Grigio.
Unsurpringly, Italy has the largest amount of vineyards dedicated to growing this grape variety – specifically in Veneto – followed by the US (especially California and Oregon), Germany (where the variety is called Grauburgunder or Ruländer), Austria and France. In addition, a lot of Pinot Grigio is planted and produced in Eastern Europe with around 8,000 hectacres in total from Hungary, Moldova and Ukraine.
In terms of consumers, the main consumption markets of Italian Pinot Grigio is the US, UK and Germany. In the US, for example, the Italian Pinot Grigio has a 35% share of total sales of the variety, with strong competition from the California and American Pinot, but also from other competitors such as the Australians. In the UK, however, Italian bottles are almost 80% of the total, while in Germany it drops to 42%.
But if the purchase quotes (and therefore awareness) in these three markets are very high, the same cannot be said for the awareness levels of various Designation of Origin (DOC or IGT) that are producing the grape. This means that the first criterion for consumer choice is a mix between country, variety and brand, not necessarily from a certain territory or denomination. On the same Italian market, as stated in our first “Italy Wine Landscapes 2020 report”, Pinot Grigio as a varietal is among the top-5 for consumption, while not included in the first 20 Denominations of origin wine consumers are aware of.
So how do Italian brands stick out in such a busy market place?
As many know, the Italian wine industry is characterised by a fragmentation of both vineyards and winemaking operations, which has led to arguably a strong and diverse culture of production, but it has meant that individual producers do not have access to the sort of marketing resources (people and money) that are required to build a brand.
This is the challenge of the DOC delle Venezie, which was created in 2017 precisely to provide greater protection, control and promotion of these large volumes, and to help its wines stand out for consumers.
One of the tactics used by the DOC delle Venezie, is championing the image of Italy in their logo’s use of a Venetian gondola and colours of the Italian flag. If the US brand work started 50 years ago by Santa Margherita and successfully continued by other players (eg Cavit and Ruffino) has been able to make Itlaian Pinot Grigio reach premium positions, the large mass of product still needs a stronger link to the origin and with intangible values (eg Italian lifestyle) that this can transmit.
To do this, though, they will have to speak to consumers, especially the younger generations, who are don’t usually choose a mainstream Pinot Grigio as a simple or a ‘cheap summer wine’. This long state of emergency due to Covid-19, which has meant having to shift many investments traditionally reserved for public events to a greater digital presence, could therefore be an opportunity to be exploited.