On January 1, the Italian justice system will find itself with 800 new cases to investigate. That day, producers in the Italian Federation of Independent Winemakers (FIVI) will carry out a massive and clamorous act of civil disobedience. These are men and women who normally don’t take part in protests: rather they cultivate vines, harvest grapes, make wine, bottle it and sell it. And in many instances they are some of Italy’s best small- and large-scale wineries. But this time they’ve decided to say enough’s enough, in their way, to the latest bureaucratic absurdity.
EU regulations prohibit producers from naming a wine with a protected designation of origin (Denominazione di origine controllata, DOC, in Italian) if it doesn’t meet the requirements. If I don’t produce my wine in the Barolo zone, with grapes from a registered vineyard, and I haven’t met the required controls, I can’t use the name “Barolo” on my label. The law also stipulates that if I have a winery in the zone of Barolo, and I don’t produce Barolo wine, but another, say Barbera d’Alba, I can still write the word “Barolo” (the name of the municipality) in small print (maximum 3 mm tall), so as to not confuse the consumer. So far, so good. But the devil is in the detail.
Even if, on the label of my Barbara d’Alba, which I make in Barolo, I can write “Barolo” in small print, what I’m not allowed to specify, by law, is that my winery is in the Langhe zone, nor that it is found in the region of Piedmont. And yes, because both the Langhe and Piedmont are DOCs, if I don’t produce wines with that appellation, I simply cannot print where my winery is located. I can only indicate the municipality (in small print), but not the region. And as if that wasn’t enough, the regulations also control the tools that communicate the characteristics of the product, e.g. brochures, websites or packaging boxes.
An obtuse interpretation of these rules means that a producer from any of the most famous DOC zones cannot tell the world where his winery is. To play it safe, on the internet he will have to limit himself to saying that the wine is a Barolo from somewhere between Switzerland and the Ligurian sea, because Val d’Aosta is also a DOC zone, and it’s trouble if you use its name! We talk about wine as an ambassador of our country and then, for an absurd interpretation, those who work on the land are literally banned from promoting their products and territories in an open and completely appropriate way.
Matilde Poggi, Matilde Poggi, president of FIVI, along 800 other independent producers and members of the association, have decided to say “NO”. From January 1, on their websites, all FIVI members will write the region in which their winery is, even if this coincides with a DOC zone. They will do so because they are convinced that there is nothing that confuses the consumer, and nothing wrong with telling the world with pride where they work and produce their wines.
This colossal self-declaration has a concrete goal: to make the Ministry of Agricultural Policies and the government intervene, since the officials who apply these regulations report to them. This battle is not specific to the winemaking industry, but one that hopes to pave the way to a new kind of relationship between institutions, citizens and workers. We can no longer jeopardize the expectations of honest producers that only ask for the right to say where they work, and afflict an entire system, without any actual benefit for consumers.
If bureaucracy doesn’t become a service that helps businesses perform better, rather than an awkward, hungry tax collector, it has forgotten the reason for its very existence.
Article first published in La Repubblica on November 21, 2014.