Marisa D'Vari
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Spotlight on Collio: Italian region seeks place in the sun

Imagine you’re a producer in a relatively isolated wine region just ninety minutes from the Venice airport.  Since Roman days, your region has been known for its mineral-rich Flysch soil, hillside vineyards, and excellent wine made from native and international grape varieties.

collio_discussionYet the thing is, today the region is relatively obscure outside Italy.

And because of the extraordinary care taken in the vineyards and the winery, along with the low yields, it’s difficult to price your Pinot Grigio and other varietals to compete in the global marketplace.

What can you do to improve the situation?

Launch an international competition, of course.

For more than a decade, the marketing arm of the region’s wine makers, the Consorzio Collio e Carso, has been sponsoring an award ceremony which honors academic researchers and journalists. Each year the program has become more international and elaborate, with the most recent trip beginning June 2016 including journalists from Russia, China, the United States, as well as Italy.

The objective of the program is to introduce wine writers to this somewhat obscure, off-the-beaten track region where agritourism is increasingly taking hold in a big way. The producer members of the Consorzio Collio e Carso, most of whom spoke English, were extremely proactive in arranging a near week of events that included tutored tastings from enologists and Italian specialist wine writers, and visits to many of the winemakers with wine and cuisine paired lunches.

Unique characteristics of this region, which include the special mineral-rich Flysch soil (locally known as Ponca), dramatic diurnal temperature, and a majority of hillside vineyards, are largely responsible for the superior white wines of the region.  Another factor, for course, is the investment the Consorzio made in research and technology in the 1980s and continues to this day with the Collio research awards.

The most popular export varietals include Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, yet producers are especially proud of the native Ribolla Gialla (often made into ‘orange wine’ through extended maceration and skin contact), as well as Friulano, Malvasia and the treasured wine Collio Bianco, a blend that can be from any white variety, with no restrictions in terms of amount or maturation. Chardonnay is produced as well.

During the nearly two hours of the award presentation, the audience was invited to observe a very frank and interesting conversation between Consorzio officials about how to “build brand” in this region, as well as the push to attain the DOCG designation.  The basic message agreed upon was that the producers must work together to reach the target consumer and build brand outside the territory.

Some of the ways this plan is now manifesting is with the rise in tourism, thanks to the emphasis on B & Bs, a wine route, and the very important Enotecca di Cormons, a tourist-friendly wine bar.  According to manager Elena Orzan, the bar attracts tourists from neighboring countries, including nearby Slovenia, Austria, and even Germany.  The Enotecca features wine from the majority of producers, and is available by the glass in a variety of pour sizes so that visitors can sample many of the different wines.

Like every wine region, Collio has its challenges – the primary challenge seeming to center on creating an ‘elite status’ or image that can explain, in part, the higher price for their wines. Yet the Consorzio and its producers are clearly committed to putting this region and its wines on the map, and have so far succeeded.

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