To obtain DOCG status a wine must demonstrate its prestige over a period of at least 10 years. During this period the wine must be produced and bottled each year so that it may then be examined by governmental board who decides whether to accept its candidacy or not. To support its request, Dogliani has presented ten vintages of Dolcetto di Dogliani Superiore, a type of wine covered by the 1974 appellation laws that showed more incisive and particular characteristics than the typical easy- and early-drinking Dolcetto wines. The wines were tasted by a special commission created by the Ministry for Agricultural Policies and, after a few years, the DOCG Dogliani was finally created in 2005.
After a five-year period of adjusting to the DOCG appellation rules and following a series of meetings among producers, it was decided that the time was ripe for integrating the two separate sets of rules and regulations for Dolcetto di Dogliani DOC and Dogliani DOCG under the a single appellation: Dogliani DOCG. The new appellation guidelines were introduced in 2011, making an additional distinction between Dogliani DOCG and Dogliani Superiore DOCG.
There were several different reasons behind the producers’ request for a DOCG classification for their Dolcetto wine.
- First of all, the deeply-held and founding idea that this grape, when cultivated and vinified as it is in the Dogliani territory, is able to translate into wines of particular complexity and importance. Even though many wineries were already heading in this direction, it seemed right and fitting to communicate this different approach through an official message that would also be clear to the consumer. It was considered the best way of distinguishing between the two types of Dolcetto, whose differences would often be confusing.
- Secondly, it seemed important to identify these wines with a specific place name: Dogliani. There are eleven Dolcetto appellations in Piedmont and we felt it necessary to emphasize what makes our land so different despite the similarities given by the vine. A specific territory, in fact, does not only represent the grape variety grown and used in the winemaking process, it also represents a unique and inalienable essence that is capable of exposing all the hidden truths of a wine and not just that of the grape variety that adapted to its environment over time. Elements such as people, landscapes, rivers, history and culture, political and commercial strategies are integral parts of a terroir. As markets grow wider and wine travels the globe, wine should bear the mark of the place where it was made rather than just of the grape variety, it is made from.
- Finally, the necessity to escape from the direction that Dolcetto was taking in DOC zones where, due to historical choices or to the presence of more profitable or consolidated varieties, this grape had always been demoted to producing a cheap, simple, everyday table wine. This approach could not be fully shared by those who care for older vines that, despite being less productive, are especially high in quality. These vine-growers mainly rely on traditional, non-mechanized farm work in spite of its inherently elevated costs as they have come to the realization that the best characteristics of the variety emerge in our climates only when yields are kept low.
The regulations governing Dogliani DOCG were independent and distinct from those of the Dolcetto di Dogliani DOC. This meant, first of all, that it had been decided to keep it limited to a more restricted area, as was done in many other cases in Italy, so as to be able to highlight the specific qualities of these wines which went through a different treatment both in the vineyard and in the cellar. It was decided that it was necessary to emphasize the different expressive capabilities of the two styles by maintaining an independent identity for Dolcetto di Dogliani DOC. The DOCG status given to Dogliani did not entail harvesting and selecting the best grapes from the vineyards but it did mean that the vineyards had to be thereon enrolled in a separate list. This list of vineyards, registered for each winery, consists of parcels of land that are inspected by officials of the local Department of Agriculture to make sure that they correspond to the prescribed requisites in terms of position – excluding the lower parts of valleys and other areas deemed unsuitable – and exposure. With no existing historical or regulatory vineyard classification being in place, such as those in Bordeaux or Burgandy, it was impossible to claim a direct relationship between historical crus and DOCG vineyards, even though it was evident that to conform to the stricter analytical criteria, the vines had to be able to produce an even higher grape quality.
The cru classification system is also based on the observation of the wine’s evolution over time, something that up ‘till then was unheard of when it came to Dogliani. While the destiny of Dolcetto di Dogliani had always been that of being a young wine intended for early consumption, Dogliani DOCG opened up new horizons in terms of longevity and of the prestige of the vineyards.
DECLASSIFICATION TO LANGHE DOLCETTO
The case of Dogliani is quite unique, in that both the DOC and DOCG appellations were able to rise the top of the hierarchical classification system which all of Piedmont firmly believes in. This pyramidal system provides a series of safety nets for wines that, for one reason or another, are no longer eligible for a certain appellation or status. In such cases a wine can be downgraded to a lower classification that generally includes a broader production territory and less restrictive requirements. In our case, this meant that if the wine obtained from Dogliani DOCG vines did not satisfy the analytical criteria required by the appellation guidelines, it would not have been labelled as Dolcetto di Dogliani DOC, as might be expected, but would have been downgraded to the Langhe Dolcetto designation. This underlined the fact that Dolcetto di Dogliani DOC could not simply be interpreted as a wine of lesser importance made from inferior grapes leftover from the DOCG harvest, rather as different interpretation of the fruit altogether and legislatively placed at an equal level of dignity. The strictness of these guidelines was significant, considering that in countries with a longer history in producing fine wines the laws permit similar choices during the harvest. For instance, in crù classè areas, where it is possible to obtain the highest expression of the best-quality wines, it is also possible to obtain so-called secondary wines, depending on the vintage and on the decisions of the winemaker.
Naturally, with the new appellation came more limiting requirements related to the elements that most directly determined the difference between the two designations and the two wines: a reduced yield of grapes per hectare, a greater content of alcohol, and a larger amount of dry extracts, all elelments that tend to contribute in giving a wine a more significant structure and body.
Dogliani DOCG and Dolcetto di Dogliani DOC become a single appellation
The substantial change to the regulations was that of granting the DOCG designation to all the vineyards on the Dolcetto di Dogliani DOC register and, consequently, the joining of the two types of Dolcetto – Dogliani DOCG and Dolcetto di Dogliani DOC- under one single Dogliani DOCG appellation. Today, what was once labeled Dogliani DOCG is now Dogliani Superiore DOCG and what was once labeled Dolcetto di Dogliani DOC is now Dogliani DOCG.
This choice was the result of the producers’ five-year experience working with the DOCG and of the fact that both the DOCG and the DOC appellations are placed at the top of the hierarchical classification system, without the possibility of the first being declassified to the second. This choice, made in 2005, further underlined the fact that Dolcetto di Dogliani DOC could not be classified as a wine of lesser importance, but as a different expression of the wine which was being granted, by law, a status equal to that of the DOCG. It was therefore only natural that the two wines would be regulated by the same set of rules as soon as the time was ripe.
Even from the legislative standpoint, it was quite puzzling to have two different set of rules governing the same production zone and the same grapevine species.
The producers had also analysed the consumers’ reaction to the two set of rules, one of which had abolished the name of the grape variety in favour of the production zone while the other had kept it. They came to the realization that this attempt at clarifying things with two separate appellations had actually created more confusion amongst consumers and that the available promotional and communication tools were inadequate and insufficient to fix the problem. It was also clear that a territorial reference had much more of an impact on consumers’ memories than the name of the grape variety, especially with those who are unfamiliar with the Piedmont region. The choice of a unified Dogliani DOCG appellation was also consistent with the increasing awareness of the quality of the wines released on the market.
Unification of winegrowing records
The unification of the appellations led to the unification of the vinicultural records: the choice between the classic or the Superiore wine types was no longer dependent of whether one’s vineyards were registered as belonging to a specific appellation but depended on the superior quality of the grapes grown in accordance with the new parameters that had been outlined.
Currently, the Dogliani Superiore wine can be declassified to simply Dogliani, while the opposite is not possible.
THE INCLUSION OF THE LANGHE MONREGALESI AREA
Another major alteration is the extension of the Dogliani DOCG designation to cover the Dolcetto delle Langhe Monregalesi DOC area. The fusion of the production zones changed the altitude at which Dogliani DOCG vineyards can be grown to 800 meters. The Department of Agriculture itself has been encouraging the merging of appellations in order to prevent them from being excessively fragmented. The producers were also very much in favour of this legislative decision since the Doglianese and Monregalese areas have always been closely related in terms of grape varieties, soil type, and cultural and historical background.
A set of different requirements must be met depending on which type of wine is being made, such as minimum alcohol content, dry matter, and yield per hectare. Dogliani DOCG must reach 12% alcohol by volume, 21 g/l of dry extract, and 8000 kg of grapes per hectare, whereas, Dogliani Superiore requires 13% vol., 24 g/l dry extract, and 7000 kg per hectare. Furthermore, new vineyards cannot be planted on northern slopes that face directions ranging from -22,5° to + 22,5° and the planting density in these vineyards must be of at least 4000 plants per hectare.