Between April and September I taught a course on Italian wine, a general review on this Country’s regions, grapes and styles. Each lesson very interesting and unexpected questions came up from the students.
Two of the most engaging were about the state of Pinot Noir in Italy. More specifically I was asked: what are the most employed clones of Pinot Noir in Italy? And how much widespread is whole bunch fermentation for this grape?
That lesson we were having a Nals Margreid Pinot Noir from the Mazzon vineyard, in Alto Adige, but I was really caught off guard.
Let’s start saying that Pinot Noir is not a very big player in the italian wine landscape: around 5,000 hectares over 700,000 ha total surface under vine (to be precise the last 2010 ISTAT census states 5,046 ha), much less than France (31,000 ha), USA (21,000 ha) and Germany (11,800 ha).
In Italy this variety can make interesting still wines, but it is especially employed in the production of sparklers. The bulk of its production comes from the scarcely known (at least outside Italy) Oltrepò Pavese, although high quality examples can be found in Alto Adige as well. Anyway it is allowed in almost any region. However I have never heard much about Pinot Noir in Italy: Italians prefer talking about their native grapes and rightly so, since there are so many.
I don’t think there is any official statistic about clones and even the producers generally do not specify them.
After long researches the only thing that I could find is this catalog compiled for the “National congress of Pinot Noir”. Here most of the technical sheets list the clone employed. What I understand glancing at the document is that Burgundian clones (115, 114, 777) seem to be the most recurring, thus I suppose also the most widespread in Italy. There are some Italian clones employed (SMA 201, 5V17), but they are quite rare. However it must be also noted that these are not official data, I just parsed the most recurring clones listed for each entry and the various producing regions may not even been adequately represented. Who knows. Josef Seebacher of Nals Margreid kindly answered to my mail stating that the Mazzon contains Pinot Noir clones 777 and 165, again Burgundian.
Whole bunch fermentation
Similarly, whole bunch vs destemmed grapes fermentation is a widely ignored issue in Italy. No data here for Pinot Noir, except for the Nals Margreid Pinot Noir Mazzon, which is totally destemmed.
Interestingly a recent issue of Civiltà del Bere has an article (“Ritorniamo ai raspi?”, Should we go back to stalks?) treating exactly this subject. No statistics are cited, but the author explains the philosophy behind whole bunch fermentation and reports a tasting event dedicated to whole bunch fermented wine. No wine involved was made from Pinot Noir, but at least it testifies a very mild interest toward the topic.
What could be the reason for this general indifference? My guess is that the grape varieties more suited to this process (those with a gentler tannic character, in Italy they could be Pinot Nero itself, Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Piedirosso, Malvasia Nera, Schiava and I am not sure about others) are still too much of a niche market to justify the cost of experimenting with stalks on a large scale. You may find single producers willing to do this, but if you like this kind of wines for now you should look somewhere else.