As I said in a previous post, from a pragmatic point of view I admire the move of Prosecco producers to change the name of their grape to Glera, thus making “Prosecco” a protected term. Just don’t try to sell me the story that the name comes from the town of Prosecco: it was a commercial move and the town is just an excuse. It’s ok, it was a very smart idea, you were lucky and I give you credit. Just, let’s be honest.
I thought that this would be the furthest a community could go to protect the name of a popular grape, but boy I was wrong.
What’s happening on the other side of Italy? Sicily has approved the cultivation of Primitivo on the island. The variety can now be used for IGT and DOC wines. Puglia is not happy with this decision: through the Apulian senator Dario Stefàno the region defined this “an abuse, an unbearable mystification which insults the autochtony, the production history and the tradition of an entire territory”. In short, Apulian producers are afraid that “Sicilia DOC Primitivo” or “Terre Siciliane IGT Primitivo” wines may starting to spring up in the near future, capitalizing on the name of the grape which was popularized in late years primarily by Puglia (particularly with Puglia IGP, Salento IGP, Primitivo di Manduria DOC and Gioia del Colle Primitivo DOC).
Other associations from the region are backing the plea: a conjunct declaration signed by a number of Consortia and organizations (the complete list in the article I linked) has felt the need to highlight that “Primitivo is an Apulian vine, coherent expression of our territory and our vitivinicultural traditions”. By all means a “cease and desist” injunction.
If the government will agree to the request, Sicilian producers may be able to use and bottle Primitivo, but not to label their wines as such. Since Teresa Bellanova, minister of Agriculture, has been quoted saying “I will never allow a bottle of Sicilian DOP or IGP use the word Primitivo” it is likely that Puglia will have its own way. That is, if Sicily decides not to fight back.
As much as I love Puglia (my family roots are there), this is really ridiculous. I understand limitations when the name of a grape historically has a confusing monicker like Nero d’Avola (which is not even the official name, the grape is registered as Calabrese in the Italian registry) or Montepulciano (1). But Primitivo?
This looks even goofier if you think “Primitivo” can already appear in wines outside Puglia, most notably Falerno del Massico Primitivo. Anyway the name is allowed in DOPs and IGPs from Basilicata, Campania, Abruzzo, Umbria, Lazio e Sardegna. It is not even a native grape, coming from Croatia, where it is known by a couple of names that -uh- include many many consonants (Crljenak Kaštelanski and Tribidrag. Yes, I had to google it, I admit it).
I have never heard of Spain wanting to prevent anyone using Garnacha or Tempranillo for their wines, or Germany making a fuss about Riesling. Why this sort of things happens so often with Italy? (2)
Pictured above, an IGP Puglia bearing “Zinfandel” on the label. There exist others, from Poggio Le Volpi for example. I know that these wines are only seen on export markets, but there are more than you think. Try to search “Puglia Zinfandel” on Google, you may be surprised.
The name is there for commercial reasons: in some markets “Zinfandel” has more chances to be recognized than “Primitivo”. Have you ever heard Californian winemakers complaining? I didn’t.
Soooo I suppose it is ok to play with words when it means building on Zinfandel reputation, but very very bad when someone has the chance (just the chance, for now) to do the same with Primitivo. Got it. That’s why it is ridiculous.
Thinking of it, I would really like to see someone in Sicily making a varietal Primitivo and calling it “Sicilia DOC Zinfandel”. Oh man, that would be fun.
I feel we are going too far for the sake of commercial protection. To step up to the next level, Puglia should focus on what make itself unique, its terroir. Anathemas are not the way to go. Grapes have always travelled and always will, their names are public domain and so they should stay. No one invented “Primitivo” as a brand, it’s not a trademark, no more than Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir.
No one can prevent Sicily of using “Primitivo”, like no one can prevent anyone from putting “Sangiovese”, “Merlot” or “Glera” on their label when the varietal requirements are met.
Forbidding it would be the abuse, not the opposite.
(1) “Montepulciano” on a label can be used only for Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG (since it’s the name of the town), Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG. Other appellations are not allowed to use the term, even if the wine is 100% Montepulciano.
(2) There’s also the case of Pignoletto/Grechetto di Todi/Grechetto Gentile, but even on a local scale this one is so irrelevant that no one cares.