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Small Wonder

From a New World perspective, a recent commercial analysis of Italy's wine industry makes interesting reading. Italy, the world's largest wine producer, is also proudly home to the greatest collection of little producers. Small, in the case of Italian wine, really is beautiful.

Compared with Australia or New Zealand, where two or three multinationals control the bulk of wine production, there is no Italian producer that could be ranked as large on a French, German or even Canadian scale. They're small, family-owned companies for whom winemaking is a calling rather than an economic facility, and they are responding quickly to the challenges of global warming and environmental stress.

With 50,000 wine producers, organising of the Italian wine industry has been compared to herding cats, but the transformation of Italy's international wine reputation over the past 30 years has been a miracle equivalent to New Zealand's emergence as a premium wine producer. Once the home of dysfunctional commerce and poor winemaking practice, Italy has become a source of reliable beverage wine and the home of some of the world's greatest wine labels, at least a match for their vaunted French neighbours.

The Marche-based company of Umani Ronchi is the epitome of modern Italian winemaking. Established as a producer of cheap and cheerful Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Rosso Conero, this family-owned company has steadily increased its quality to the point where it has become the standard by which both these wines are now judged in most countries. More than that, though, they have enhanced both with a character that raises them well above the standard run of low-priced reds.

Umani Ronchi has also revived some of the old varieties and winegrowing practices that gave the Marche region its original reputation as a wine centre. Not least of these is lacrima, a rare and fabulous variety that produces Lacrima di Morro d'Alba, a wine of such sensual individuality that it's beyond compare.

Umani Ronchi has decided to upscale its environmentally sensitive practices and make the label one of the largest organic wine producers in the world. Good news for those who don't want to compromise quality in their search for Earth-friendly wine.