Italian Wine Families’ Big Brother


Today, across wine regions of Europe, wine families are under the crushing weight of over-regulation. Big Brother is an unwanted participant in the wine industry, particularly in Italy.

Unlike large wineries that can afford the high cost of labor and hire dedicated administrative staff, small to medium size family-owned wineries struggle to tend to their vineyards, make wine and comply with the albatross of regulations from the European Union and Italy bureaucracy. Oh, did I mention trying also to raise a family and have a life?

A list of Italian wine industry regulatory bodies that can at a moment’s notice conduct snap inspections on the wineries include:

  • CCIAA Camera di Commercio (Chamber of commerce)
  • Provincia Ufficio Ispettorato Agrario (Provincial office of agricultural inspection)
  • Regione Assessorato Agricoltura (Regional department of agriculture)
  • Valoritalia – Ente Certificatore (DOC, DOCG, IGA, etc)
  • ASL (Unità Sanitaria Locale) (Local health department)
  • NAS (Nuclea anti-Sofisticazioni dei Carabinieri) (Anti-adulturation police)
  • ICQRF (Ufficio Repressione Frodi) (Fraud office)
  • Dognana (Customs)
  • Corpo Forestale dello Stato (State forestry department)
  • Guardia di Finanza (think IRS!)
  • Agenzia delle Entrate (Inland revenue – again, think IRS!)

It doesn’t matter if regulators arrive in the midst of time-critical work in the vineyards or cellars.  Nothing takes priority over the controllers. Although like Mother Nature the government requires immediate attention, the latter can be quite unreasonable if its needs are not met.

Labor is extremely expensive in Italy.  Family owned  wineries and restaurants have been forced to reduce staff. Volunteer labor – once part of the cultural beauty of the Italian harvest – is strictly forbidden. If you happen to be in Piemonte during the harvest and  see helicopters flying overhead, it’s not National Geographic taking photos, but the government’s labor controllers. They compare the work sheets of farmers with aerial photos. If the numbers in the latter are greater than the numbers reported, crushing fines are imposed on the farmers. The result? Wine family members must be able to attend to all demands of the winery both internally and externally. And I haven’t even mentioned the market demands they must tend to in order to sell their wines.

I have to wonder how an industry that has been around since before the Romans could survive without governmental regulations. But it did. With no sign of a halt to the expansion of European Union and Italian government regulations, let’s hope the industry – particularly the artisanal family wineries – can survive the suffocating weight of bureaucracy.

Note: For an interesting discussion on the history of wine regulation in Europe, read “On the History and Political Economy of Wine Regulations in Europe” by Giulia Meloni and Johan F.M. Swinnen