by Roderick Conway Morris

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Italian Growers to Plant in China and India

By Roderick Conway Morris
VICENZA, Italy 30 July 1996
Zonin vineyards at Gambellara near Vicenza in the Veneto



Nestling unobtrusively among neat terraces of vines in the foothills just west of this attractive town in northeastern Italy, Gambellara has a deceptively sleepy air. From outside, the central winery buildings look much like many others in this part of the world.

This is, however, the headquarters of Zonin, the largest privately owned wine producers in Italy. Last year the company, which is run by the four Zonin brothers and headed by the eldest, Gianni, with the help of his brother-in-law, Franco Zuffellato, had sales of more than 1 billion lire ($655,000). The brothers now cultivate nearly 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) of their own vines, not only in their native Veneto region, but also in the country's top quality, wine-yielding areas: Friuli, Piedmont, Oltrepï Pavese and Tuscany.Including grapes provided by other growers, they produce nearly 40 million bottles a year.

Twenty years ago Gianni Zonin also set upa winery in Virginia, which now produces 300,000 bottles annually of its dozen Barboursville label vintages. Having successfully exported wines bottled in Italy to Asia and Australia for a number of years, Mr. Zonin is poised to start making wines in joint ventures in India and China.

'At present we export to 42 countries, which accounts for about 35 percent of our sales,' said Mr. Zuffellato, who had just returned from a trip to India and China. 'Around 20 percent of our exports go to Asia, but this is rising rapidly. There's great interest in Italian-Mediterranean food there now, and so a new demand for the wines to accompany it.

'Another factor is that many more people from countries like Japan, Korea, Malaysia and Singapore are traveling and developing a taste for 'Western-style' products.'

In India, Mr. Zonin said, the two main regions the company is investigating are in Uttar Pradesh in the north and near Poona, east of Bombay. It is also considering Bangalore, although climatic problems there and the phenomenon of two grape harvests a year are difficult for a European winemaker to come to grips with, he said.

'As a viticulturalist, I am tending toward starting the experiment in the foothills of the Himalayas in Uttar Pradesh,' he said. 'Our plan would be to begin production as quickly as possible using local grapes, because they have already been acclimatized, but immediately begin a program to research the possibilities of introducing Italian and other European varieties.' Zonin's projected partner in this joint venture is Narang Industries Ltd., which has extensive experience in making and distributing alcoholic drinks.

'The wine-growing situation in China,' said Mr. Zuffellato, 'is much more advanced, since in the earlier years of this century the Germans not only introduced the brewing of beer, but also the making of Riesling-type wines.

'There are already significant wine joint ventures such as Dynasty, Great Wall and Dragon Seal in the Shandong peninsula area, and we are interested in this region, too. However, the most important consideration for us is to locate the geographical zones that have the potential to grow grapes capable of producing really first-rate wines.'

One of Zonin's principal advantages is that with a healthy balance sheet and a staff of some 500 employees, it has the resources to spend a great deal of time and money on research, Mr. Zonin explained. The company also produces wine on a wide range of terrain,growing more than 30 grape varieties and making 126 wines.

The company has clearly been spurred to make wine in Asia by the changes in drinking habits there. 'Everywhere the consumption of strong liquor declines in countries that do not produce wine, the demand for wine goes up,' Mr. Zuffellato said. 'But who could have predicted in the 1970s and '80s that by now Japan would be consuming such large quantities of wine? Both India and China have enormous populations, and though most people cannot presently afford to drink wine, quite a number can,which means that for us even small, specialized enterprises could produce very good returns there.'

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2023