Prosecco: hard graft

07 November, 2014

On the flat plains of the DOC, around 100-150 hours of work is all that is needed to produce the wine, where as in Conegliario, where the hills allow only semi-automation, the workload is more like 300-600 hours. 

In the vineyards that festoon the steep hills of Valdobiadenne – particularly the wine’s flagship Cartizze hills – we are almost talking right angles, so a vintage can take up to 1,000 hours. Everything is by hand.

The production regulations for the two appellations are clear. The DOC yields 180 tonnes per hectare on its 20,000ha land, and the older vines of the DOCG are limited to 120 tonnes per hectare from 6,000ha. But what is abundantly obvious to the producers working the vines – or to the visitor who sees the binary landscapes – is not so obvious to the consumer. For prosecco, perhaps more than any other wine, the consumer relationship is all important.  

“The most interesting aspect of prosecco’s success over the past few years is that it has been a consumer-led revolution rather than a category invented by the trade,” says Cristina Follador of the DOCG prosecco winery, Follador. 

“This is still an early phase in the history of prosecco. Over the next few years consumers will increasingly appreciate different quality segments in the prosecco market, but it is up to premium quality producers such as Follador to educate and inform both trade and consumers.” 

“There needs to be a long-term education programme involving PR/tastings/advertising but, most of all, international brand building by those producers who specialise in the DOCG sector. Consumers trust prestige brands to deliver quality and value regardless of the price,” says Follador.

It’s fair to say that much of the old guard of wine writers didn’t see the prosecco boom coming. Journalists seemed to be playing catch-up to prosecco – coverage was in reaction to the trend rather than ahead of it. Even at last year’s biennial International Sparkling Wine Symposium, many commentators and producers seemed to define quality sparkling exclusively by the cool-climate style – a blueprint laid down by the champenoise.  

But for prosecco to take its next step – building the reputation and value of its DOCG wines – the trade’s understanding and communication will be all-important. 

It starts with the DOCG’s consortium, which has a limited budget but concentrates its resources to a handful of the DOCG’s 80 export markets, namely Germany, Switzerland, the UK and the US. Increasingly China and Canada also take up a share of its time. At present only 43% of the region’s DOCG wines sell abroad.

In Italy, the two grades of prosecco are much better understood. While the word ‘superiore’ is often used to underline DOCG superior status on exports, Italians can also get their tongues and heads around Conegliano Valdobbiadene. For many producers of international products, there is an eagerness to spread distribution to mitigate dependency, but the feeling among the DOCG consortium is that the 43/57 split is about right. “A wine is only great if is appreciated in its own country,” says Vettorello. 


Joe Bates

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