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Posted: Wednesday, 17 July 2019 10:32

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Australia losing Grip in Prosecco Tussle with Italy

July 17: Despite the Aussie Prosecco producers coming together with stronger voice to pressurize the government into keeping the Prosecco label, it is getting more improbable by the day, especially with Prosecco Hills accorded the UN Heritage site status recently, writes Subhash Arora who is sympathetic to their plight but feels they are fighting a losing battle and should hope for the name ‘Australian Prosecco’ especially as it is generally of better quality than Prosecco doc, the IGT wines of yesteryears sold before getting GI status in 2009

At the Heart of the problem is growing popularity of prosecco doc since earlier part of this century and declaration of all the Prosecco as GI product and changing the name of grape used from the popular name Prosecco to Glera in 2009. It might have been an open and shut case to ban them from calling it Prosecco, since Champagne, world’s most popular GI obliged them to do the same a few years ago. Except that many immigrants of Italian descent, especially the ones who grew up drinking and making the bubbly growing up in Italy before migrating, found the soil and climate in parts of Australia, especially King Valley suitable and started growing Prosecco grape in 1990s.

One cannot deny the fact that Prosecco is the same grape as Glera which had been earlier pushed into the background as Prosecco was getting more popular. This was made out to be the case by Australian producers when they opposed the recognition of Prosecco GI but nothing was said strongly enough about the process, the land, the soil, the climate, water and other variable required to make it in the Prosecco belt were different and unique-in fact, no one outside the designated GI Area could make the wine even in Italy.

UN Heritage Status for Prosecco Hills

The matter got even more complicated with the Prosecco Hills being granted the UN Heritage Status about a week ago with the inscription: Le Colline del Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene - Located in north-eastern Italy, the site includes part of the vine-growing landscape of the Prosecco wine production area. The landscape is characterized by ‘hogback’ hills, ciglioni – small plots of vines on narrow grassy terraces – forests, small villages and farmland. For centuries, this rugged terrain has been shaped and adapted by man. Since the 17th century, the use of ciglioni has created a particular chequerboard landscape consisting of rows of vines parallel and vertical to the slopes. In the 19th century, the bellussera technique of training the vines contributed to the aesthetic characteristics of the landscape.’ Italians are very excited and thrilled with the latest status and metaphorically speaking would be willing to give their life to protect this newly acquired heritage with the global impact.

It’s another matter that the Heritage status has been accorded only to the PROSECCO HILLS that adorn the region from Conegliano to Valdobbiadene with some of the most beautiful and steepest vineyards in the world. But these hills where Prosecco as we know it, has been produced since 1868 by Carpené  and Malvolti in Conegliano using Charmat method, are a very small portion of the total area. It was making Prosecco  DOC which has now been accorded the docg status. Since this region was clamouring for years yearning for docg status so rightly deserved, the producers and the government decided to make two different independent appellations-the older, classic Prosecco Hill was all upgraded to docg whereas the surrounding areas mostly on the planes were upgraded to doc and the boundary hugely extended. 

The explosion of sales due to popularity has been handled by this area- from about 150,000 bottles less than 2 decades ago, it has risen to over 500 million bottles last year while the classic area has gone up merely 20% from 70 million in 2006 to only 85 million bottles in Prosecco Hills, the classic area.

Ostensibly, the forces behind banning the nomenclature as Prosecco are the doc producers though those working on the hilly areas have more prime, expensive and unique land and cost of tilling is a lot more with lower yield. They are the ones who need more protection for their livelihoods. But those making doc wines in the plains and churning out mega numbers with dreams of a billion bottles  in foreseeable future have more clout and are perhaps taking up cudgels on behalf of the docg producers. Both the independent consortiums are also united in their efforts.

Australian Prosecco may be the answer

While reflecting on the current impasse delWine had recommended and in fact predicted that Australian Prosecco with a grandfather clause might be the only answer palatable to both sides.  EU have a business of $100 billion and neither side wants to jeopardize this. Also, in most cases EU has had a say in the matter including the complex case of Champagne as a GI where due to the Grandfather clause a few Napa producers making Champagne for decades were allowed to call it California Champagne.

When delWine conducted a quick informal surveys in India or even overseas, not one person knew or even believed that Prosecco was not from Italy (many now know it is made somewhere near Venice). When Australian Prosecco is served o them they happily drink it because it is fashionable drink. I have found Australian Prosecco to be generally of better quality than Prosecco DOC which can be a bulk industrial product of which millions of bottles are churned out every year.

Producers like Dal Zotto, Brown Brothers , De Bertoli and all the Italian descendants from Veneto would be happier to make Australian Prosecco in the long run.

Subhash Arora

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