safeguarding prosecco

In an article in the Business Section of the New York Times late last year, Amy Cortese highlighted efforts of producers of Prosecco in the Treviso hills in the Veneto region in northeastern Italy to protect the geographic integrity of the Prosecco name from incursions by foreign producers of bubbly wines produced from the Prosecco grape. Because Prosecco is the name of a grape, like Barbera, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, anyone regardless of location can use the name “Prosecco” if the wine is sourced from Prosecco grapes.

Prosecco comes in both a Spumante (fully sparkling) and frizzante (slightly sparkling) style and can range from brut (dry) to extra dry (which counter-intuitively means a little bit sweet). Regardless of style, Prosecco is a lively, pleasing, food-friendly, always affordable sparking wine that in its native Veneto habitat is an essential ingredient at nearly every wedding and birthday celebration and no luncheon in the Veneto would be complete without a Prosecco aperitivo. It’s just simply fun to drink.

Although Prosecco is an approachable and inexpensive bubbly, its producers in the Veneto have always taken it seriously and it has gained international acceptance and recognition. This is especially true for producers in the Conegliano - Valdobbiadene (co nehl yah’ no - vahl doh bee ah’ di nay) zone, Prosecco’s traditional home where the cool, temperate climate has proved to be an ideal site for the Prosecco grape. The Cartizze hills outside the commune of Valdobbiadene are generally cited as the source of Italy’s best Prosecco.

A host of producers elsewhere in Italy and from as far away as Australia have been trying to cash in on the sparkling wine’s popularity and marketing their own bubbly under the Prosecco name. One such imitation that has caused an uproar among traditional Prosecco producers is by an Austrian company that is marketing Prosecco in cans, calling it Rich Prosecco and using Paris Hilton to promote the wine. Other threats to Prosecco’s integrity come from vineyards planted with Prosecco in Brazil as well as in Romania, Australia, China and India. Making it even more confusing is that there are wines from Germany labeled “Secco” and “Rosecco” that are clearly trading off the Prosecco name.

The Italian Prosecco producers are concerned that these “counterfeit” Prosecco offerings will ruin Prosecco’s famous image and reputation. Ideally, they would like to give Prosecco a territorial identity by creating an official Prosecco production zone in Prosecco’s traditional home in the Conegliano – Valdobbiadene zone and surrounding area of northern Italy. If successful, only wines from this designated area could legally be called “Prosecco.”

The problem confronting Prosecco producers in northern Italy is not unlike the problems encountered in the past by traditional Champagne producers in France. For years they have waged a fight to safeguard the “Champagne” name by recognizing the Champagne region of France as the only source of wine that can carry the Champagne label. The same could said to be true for other wines with place names like Chianti Classico and Barolo.

The northern Italian Prosecco producers have submitted a plan to the Italian government for creating a special Prosecco production zone in Prosecco’s traditional habitat in northern Italy. If approved, Prosecco would then be eligible for “protected designation of origin” status that would apply to all European Union countries. That however would not be the end of the road since this designation is not binding for non-European Union countries such as the U.S. or Australia so that individual agreements would then have to be structured with non-European Union countries as well.

It’s hard to believe that the producers of this bubbly and light-hearted beverage need protection but they apparently do - the barbarians are at the gate.  Here’s hoping they’re successful in their initiatives to protect the image and quality of their product.         


Richard Marcis
January 29, 2009

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