The traditional area where Prosecco is comprised is a group of hills north of Venice rising between the small towns of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano that back up to the Alps. It’s a beautiful rural area, a great place to ride bikes should anyone have the desire to exercise when they could be drinking wine.
Glera is the grape variety that reigns here, and it produces a type of fragrant bubbly that the world loves. As in Champagne, many small growers sell grapes to the larger wine producers. But, unlike Champagne, most of the sparkling wine here is made in tanks rather than fermented in the bottle, and it can vary according to levels of sweetness or dryness and the intensity of its bubbles.
Prosecco underwent many changes a dozen years ago when Italian authorities were horrified that Americans or Australian wineries might start making their own bubblies from the Prosecco grape – as Glera was popularly called – and call it Prosecco, even if it wasn’t from Italy. So they decided to call a huge region Prosecco DOC and expanded it down from the hills and into the plains.
Some of the premium producers were not happy. And, starting with the 2017 vintage, one of them, Col Vetoraz, decided to quit using the name “Prosecco” on its front label and is now telling everyone so. The winemaker there, Loris Dall’Acqua, an amiable man with a lightly graying brush cut and crinkly eyes, discussed this with us from Col Vetoraz’s headquarters in Valdobbiane with export manager Laura Stocco providing the translation. The conversation has been somewhat condensed.
“What made Col Vetoraz abandon the universally known Prosecco name in favor of calling your wine Valdobbiadene DOCG?” I ask? Dall’Acqua gives a rather long answer, which Stocco considerably shortens in translation. “Glera grapes have been grown in the Valdobbiadene region for 800 years, but in 2009 they extended the Prosecco region to include the flatlands, which do not make as good wine. Some of those areas had not traditionally even grown Glera. We wanted to maintain the roots and traditions.”
“Why didn’t you change it at the time? Why did you wait until now?” “When they announced the change in 2009, we thought there would be a new term, but calling it ‘Prosecco Superiore’ was not enough of a change.”
“But didn’t people think you were crazy to abandon a well-known name such as Prosecco for one that is not known and hard to pronounce and spell, like Valdobbiadene?” He raises his eyebrows and shrugs. “There are two different poles among consumers,” Dall’Acqua says. “People who already know us will focus on that and not the name on the label. For the ones who don’t know us, it will be part of marketing to educate them and explain why we are doing it. We will go slow at first.” Stocco doesn’t flinch, so she must already know the enormous task she faces.
He explains, however, that in 2017 American importers and distributors were not quite ready to make the change, “So although we took Prosecco off the front label, it remains for a while on the back label.” [The major U.S. importer is Regal Wine in New Jersey.]
Dall’Acqua also explains that he will not have to change any procedures in how the wine is made or grapes sourced since all of his fruit comes from the traditional area. This also gives him a chance to talk about sourcing. “We have some small vineyards, but most of the grapes come from small growers in the hilly areas. There are 72 of them we have selected, and we have worked with most of them for 25 years or so. We do four meetings a year, and they are happy to maintain our philosophy of production.”
“Are any of the other growers in the Consorzio in agreement with what you are doing at Col Vetoraz,” I ask? “Some are,” he says, “but others are making wines from both the new and old areas. And we are having an election shortly.” “To vote on a name change?” I ask. “No, just on who the leadership will be. That may allow us to make some changes.”
“A final question – and I think I may already know the answer,” I say, “Are you going to produce a Prosecco rosé at Col Vetoraz?” He starts to answer, but Stocco interrupts him. He has not heard the question correctly, so she explains it further. Dall’Acqua laughs, the first time he has broken his stoicism during the conversation.
“No,” he says, “absolutely not!”
Well, not technically. Col Vetoraz does produce what is officially called its “Dodici Line” Brut Rosa. After all, it is all about the name.