Was the Prosecco DOCG a mistake? Brit retailers fear Prosecco will follow Cava path

luca ferraro prosecco bele casel

Above: My friend and client Luca Ferraro (left, with Montello and Colli Asolani consortium president Franco Dalla Rosa) was indoctrinated last week into the brotherhood of Montello and Colli Asolani wines. Watching the video of the ceremony and admiring its solemnity and ritualistic grab, I couldn’t help but be moved by these hillside growers’ passion for their wines and traditions. Here’s a link for the video on his blog.

“Seventy million bottles are made in the [Prosecco] DOCG each year, compared with around 230 million in the DOC region,” wrote Rosie Davenport last week in offlicense news, a wine trade publication that covers the wine and spirits retail industry in Britain.

“With such vast differences in production between the DOC and DOCG tiers, it’s easy to see why the UK and other markets have been flooded with products of varying quality. And despite its staggering success, there are concerns that poorly made, volume-grabbing wines, coupled with the kind of kamikaze pricing that drove cava’s reputation to the bargain basement, could put the brakes on a category currently proving it can outpace much of the competition on shelf.”

My friend and client Luca Ferraro (above) brought the article to my attention this morning. Luca, who makes Prosecco in Asolo, is one of the many small-production hillside growers who produce premium bottles of Prosecco. Over the last four years, he — like his counterparts in Valdobbiadene and Conegliano, have watched growers in the flatlands of the Piave river plains expand their Prosecco production to record levels.

When the Prosecco DOCG was created in 2009, it was intended to protect growers and bottlers in the historic hillside growing areas. With their steep slopes, maritime ventilation, and Morainic subsoils, they deliver the highest quality Prosecco. The rationale — and I remember distinctly discussing this with a top grower in 2009 — was that the DOCG would help the consumer to distinguish the best products from the mediocre wines grown in the flatlands where farm crops were once grown and have now all but disappeared.

But anecdotally (as evidenced by the interviews with leading British retailers), it seems that consumers are being drawn to the lower-priced labels they find in the super market, more often than not produced outside the DOCG and also labeled as Prosecco thanks to the sweeping DOC created when the DOCG went into effect (the DOC, btw, also allows Friulian growers to label their wine as Prosecco).

On my recent visit to Valdobbiadene, I spoke with one of the appellation’s top growers about this very issue. And he literally hung his head and said that the situation is dismal.

The Prosecco DOCG consortium hasn’t done much to help the situation either. When I met earlier this year in Houston with consortium president Giancarlo Vettorello, I asked him to describe the association’s mission. When he answered that its mission was to disseminate information about the higher quality of the DOCG, I then asked him what English-language media the consortium planned to use to achieve its mission. He said that none were currently in place.

As we head into the holiday season, when sparkling wine sales see their biggest numbers, fine wine retailers on both sides of the Atlantic will surely be watching the pricing and availability of Prosecco DOC wine at super market chains.

Was the Prosecco DOCG a mistake?

7 Responses to Was the Prosecco DOCG a mistake? Brit retailers fear Prosecco will follow Cava path

  1. Matt Paul says:

    Unfortunately the answer is YES as the consumer does not know, or care much for, the difference between DOC and DOCG Prosecco. Many of my customers have gone from DOCG Prosecco to DOC Prosecco because they can charge the same price and make more money and, at a retail level, the prices are dropping rapidly as the supermarkets get in on the action.
    The Italian way of differentiating between the two is completely naive – “this is better because its DOCG” doesn’t work in markets where DOC/G is not well understood.
    We’ve just landed Ca’ dei Zago and are out there trying to explain a completely different side to Prosecco but that really is the pointy end of the market.

  2. Dear Jeremy,
    We probably had some misunderstandings during our meeting in Houston. The Consorzio has promoted several activities in the English speaking markets. Last year it started an ad plan in the main English speaking magazines, Wine Spectator and Decanter. The Consorzio has been covering American and the British markets directly through events addressed to trade and press as Italian Wine Masters or Vino in Villa Us and Vino in Villa UK. Our meeting in Houston was in fact in occasion of one of these events. In addition to these, the Consorzio promotes also events for the public. Last week Consorzio di Tutela Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, took part at LuxeHome Chill in Chicago. In order to promote/increase the sales at Xmas, our wines will be presented during several tastings scheduled in New York at the Eataly store and in several other places in the city in occasion of the Move the Passion event.
    During the year the Consorzio organizes trips for the English speaking specialized press with the aim of increasing the knowledge of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Docg. Moreover, we are developing the online project of the Wine Academy, a virtual school dedicated to the knowledge of our wine, that through videos both in Italian and in English, introduces our denomination. These videos are promoted in our website, in the social media and in 2014 there will be a further development of these new channels.
    We don’t think the Docg has been a mistake, but on the contrary, an essential choice in order to let the Prosecco world be regulated with the creation of a doc which defines the borders and protect it. Certainly the challenge of communicating the name of the territory, Conegliano Valdobbiadene and the distinctive elements of this wine in a global market is really hard. Our product has a superior cost because our territory is difficult, the yield is lower and the regulation stricter. The exports growth of the Docg and an even deeper knowledge by foreign markets let us understand that the path, despite being upward, is right and the only possible.
    Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Docg

  3. Do Bianchi says:

    Giancarlo (and I’m assuming that this is Giancarlo speaking here since it’s not entirely clear), thanks for being here and sharing your insights. Do Bianchi is a place for dialog and it means a lot to me that you’ve taken the time to read the post and share your thoughts here.

    I have to say that as Matt points out, what most of us are seeing “on the ground” in English-speaking countries is that end consumers don’t make any distinction between the DOCG and the DOC. In fact, they’re only confused by it and they wonder why they have to pay more for one Prosecco at the fine wine shop when another Prosecco costs so much less at the supermarket.

    But that’s just anecdotal experience, for what it’s worth.

    I do remember that when you organized the event in Houston, no one from your PR firm reached out to me despite the fact that I write about wine for the Houston Press, among many other publications. I was very surprised by that. In the end, I learned about the tasting from a colleague and had to contact your PR firm (based in Dallas, I believe) to receive an invite. In the end, I was the only writer in attendance (at least as far I could gauge).

    I believe there’s a disconnect between the marketing forces generated in Italy and the reality of what’s happening here in English-speaking markets. And I wouldn’t be surprised if some of your colleagues didn’t agree with that observation.

    That’s why I thought the offlicense piece was so important: it reflects what’s really happening.

    Having said that, thank you again for being her and sharing your thoughts. It’s always great to see you here.

  4. Reka Haros says:

    I totally agree with your article, me being a small producer from the lowlands of Treviso we are also suffering from this situation. I have expressed my point of view in my article here: http://sfrisowinery.com/en/prosecco-what-a-mess/. There is no doubt there is a difference in all levels between Prosecco from the hills and Prosecco from the lowlands, there is no doubt that my Prosecco from the lowlands (DOC Treviso) is different from that produced in Trieste, and most importantly there is no doubt that the CONSUMER doesn’t know and is not whatsoever aware about the territory differences. Consumers not necessary care at first, all they see as a first impression is the difference in price. Prosecco brands are “new” to consumers and they don’t know how to chose among the endless brand names.
    I do believe it was a must to protect Prosecco as, but I also do believe that it was a mistake to make the DOC area so vast. As a consequence there is huge devaluation of it, and producers are all suffering from it, specially the small wineries.
    Having said that, I am also sure the Consortiums are doing their jobs, but in th end the consumer is still left in total darkness and is not instructed at all on the matter. The importer/distributer doesn’t want to and has no means to educate consumers and it’s not their jobs, not all consumers read blogs or buy specialized magazines to learn about wine, so maybe there should be more effort in that sence.
    We planted our Prosecco field 10 years ago, so way before the 2009 switch, and for sure we are considering not bottling any next year, it’s not worth it for us, we prefer to leave the nasty price battle to the others. I beieve this is a natural consequence, it is simply not worth it anymore. My consumers prefer to buy my other sparkling wines because they cannot find them in supermarkets, while prosecco they find anywhere if they want to (at a much lower price). It’s not a matter or not being good enough at sales, it’s a question of a semi-destroyed market where consumers have been tought to look only at the price and at quality.
    Cheers!
    Reka

  5. Silvia says:

    The mistake wasn’t the DOCG… the huge mistake was the DOC!

  6. I agree, the mistake wasn’t DOCG, rather the huge amount of cheap DOC which is available. I’m a new importer, new to the wine industry and to DOCG Prosecco. (I work with 2 small DOCG Prosecco producers). The difference between the DOCG Prosecco I sell (which I’d never tried until this year or was aware of) and the DOC I have tried up until now is far far superior. I am doing my bit as part of my marketing campaigns in educating consumers about the existence and difference between DOCG and DOC Prosecco. A lot don’t know or aware that DOCG even exists.

  7. […] and fellow Italian wine lover Jeremy Parzen at Do Bianchi recently blogged “Was the Prosecco DOCG a mistake?”, raising concerns shared by many […]

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