Tragedy in Prosecco: flash floods senselessly claim four lives

vineyard tractor italy proseccoAbove: a view from a Proseccoland tractor by my client, Prosecco grower and winemaker Luca Ferraro.

On Saturday night, four men lost their lives in the village of Refrontolo in the heart of Proseccoland.

While celebrating the “festa degli omeni” (“men’s fest”), an annual festival and dinner held at the picturesque Croda watermill, a group of roughly 100 persons was taken by surprise by a flash flood.

By all accounts in mainstream and virtual media, the festival had not been authorized by local officials and the site was known to be susceptible to flash flooding.

“We’ll remember July as the most rainy month of the year [2014],” wrote my client and Prosecco grower and winemaker Luca Ferraro in an email this morning. “It appears that 370 mm of rain fell [over the course of the month], with continuous rains that were interrupted by forty-eight hour intervals at the most.”

There were a number of flash floods in the area and in some cases, entire vineyards of Glera grapes (destined to become Prosecco) were washed away.

I wrote about the tragedy for Luca’s blog here.

The tragedy resonates deeply within me, in part because it happened in the part of Italy that I call “home.” I’m not Italian, of course, but I spent three summers playing music in pubs and beer halls in the area back in the 1990s when I was a graduate student at the University of Padua.

The flash-flood area spanned a stretch of vineyard-land marked by the townships of Refrontolo and Cison di Valmarino (Treviso province), where we held a reunion concert with my bandmates in April 2013. I have many friends there and many ties to the community (see the map on my post for Luca’s blog here).

One of the men who died was forty-eight years old and had just started a family. I didn’t know him but as a forty-seven-year-old father of a toddler and a one-year-old, my heart sank when I read his bio in the online edition of one of Treviso’s local papers.

Some have laid blame with Prosecco growers: deforestation and expansion of vineyard sites, they say, have made the area more prone to flash floods and mudslides.

But the fact of the matter is that this area is so depressed that its infrastructure has been virtually abandoned.

Yesterday on his blog, one of Italy’s most esteemed wine writers, Maurizio Gily, posted an op-ed in which he refutes the notion that vineyard expansion is to blame. The bottom line, he writes, is that the authorities should have banned events at the site. The rain has been intense over the last four weeks (as per Luca’s note above) and there had already been episodes of flooding at the watermill.

And on Saturday, Corriere della Sera wine writer Luciano Ferraro (no relation to Luca) posits that Italians’ migration to urban centers has left areas like Proseccoland with fewer resources to safeguard their hillside villages (you can read my excerpted translation of his piece here).

When I toured in the area with my cover band back in the 1990s, there were literally scores of pubs and beer halls for us to play. Today, they are nearly all gone (one of my favorites has become a strip club and another a brothel). The vibrant youth culture that I knew has vanished.

The news of the catastrophe really hits home for me (that’s a photo of me and Tracie at the Croda watermill in February 2011, about a month before she became pregnant with our first daughter Georgia).

Thanks for reading and for sharing my grief.

molinetto di croda refrontolo

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