Prosecco growers under fire in aftermath of tragic flash flood

refrontolo funeralIt was heartbreaking to follow the funeral procession of the four victims of the tragic flash flood that occurred last Saturday evening in the heart of Proseccoland.

Yesterday, a number of social media users from the area posted images in quasi-realtime.

Even before the four men were laid to rest, local activists and politicians began to sling accusations at grape growers.

“The soils have been rendered more fragile,” said Paolo Spagna, president of the Veneto Order of Geologists, in an interview published by La Tribuna di Treviso earlier this week, “by the intensive actions of man, who, in order to grow his coveted Prosecco, intervenes massively with excavations to build new vineyards. The danger for those who live in the area has become a certainty.”

Giuseppe Della Colletta, who owns and runs La Cappuccina/L’Agreste, a farm and popular farmhouse tavern in the village of Refrontolo where the tragedy occurred, was also interviewed in the same article.

“We know all the poor men who lost their lives,” he said. “Saturday evening, I would have gone to the [Croda] watermill [where the flash flood took place] with my children. We have always known that our land is fragile. If you look at a document [preserved] in our parish, dated 1756, you’ll find that it talks about our area and calls it Livina granda, the great landslide. I honestly believe that the vineyards have nothing to do with it… We started to farm here in 1924 and we know that working here is not easy. The ‘crust’ of our land becomes sand under the hot sun and it slips on the hard clay that lies beneath. We know what to do to stop it. All you have to do is to look at our vineyards. True landslides? I’ve seen plenty at the watermill but I’ve also seen them in the woods.”

(Translations mine.)

When he says that he has seen landslides in the woods as well, Della Colletta is referring to the claims that deforestation is what led to the tragedy.

My wife Tracie and I have eaten at L’Agreste. I’ve shaken Mr. Della Colletta’s hand.

I can tell you as a matter of fact that the people who live there are acutely aware of the dangers of hillside life.

The steep slopes, formed by ancient melting glaciers, are part of what makes Prosecco’s topography unique.

It’s true that Prosecco has been overcropped by aggressively business-minded growers. But that’s not where the problem lies.

As I wrote in my own post earlier this week, citing Corriere della Sera wine writer Luciano Ferraro, heavy migration toward urban centers has left Proseccoland a deeply depressed area, where vineyard owners continue to get rich while unemployment continues to grow.

Since the 1990s — for more than twenty years now — I’ve frequented Proseccoland and I’ve watched as Prosecco has become one of the most lucrative appellations in the world and the overwhelming majority of residents has grown poorer and poorer.

There is a sense on the ground that “big business” Prosecco is to blame for this. But there is also a greater awareness that local infrastructure and government services have virtually abandoned the locals. I can tell you this from my own personal experience and my many ties to the community there.

The bottomline is that everyone knew that the Croda watermill was a dangerous place to gather during such a rainy season. But municipal authorities did nothing to stop the event or make the area safe for such gatherings.

Italian readers, please see this subsequent editorial by Luciano Ferraro. And see also this coverage by Slow Food.

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