A chat with Matteo Lunelli, the once & future king of Italian bubbly

Angelinos, I’ll be pouring Bele Casel Prosecco Colfòndo at DomaineLA tonight from 6-8. Click here for details and please come out and taste with me if you’re in town.

matteo lunelli ferrari new yorkOne of the great things about working as an Italian wine blogger in Houston is that, more and more, the top names in the business are coming to this southeast Texas metropolis to see what all the wine buzz is about.

When a New York-based publicist reached out to me a few weeks ago to let me know that the self-proclaimed once-and-future king of Italian bubbly, Matteo Lunelli (above), would be coming to Texas, I jumped at the chance for a tête-à-tête meeting.

A former Goldman Sachs banker and now director of Ferrari, his family’s winery and one of Italy’s leading producers of classic-method sparkling wine, Lunelli made big news in April when he announced that he had acquired a 50 percent stake in Bisol, the historic Prosecco house and one of the appellation’s top names.

“I want to become the sparkling king,” he said in an interview with the Italian national daily La Repubblica at the time.

In person, Matteo was easygoing and down-to-earth. And even though he was in town to promote Ferrari, I was keen to ask him about his thoughts on the problematic Prosecco DOCG, which was created in 2009.

You may remember that earlier this year, I translated an excerpt of an interview with Matteo that appeared on an Italian-language wine blog.

“Unfortunately,” said Matteo in the post, “the uniqueness of the Prosecco DOCG has gone unrecognized and there are just a few brands that consumers identify with it and that they ask for by name. When Prosecco is perceived as a generic wine — ‘unbranded’ as they say in English — it focuses the competition solely on price. As a result, the value of the product is put at risk. We must work to build awareness of the Prosecco DOCG.”

He was referring to a mounting issue faced by Prosecco producers today, big and small. Whether in Great Britain, the U.S., or Australia, English-speaking consumers generally don’t differentiate between the Prosecco entry-tier DOC and the higher quality DOCG.

“They’re just going to buy the cheapest Prosecco,” conceded Matteo in our chat yesterday in the bar at Tony’s.

“We need to increase the awareness of the diversity of Italian sparkling wine,” he said. “I’m not against the [Prosecco] DOCG. But we need promote an understanding of the differences among U.S. wine lovers. There is space in the market for both [categories].”

I really liked Matteo and his fresh and honest approach to the challenges faced by Italian sparkling wine producers today.

In a world were pride and often arrogance can trump good business sense, his earnest voice is informed by a greater-radius outlook and by his experience working “on the ground” in the very market that he and his counterparts hope to dominate.

If this is the new “face” of the new Italian sparkling, then I’m buying what he’s selling.

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