A man who helped make Prosecco an international phenomenon and the challenges he faces

primo francoAbove: in late 2014, legacy Prosecco producer Primo Franco celebrated thirty years since he took over at his family’s winery, Nino Franco.

“The Italians are a victim of their own success,” said British Prosecco bottler Daniel Spinath in an interview published today by Harpers. “And they have created this problem for themselves. Prosecco has become the generic word to talk about sparkling wine which is not a bad thing for the producers or for the industry.”

He was referring to the fact that many of his customers in England sell his keg-packaged wine as “Prosecco” even though EU law forbids them from doing so.

According to the Prosecco DOCG, which was created in 2009, only wines sold in glass bottles can be marketed as “Prosecco.”

And while Spinath doesn’t label the wine as “Prosecco,” he contends that he cannot stop pub and restaurant owners from presenting it as such. Currently, oustide Italy, Prosecco growers and bottlers have no recourse when it comes to “on premise” marketing as it is called in the trade. They can sue bottlers and packagers of Prosecco but they do not have a means to stop restaurateurs from marketing the wines as Prosecco.

prosecco vintage tastingAbove: some of the Veneto’s leading winemakers and a number of marquee-name wine writers came out to pay tribute to Primo and taste a vertical of his wines stretching back thirty years.

The bottom line: Prosecco has become bigger than Prosecco. Like Xerox for photocopies or Kleenex for tissue paper, it has become an antonomasia for sparkling wine throughout the world.

Fifteen years ago, were you to hand a layperson a glass of Prosecco at a cocktail party, she/he would often respond by saying, “Champagne! How great!”

Today, when you hand someone a glass of Champagne, it’s not uncommon to hear them say, “Prosecco! I love Prosecco!”

Harpers isn’t the only media outlet talking about the mislabeling of keg-packaged Prosecco.

See yesterday’s post by Alfonso. It was prompted by a BBC interview he did on Sunday morning. The subject was the “illegal” sale of on-tap sparkling Glera that has been labeled as Prosecco.

By his estimation, Prosecco sales were up by 50 percent in 2014 in the U.S. with respect to the previous year.

I’ve read reports that claim Prosecco sales are up by as much as 70 percent in Britain.

best prosecco tastingAbove: it was impressive to see how Primo’s wines have aged over the last three decades. They were surprisingly fresh and only showed slight signs of oxidation.

Reading Alfonso’s post yesterday and the article today in Harpers, I couldn’t help but think of a wonderful evening I spent on a chilly night in Valdobbiadene in October of last year with Primo Franco and his family, owners of the Nino Franco winery.

Primo is a friend and I had the great fortune to be invited to his fabu party celebrating his thirty years making wine for his family’s label.

Leading Italian winemakers where there (Anselmi and Maculan among them). Top English-language wine writers were there (Steven Spurrier from Britain, wow!, and Alan Tardy, an American who lives in Italy).

They were all their to pay homage for “brand” he created. As more than one wine luminary noted, Prosecco was one of the appellations that helped to reshape English-speakers’ perception of Italian wines in the 80s and 90s.

Thirty years ago, Primo wasn’t alone in his quest to make Prosecco a popular wine in English-speaking countries. But he was one of a small group of bottlers who packed their bags and headed across the ocean to teach Anglophones about Prosecco’s wonderful freshness, food-friendliness, and versatility at the dinner table.

As one young, über hip Prosecco grower once said to me, “every Prosecco producer should give Primo ten cents for every bottle sold.”

But when it comes to Daniel Spinath’s claim that Italians are victims of their own success, I call bull-shit.

The Prosecchisti are victims of the unbridled greed of unscrupulous bottlers, packagers, and marketers like Spinath, who prefer to shrug their shoulders when it comes to sourcing, pricing, and marketing their products.

And honest Prosecco growers and négociants are penalized by the fact that the Prosecco DOCG Consortium has done virtually nothing to protect their brand by promoting education for trade and consumer awareness.

Primo is one of the most respected people in the Italian wine trade and he is truly one of the loveliest as well. A soul of great learning and humanity and one of the men who turned the world on to the delightful wine that they grow in the hills of Valdobbiadene, Conegliano, and Asolo.

I am proud to call myself his friend and I am his unabashed fan. But I know that he faces an uphill battle in defending his family’s legacy and the Prosecco that he and I both love so much.

2 thoughts on “A man who helped make Prosecco an international phenomenon and the challenges he faces

  1. Thanks for the article and I enjoyed Alfonso’s as well! Cin cin to Primo and his success in building the reputation of Prosecco throughout the world. As time passes I hope more folks will be educated on sparkling wines, champagne, prosecco, etc. and that more is done to protect the reputation and brand of Prosecco.

  2. I did have some interplay with the Frizzenti folks on twitter http://goo.gl/baHwjE
    in the Harper’s piece, Spinath says, ” Nowhere in our (Frizzenti’s) communications do we say ‘Prosecco on tap.’

    Unfortunately a picture is worth a thousand words and their social media has presented misleading representations of what they sell.

    the long and the short of it – they changed their picture on twitter, but their FB page ( which they say is old and unused) still has misleading images.

    Thanks, Jeremy.

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