Op-ed: Prosecco growers are not “exterminators” as some in the media have portrayed us

prosecco-grape-bunchUnnoticed by America’s wine-focused media, a recent episode of the popular RAI-produced news show “Report” entitled “Prosecco Village” portrayed Prosecco growers and bottlers as greedy entrepreneurs who have exploited the wine’s popularity at the expense of residents of the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Aggressive spraying of vineyards, claim the show’s producers, have led to higher levels of cancer and other illnesses among people who live there. “Report” is known for its controversial and often sensationlistic coverage. (Its show devoted to “cancer-causing” wood-fired ovens in artisanal pizzerias in Naples was a recent example of its over-the-top approach to Italy’s food industry.) The episode created quite a stir in the Italian wine world, with many pundits and artisanal winemakers defending the Prosecco growers. For Italian readers, in case you missed it, see this post by my friend and colleague Alessandro Morichetti for Intravino. Today, I translated the following op-ed by my client (and friend) Luca Ferraro, a certified organic grower in the Asolo Prosecco DOCG and one of the winemakers I admire most for his honesty and earnestness.

Have you noticed? Recently, it seems that giving Prosecco a bad name has become an international trend. Everyone needs to spend at least five minutes of her/his time explaining the reasons behind the phenomenon of the most widely sold Italian sparkling wine in the world. And if possible, they have to give the story a negative spin. It seems that our planet is suddenly full of brilliant people who want to become presidents and directors of grape grower consortiums. The attacks arrive from every corner: Sensationalist TV programs, environmentalists, winemakers from other appellations, each with their own score to settle.

Prosecco is on an express train. People like it. Everyone can appreciate it. It’s easy to understand. It can be served for nearly every occasion. Excuse the expression but a lot of people are pissed off that such a simple wine has claimed such a large slice of the market.

Today, I’d like to address the “environmentalist branch.” But first I’d like you note the following figures.

The three Prosecco DOCG townships:

Asolo – roughly 1,000 hectares planted to vine
Conegliano-Valdobbiadene – roughly 8,000 hectares planted to vine

Prosecco DOC, which includes Treviso province and Friuli-Venezia Giulia – roughly 25,000 hectares planted to vine

Despite the wide area where Prosecco is produced in its various expressions, critics have focused on the hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. In those townships, the density of vineyard plantings is certainly higher. But it’s this very characteristic that has made the landscape there so compelling. Over the course of the decades since the Second World War, wise and able farmers have shaped its beauty like they were new Canovas, lovers of their appellation and the places where they make their homes.

The beauty of these places has prompted a growing number of people to settle there. They come seeking the peaceful and enchanting countryside and they want to be in contact with nature.

But this can lead to problems when the townships allow people to build homes among the vines, often refurbishing old barns. They don’t stop to consider that these same persons can decide, from one day to the next, that you, a grape grower, who has always lived there, can no longer spray your vineyards because it might bother them.

I’m certainly not here to claim that there haven’t been problems when farming and humans live together. There are still problems today. But journalists often decide to foment fear by claiming that our area is a sure-fire source of tumors and other grave illnesses. They claim that our vines cause landslides and flashfloods. They present grape growers as if they were exterminators. And when they do so not to engage in earnest and well-documented journalism but merely in order to raise their number of shares and clicks, I need to share my two cents.

Local government officials in Treviso have created a roundtable to understand the problems in Prosecco today. I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in the gatherings as a member of FIVI, the Italian Federation of Independent Grape Growers. Other participants include town mayors, consortiums, environmentalists, citizens, and other professionals.

We have spoken to researchers who study disease data and they tell us that the incidence of tumors is lower than in the rest of the Veneto region and it aligns with national levels. We have spoken to Italian Forest and Wildlife Rangers who inform us that that the number of forest fires is lower because there is less fallow land. We have discovered that it’s thanks to grape growers who manage “green” areas that there are fewer landslides and flashfloods, catastrophes that are caused by blight and overdevelopment.

Nobody ever talks about the efforts by the consortiums to study and create protocols that limit the use of chemicals to treat vine disease.

Nobody ever talks about how farmers are constantly trying to follow the consortiums’ recommendations and guidelines in order to better manage the vines. Over the last 15 years, the use of chemicals in the vineyards has consistently decreased.

Nobody ever talks about how there is a new generation of grape growers, with attitudes very different than 40 years ago. They work together to study, to research, and to tackles problems in the vineyards with the best possible results in every given vintage.

Nobody talks about the townships’ aggressive regulation of our work, something that we must rightly adhere to.

Nobody talks about how the water table in the Veneto region has a bill of health that puts it far under the threshold for risk. That’s because the Veneto region has one of the most aggressive protocols in Italy for the collection of data, the number of sites monitored, and the number of substance monitored.

And all of this was in place long before the TV cameras arrived.

We can always improve in our work and in our lives. And it’s our duty to work together to make the hills of the Prosecco DOCG a beautiful and healthy place.

It’s party of what we do for a living. Can you think of a quality producer of wines who isn’t interested in making her/his workplace healthy and beautiful to behold? How could we grape growers deface our true master in our lives and our work?

One thing that we often forget to say, as if it were an insignificant thing, is that grape growers are the first and foremost to “live” their appellation. We were born here and we live here. And this is our home.

Luca Ferraro
grape grower, winemaker
Asolo Prosecco DOCG

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