Elephantem ex musca facere…
Astonishing and astonishingly sensational were the first words that came to mind after reading Jason Horowitz’s story for the New York Times late last week, “A Battle of the Bubbles: War Comes to the Prosecco Hills” (October 1, 2021).
Clickbait was the other.
Yes, it’s true that last month the EU agreed to hear Croatia’s case that its winemakers should be allowed to label their Prošek, a dried-grape wine made in extremely small quantities, as an officially recognized appellation.
The issue has been fermenting (excuse the pun) since July of this year. But the EU’s nod to let the case move forward has unleashed a river of “the sky is on fire” posts across the internets.
Although the Italians and the Prosecchisti would have preferred that the EU decline to hear the case, there is still little chance that the Croatians will prevail.
As top Italian wine trade observer Maurizio Gily noted earlier this year, the Italians began exporting Prosecco many decades ago, long before anyone was trying to ship Prošek abroad. This entitles them to the trademark in the market.
What is more likely to happen is that the EU will strike a deal similar to the one the Italians obtained when the lost their case to the Hungarians back in 2009. At issue was the supposed confusion between wines labeled as (and made from) Tocai in Friuli and the Hungarians’ claim to the trademark for the homonymous wine Tokaji. The Italians lost. As a result, wines labeled as Tocai can only be sold in Italy. In order to ship their wines abroad, the Friulians changed the grape name to Friulano.
And guest what? Sales actually grew after the change!
Prosecco growers, producers, and bottlers (and remember, bottlers are the biggest players here, not the growers or the producers), have had to contend with “Italian sounding” imitators for years now. The worst offenders are arguably the Australians who make tank-method wines from Glera (the main grape used in Prosecco in Italy) and label and sell them as Prosecco in Australia.
The Prosecchisti can’t do anything about it (although they have tried) because EU has no binding agreement with Australian regarding trademark protections for wine and food products. (To this day, btw, Californians still label and sell wines as “Champagne,” “Lambrusco,” and even “Brunello.”)
In the light of the above, it’s hardly a “war” or “battle” going on in Proseccoland. It’s just EU bureaucracy winding its way through the block’s byzantine legal process.
It’s also remarkable that Horowitz, a writer I otherwise admire greatly, only got quotes from a few of the (not so) major players (none of whom have a big footprint in the U.S. where his readers live). Where was Nino Franco? Where was Matteo Lunelli and Bisol? Where was Mionetto? It seems that he only spoke to a few bottlers. Where was Santa Margherita? Where was Cupcake, for that matter?
And what about the myriad family growers and family grower/winemakers? Where was their voice?
As for his claim that there is a serious discussion about creating a new name for Prosecco, I can only say, give me a break. That’s simply not going to happen, at least not in our lifetime.
I have so much to tell from my recent trip to Italy (just got back last night). Stay tuned for that. But thank you for letting me get that off my chest in the meantime!
Top image via the Gambero Rosso forum.