An acre of Prosecco worth more than Napa (equal time for the Prosecco consortium)

Above: I took this photo a few years ago on one of the highest peaks in Cartizze, the top growing zone for Prosecco.

According to (March 7, 2010), in California’s Napa Valley, “average prices are $150,000 to $200,000 an acre for a vineyard planted with red varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and $115,000 an acre for white grapes such as Chardonnay… The most desirable sites in Rutherford and Oakville can fetch $250,000 an acre.”

And that was in 2010 at the peak of the financial crisis (the title of the article is “Vineyard Defaults Surge as Lost Land Values Undermine Napa Wine”).

When I visited Cartizze in April 2009 with the scion of one Prosecco’s leading and oldest families, who owns more acreage in Cartizze — the top growing zone for Prosecco — than any other, he told me that the average price of an acre in Cartizze is greater than in Napa. And frankly, he would know: his family’s holding in Cartizze is the cornerstone of its winery and the wines produced from fruit grown there are among the highest priced Prosecco bottlings on the market today.

Whether accurate or not, these factoids give you a sense of the “big business” interests that have come to dominate the cultural and topographic landscape of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene — one of the most beautiful swaths of wine country and one of my favorite places in the world because of my deep connection to the land, people, and wines of Prosecco.

In the wake of last week’s post “Prosecco, lies, and videotape: the real story behind the new wave Prosecco,” I was contacted by public relations firm representing the consortium of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco superiore DOCG growers and bottlers.

“We don’t agree with your position and we would like to explain to you why,” wrote the publcist. I wrote her back immediately and she set up a call between me and the consortium’s director, Giancarlo Vettorello (above, photo via Oggi a New York).

When we spoke the next morning, Giancarlo took issue with what I had written about the Prosecco DOCG:

    This DOCG was just one of many that were created before Common Market Organization reforms went into in 2009, shifting the power to create new designations from Rome to Brussels. It’s one of the many examples of political spoils that [then agriculture minister] Zaia lavished on his hometown…

“Does a humble wine like Prosecco — and by its very nature, Prosecco should be a humble wine — deserve to be elevated to the status of wines like Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino?” I asked paraphrasing a chorus of Italian wine writers who wrote disapprovingly of the new classification at the time (2009).

Giancarlo contended that while the origins of Prosecco may be humble, it has become one of the world’s most “recognizable wines” and is sold today in mind-boggling volume.

He also pointed out that the Centro di ricerca per la viticoltura (Center for Viticultural Research) was founded in Conegliano — Prosecco’s historic epicenter — in 1923, an innovative and ground-breaking institution and a leader in enology that predates the emergence of the sparkling wine industry in Franciacorta, Trentino, and Oltrepò Pavese. In particular, he noted, Professor Tullio De Rosa, who came to the center in 1966, developed techniques for the vinification of white and sparkling wines that reshaped Italian viticulture for the generation that followed (it’s also worth noting the pantheon of Italian wine luminaries who worked at the center, like Michele Giusti, Giovanni Dalmasso, and Luigi Manzoni).

In all fairness, he has a point. Prosecco is one of Italy’s leading brands and exports — like Campari, Perugina, Barilla, De Cecco. And in a relatively short arc of time, the architects of its success have created an interest and awareness of the brand that was unimaginable in the late 1990s when they began to market Prosecco aggressively to U.S. consumers. I think it’s safe to say that U.S. consumers are more likely to know the name of two Prosecco producers than they are to know the names of two wineries in Chianti (a brand that emerged three centuries ago).

Giancarlo was one of those architects. “I worked for fifteen years,” he said, “for the creation of the Prosecco superiore DOCG.”

Well, more power to him, I say. I was happy to share his point of view here and I appreciate that his office reached out to me.

Me? I’ll leave the Prosecco brand to the powers that be.

Just give me some grilled polenta, maybe some grilled sausage or bacalà, and do prosechi colfondo — two glasses of salty, crunchy, cloudy lees-aged Prosecco… one for me and one for Tracie P

Some of the more beautiful things I saw in Italy

The caliber of my photography never rises above the amateur (in the etymologic sense of the word) but sometimes I get lucky. I guess it’s about place and time.

Tasting with the Marquis Carlo Guerrieri Gonzaga at the Tenuta San Leonardo in Trentino. I was moved at the thought of shaking the hand of a descendant of one of the most influential families of the Northern Italian Renaissance.

I photographed this bee at the highest point in Cartizze, the top growing site for Prosecco. Matteo Bisol of the Bisol winery opened his family’s Prosecco Cartizze and we tasted it right there among the vines. It was fun to return to Valdobbiadene where I spent so much time during the summers of years at university in Italy.

The baroque basilica at the Abbazia di Novacella was most impressive. That was the farthest north I’ve ever traveled in Italy. Driving through the Alps, I couldn’t help but think of the line from Petrarch canzone 128:

    Nature provided well for our safety when she put the shield of the Alps between us and the Teutonic rage.

The incipit of the song is one of Petrarch’s most moving and appeals to the then divided and bellicose Italian states:

    My Italy, although speech does not aid those mortal wounds of which in your lovely body I see so many, I wish at least my sighs to be such as Tiber and Arno hope for, and Po where I now sit sorrowful and sad. (translation by Robert Durling)

I’ve been traveling to Italy for more than twenty years and as in years past, I took time to catch up on my newspaper reading and to ask people about their outlook for the future. In my view, the Italians’ “tenuous sense of nationhood” seems more fragile than ever (between the jockeying of Berlusconi, Fini, and Bossi) and the balance of Po, Tiber, and Arno all the more precarious.

But the beauty of this country has always been accompanied by peril — the one seemingly unable to exist without the other.

I’ll begin posting about my trip and other developments next week. Stay tuned and thanks for reading…