Friday, January 23, 2009

Prosecco reaches Obama's inauguration: but what is the future for prosecco?

That Prosecco was a growing star in America it is evident just by jumping into one of the many wine-bars in Manhattan where after work large crowds of young people in their 30's drink and chat lively with glasses of prosecco animating the evening.

But watching the new President of the United States drinking prosecco during an inauguration party represents one of the highest recnognition of the growing status of our best export wine.

During the last years the success of prosecco has become irresistible: 150 millions bottles produced each year, 29% export growth in 2008 (98% export growth to the UK, 650.000 bottles exported to China in 2007). This success is also reflected in the the cost of the lands in the area of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene that covers the DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene. Buying lands in the DOC area now is more expansive than in the area of Montalcino (>500.000 euro per hectare for Prosecco).

But Prosecco, despite the existence of a specific DOC (created in 1969 and now covering 4700 hectares and producing 50 million bottles), is suffering from a major problem: the wine is simply called with the name of the grape and then prosecco can be produced and commercialised with this name in all countries. This is a major difference in comparison with other wines belonging to the same typology (sparkling wines) such as "champagne", "cava" or, to remain in Italy, "Franciacorta". All these wines have duly protected their name and do not have references to the grapes in the "denominazione".

While prosecco is a grape which is native of the area covered by the DOC between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene (in the province of Treviso, North-East of Italy), only one third of the actual production now falls under the DOC, while the rest is produced in the rest of Veneto and Friuli (in the area between Treviso and Slovenia).

But the main problems may come from abroad. Several countries have started planting prosecco grapes, mainly in Brazil, Argentina, Australia. In Brazil about 1000 hectares are now planted with prosecco (often with Italian investments) and sold at cheap prices. Another issues is the recent experiment of Austrian and German producers to import grapes from the prosecco area and bottle them as "Rich Prosecco", a product they plan to start to sell to the USA soon (in the picture Paris Hilton advertising for Rich prosecco).

The producers of the original prosecco area may then soon lose their golden baby and suffer international competition from other countries....and Obama's publicity may then have an adverse effect.

In order to tackle the problem, the producers of prosecco in Italy have started preparing to defend their product and work towards protecting the prosecco by creating a new "denominazione" that would cover the various areas in North-east of Italy where prosecco is now produced. 2009 will be the year of their offensive, even if it is not yet clear what strategy will be used.

An option may be to refer to the small village of prosecco, which is located a few kilometers from Trieste, close to Slovenia (from which the name appears to originate, coming from "proseku", which means "deforested area"). However, this area can hardly be identified today as an area of prosecco production and is 150km away from the DOC area. Other possibilities include referring to a regional area, but this would hardly cover the entire territory where prosecco is grown today.

This would be in any case only a first step, since the "denominazione" may be initially protected only in the EU area (and with countries with which the EU has concluded specific agreements), but would hardly ensure protection in the short term in Brazil or USA.

Prosecco may become the victim of its success....maybe. In the meanwhile, the objective for the Italian producers is to reach the levels of production of champagne (in 2007: 339 million bottles): an ambitious project.

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