2021-10-01 17:07:12 War and Strife Have Come to Prosecco Country

War and Strife Have Come to Prosecco Country

VALDOBBIADENE, ITALY (Reuters) – Prosecco Road was crisscrossed by small pickup trucks transporting mounds of green grapes. Workers squinted in the sun while harvesting in the terraced vineyards. Tourists who were a little tipsy came in for some tastings. In the town’s quaint Prosecco bars, couples clinked glasses.

However, producers of Italy’s wildly popular sparkling white wine in the northeastern Veneto region were on war footing behind the effervescent front.

“I feel like I’m going to battle,” Elvira Maria Bortolomiol said in an airy tasting room next to her vineyards, pantomiming carrying a rifle. Ms. Bortolomiol, the owner of the Bortolomiol winery and the new president of a producer consortium, said the surprise attack had “disoriented us.”

Prosecco country has been hit by war and internal strife. In a major setback for a Spritz-fueled multibillion-euro industry, the European Union agreed last month to consider Croatia’s long-standing application to recognize Prosek, a method of producing an obscure sweet dessert wine of the same name.

Big Prosecco has fought off a slew of other assaults, including fakes like Meer-secco and Cansecco, as well as warnings from British dentists about sugary spumante rotting the country’s teeth. However, tiny Prosek, a legitimately old wine from an EU member state, posed a one-of-a-kind threat.

A sizable portion of the Italian economy is based on uniquely Italian products with names and sounds that are protected from imitation. Producers argue that if the EU allowed Prosek today, Faremesan wouldn’t be far behind.

As a result, Prosecco producers and local officials have joined forces with the Italian government to crush Prosek. The argument is that Brussels’ recognition would confuse consumers and set a dangerous precedent.

“Recognizing Prosek could legitimize a slew of other fake products,” said Luca Giavi, president of the Consortium to Protect Prosecco.

He placed seized Romanian “Pro-Secco,” a 10-pack of glitter “Prosecco Bath Bombs,” and Prosecco Princess Shower Gel on the table of his headquarters, as if demonstrating the yield of a D.E.A. drug bust. “The important thing is to have an adversary,” he explained. “It brings us together.”

However, not everyone.

Enrico Bortolomiol, Ms. Bortolomiol’s first cousin, argued in a dark and vaulted cellar beneath a stone Prosecco museum on the Valdobbiadene hillside that the conflict over the Croatian wine presented a rare opportunity to advance a radical agenda: the time had come to drop the name Prosecco.

Mr. Bortolomiol, 55, wore a heavy white fustian cloak, black velvet cap, and a gold medallion embossed with the brotherhood’s coat of arms as grandmaster of the Confraternity of Valdobbiadene, a hallowed society of Prosecco makers from the wine’s traditional home on the Valdobbiadene and Conegliano hills. Around him, frescoes depicted the society’s four founding fathers chugging chalices with gleeful medieval knights, a topless Bacchus, and women in slinky togas.

With his back to dusty bottles of the hill’s best spumante from the decades, he sat on an elevated seat with tented hands and argued that Prosecco’s good name had been irrevocably tainted by overproduction on the mechanically harvested and viticulturally uninteresting provinces that accounted for 500 million of the market’s 600 million bottles.

Mr. Bortolomiol stated, “We have nothing to do with that.”

Mr. Bortolomiol added, as a fellow knight in red robes nodded gravely, “We’re trying to put the name Prosecco in the background.”

Depending on where the bottle of Prosecco is produced, Italy has granted different protected geographical indications over the years. The traditional hills receive a brown seal, while nine new provinces where wine is produced receive a blue seal. The old hills receive an additional G — for Guaranteed origin. The new ones, however, do not. However, most consumers are unaware of the distinction; they simply look for the name Prosecco.

And, according to Mr. Bortolomiol, there isn’t much left in that name.

Its purity, he claimed, had been tainted by Aperol and Campari, as well as the cloying Jolly Rancher-colored Spritzes that have taken over aperitive hour around the world. The confraternity’s founders, including his uncle and Ms. Bortolomiol’s father, were also blasphemous to the spirit of Prosecco’s rock bottom prices.

A billboard outside town advertised a bottle of Prosecco for 2.79 euros with the purchase of a six-pack of canned tuna.

Mr. Bortolomiol believes that Prosecco has become a “generic name” for any swill with bubbles and is no longer worth defending — from Prosek or anyone else.

Daniele Buso, a fellow knight, hopes that the latest squabble will lead to “an illumination” among Prosecco producers.

The only way to avoid confusion and insultingly low prices was to break away and rebrand, putting the good stuff in V-shaped bottles that the brotherhood happened to sell. Call it Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superior Spumante, or something along those lines, as long as the wine was explicitly linked to its traditional, and unique, territory.

Many Prosecco producers in the surrounding plains regard the knights’ position as both economically risky and treasonous during wartime.

Croatia, argued Giorgio Polegato, president of Astoria wines, a nearby plains behemoth, had demonstrated “a lack of respect” by pushing Prosek.

As mechanized harvest machines vacuumed his vineyards, he displayed enormous steel tanks decked out in bright lights and stylized accessories, as if ready for a night out. Bottles labeled “Glam,” “Diva,” and “Funky” stood on the glossy walls of the winery’s Fashion Victim Lounge. He embraced the Spritz and attributed Prosecco’s wild success in part to its low price point. He also described it as “easier to drink,” and it was extremely popular among Americans, Brits, and ladies.

“It appeals to women,” he said.

People are increasingly flocking to the Prosecco hills to drink Aperitivos, pre-Aperitivo Aperitivos, and pre-Pre-Aperitivo Aperitivos.

After a massive lobbying effort, UNESCO designated Valdobbiadene and Conegliano as World Heritage Sites in 2019.

Marina Montedoro, a leader in that effort, said, “It changed everything.” She is now concerned that tourists who recognize Prosek will unintentionally travel to Croatia. “It’s possible,” she said.

For the time being, people know where to go. Two Slovakian women emerged from Valdobbiadene’s vineyards and stopped next to a couple drinking two glasses of Prosecco in the morning.

“No husbands, no children, just Prosecco,” Lucia Figurova, 33, explained. “This place was designed for me.”

That is music to the ears of Valdobbiadene mayor Luciano Fregonese, who, while proud that a pope was born in the town about 700 years ago, is focused on making his community a Prosecco pilgrimage site. Workers hammered cobblestones into a pedestrian piazza being converted from a traffic circle outside city hall, which sells wine stoppers in its tourist office, to make the town more inviting for an increasing number of visitors.

“The nightmare,” he said, “is that tourists drive through, see the hills, and then leave, as if they’re in Jurassic Park.”

Agostino Piazza, 22, celebrated his college graduation at one of the square’s Prosecco bars after finishing his thesis, “Resilience of the Value Chain of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene Prosecco.”

Mr. Bortolomiol remained convinced in the brotherhood’s cellar that the true resilience of the local sparkling wine lay in its quality and disassociation from a word that had lost all meaning.

The mission of his knights was to protect the spirit, if not the name, of Prosecco, who, he said, took a solemn pledge before a vine-shaped sword to renounce water, which brought only woe, and to exalt the local bubbly. Each new member was then required to chug half a bottle of the confraternity’s annual blind taste test winner.

“And then they are made a Knight of Prosecco,” Mr. Buso explained.

The grandmaster corrected him, saying, “Valdobbiadene.”

“Right,” said Mr. Buso. “A slip of the tongue.”

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War and Strife Have Come to Prosecco Country