April 20, 2018 – When is Prosecco really Prosecco? That’s the question that has Aussie winemakers and Italian winemakers shouting “Basta!“ at each other.
Like so many things in the wine world, the prosecco question is complicated and it has become a major issue between the governments of Australia and Italy. Prosecco is the name of a grape varietal just as chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon are. It has been cultivated in the area of Conegliano Valdobbiadene (located north of Venice in the province of Treviso in the Veneto region) for centuries and was known in ancient Roman times.
There is a small village called Prosecco, now a suburb of Trieste, which was originally known by its Slovenian name, Prozek meaning “path through the woods” according to one source. If you look at a map, Trieste is right on the border of Slovenia and this is where wine made from the prosecco grape got its start.
Wine made with the prosecco grape can be very bubbly which is known as spumante, or less bubbly called frizzante, or it can be a still wine or tranquillo. It is the latter style that was popular in Roman times.
In the late 1990s, an Australian grape grower of Italian heritage imported some prosecco vines from Italy for his vineyard in Victoria’s King Valley and he made sparkling wine. His name was Otto dal Zotto who was born in Valdobbiadene. Other growers in the area noticed and pretty soon they were off to the races growing and making prosecco sparkling wine. In less than 20 years, it has grown into a $A66 million category in the Australian wine industry with projections of reaching $A200 million by 2020 (about $155 million U.S.)
However, and this is where the shouting match begins, in 2009 the Italians decided to change the name of the grape from prosecco to glera. Yes, G-L-E-R-A. and by order of the Italian Minister of Agriculture, prosecco became the name exclusively of a geographical indication, not a variety of grape now called glera. Prosecco exports had become very important and to protect global demand, henceforth Prosecco would be a legally protected regional name just like Champagne. Only wines from the “controlled denomination of origin” could be called Prosecco under EU regulations The area known as Prosecco was enlarged encouraging a large number of producers to join the Prosecco bandwagon.
Under EU rules, Australia may not use of the word “prosecco” on wines sold in EU member countries. While trade talks go on between the two countries, the Victoria state government has just given Wines of the King Valley, an industry group, $50,000 to promote “the Prosecco Road”, a popular tourist destination.
Australian winemakers believe they have a legal right to use the name and are vigorously defending it. It is the fastest growing wine style in Australia with production expanding in other areas besides King Valley. The wine industry is busily lobbying politicians in the Federal government in Canberra, their argument being that when the grape vines were imported from Italy, they were called prosecco. Because the Italians have changed the name to glera doesn’t mean the Austraians have to, and they won’t. In defiance of the Italian move, plantings of prosecco have expanded and more and more sparkling wine labeled as prosecco is being marketed. In fact, they cheekily held a prosecco tasting for Canberra pols recently, which was well attended and publicized.
Something working in the Aussies’ favor is that their biggest international market is the U.K. and guess who is exiting the European Union?