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Facing a Meager Harvest, Prosecco Winemakers Win Approval to Use Non-DOC Grapes

Wineries can source from vineyards within the region, but not officially in the appellation
Prosecco, from northeastern Italy, is one of the most popular bubblies in the U.S.
Photo by: Courtesy Prosecco DOC Consorzio
Prosecco, from northeastern Italy, is one of the most popular bubblies in the U.S.

Alison Napjus
Posted: August 25, 2017

After a difficult growing season in northern Italy's Prosecco DOC appellation, and with harvest only a week or two away, local winemakers have won approval for a move that could stave off financial pain. The Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regional governments have approved a proposal by the Prosecco DOC consortium to allow wineries to use Glera grapes (the main variety used in the sparkler) from vineyards that are not currently included in the appellation.

"This decision was actually being discussed as early as March or April," said Enore Ceola, managing director for Mionetto USA. "There was already worry about potential shortage—even [if there was] a regular harvest, [with average yields]."

The past few months have not been kind to Prosecco, nor to many regions in Europe. After an early spring that gave vine buds a head start, severe frost in late April damaged young vine shoots across the region. Extreme storms and hail in July and August also lowered overall yields.

Using grapes from non-Prosecco vineyards is obviously attractive, but the consortium is quick to insist it will not diminish the quality of the wines. Since 2011, the Prosecco DOC production area has been defined by a designated number of acres of Glera vines within the geographical Prosecco DOC zone—not all vineyards in the zone were included even though they meet all the quality and production regulations of the Prosecco DOC. The limit was established to avoid a flood of Prosecco to the market and to help maintain equilibrium; the consortium analyzes it annually, and periodically adjusts it.

Controlling Prosecco's meteoric growth is understandable. Sales of the wines, particularly in America, have surged in recent years. Last year, Prosecco shipments to the U.S. increased by 30.6 percent to a total of 5.3 million cases, according to Impact Databank, a sister publication of Wine Spectator.

Currently 60,391 acres out of 63,850 acres of planted Glera vines in the Prosecco DOC zone are approved for production, but this includes a percentage of new or recently planted vineyards. Appellation regulations specify that vines must be at least three years old before their fruit can be put into production.

"It's a way for the area to avoid price speculation and to meet market demand," explained Primo Franco, of Nino Franco, a family estate producing Prosecco from the Valdobbiadene DOCG.

The Prosecco DOC market is full of speculators creating short-lived brands and labels, as well as more historic producers such as Nino Franco and Mionetto. The limits established in 2011 were designed to keep the market from getting out of hand.

But in a year like 2017, where yields will likely be lower, the market for Prosecco could suffer if producers pay a premium for scarce grapes and pass the price increase on to consumers. Thus the consortium asked the regional governments to allow them to use vineyards that are in the zone, but not officially in the appellation.

"I believe they want to avoid the shortage they had in 2014, when the price [for grapes from] the Prosecco DOC went above that of Prosecco DOCG," said Franco.

"It's been a difficult season so far. Not a lot of rain, so probably a low-yield harvest, but it's too early to tell exactly how it will end right now," said Ceola. "[With this recent decision] there may still be some price increases for grapes. But all together this will help to mitigate price increases, which is ultimately good for the consumer."

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