This light, effervescent, eminently drinkable nectar of the Gods is my husband’s favourite summertime choice of happy hour refreshment.
After a little research, I realized that the ‘Prosecco’ growing region of Italy was a short three hour drive from our Croatian home. Without any prodding at all, Big Al agreed to tour the ‘Strada Del Prosecco’ with me, one recent autumnal October weekend.
The Prosecco region
As is the case for many other quality Italian foodstuffs (Parmigiano Reggiano, Balsamic Vinegar etc) there is a legally defined area, from which Prosecco must be produced.
The ancient and historical region can be seen below:
This original/ancient/traditional Prosecco growing area sits between the hillside villages of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano. The Prosecco produced in this area is designated as ‘DOCG’ – meaning ‘Protected Designation of Origin Guaranteed’.
This is the Prosecco that one wants to enjoy, as it is the real thing.
Located within the area of Veneto, some 7 years ago, a broader ‘Prosecco’ area was created. The product produced within this new area is given the legal designation of ‘DOC’.
After every new harvest, each vineyard within the DOCG area must submit 7 bottles of their Prosecco for analysis. One bottle is kept by the vineyard for reference, several bottles are given to a laboratory for analysis, and the remainder are given to a committee, a consortium if you will, of master tasters, who taste the wine of each vineyard to ensure the correct level of quality. If the Prosecco has passed each step of this quality assurance process, the vineyard will receive a stamped band/label that must be affixed to each bottle of Prosecco leaving the vineyard.
Sparkling wine, perhaps even of the same grape, grown outside of the DOC or DOCG areas is not considered Prosecco and should not be labelled as such.
The ideal growing conditions for the ‘glera’ grape, formerly known as the ‘Prosecco’ grape seem to include the southern and therefore sunny side of the quite steep hillsides that dot the Valdobbiadene – Conegliano area, at an altitude between 50 and 500 meters above sea level.
Prosecco DOCG is produced in three versions: Sparkling, Semi-sparkling and Still. The Sparkling is the by far the most successful. It is produced in three versions = Brut, Extra Dry and Dry. Brut is the driest and least sweet, while the Dry is the softest and sweetest.
Champagne versus Prosecco
Aside from the geographic growing regions, there is another very important difference between these two libations.
Champagne’s secondary fermentation process occurs within the bottle, which causes the carbonation.
Prosecco’s secondary fermentation occurs within a stainless steel tank called an ‘auto-clave’ in Italian.
The difference in the processes is the following:
‘Method champenoise’ = After primary fermentation and bottling, a second alcoholic fermentation occurs within the bottle. This second fermentation is induced by adding several grams of yeast and some rock sugar to each bottle.
A minimum of 1.5 years is required to completely develop all of the layers of flavour characteristic of champagne, after which time each bottle is sealed with a crown cap, not dissimilar to that of a beer bottle.
After aging, each champagne bottle is manipulated, either manually or mechanically, settling the lees (residue of fermentation) into the neck of the bottle.
After chilling the bottles, the neck is frozen and the cap removed. The pressure inside the bottle forces out the ice containing the lees (the residue), and then the bottle is quickly corked to maintain the carbon dioxide within the wine. Some wine from previous vintages as well as additional sugar is added to adjust the sweetness of the champagne.
“Charmat-Martinotti” method = As in the case of champagne, the first fermentation occurs, and then the second fermentation occurs within large stainless steel tanks called ‘auto-claves’.
To produce the various types of Prosecco (from Brut – very dry and not sweet, to Dry – quite sweet), the oenologist must analyze the sugar content of the solution within the auto-clave daily. Once the sugar level has reached the desireable level of say 9 for a Brut, she will turn on the refrigeration unit of the auto-clave, cooling the wine down to -2 degrees, thus killing the live yeast, ending the second fermentation process, and yielding the perfect Brut with a low sugar content level. The same process is used to achieve the higher sugar levels for Extra Dry and Dry.
My interest was to tour the traditional Prosecco producers of the DOCG area of Valdobbiadennne – Conegliano area. Of the many DOCG vintners I chose to visit and tour the Sorelle Bronca vinery and the Vettori vinery, while stopping at the Garbara and Gregoletto vineyards.
The Sorelle Bronca
In Italian, the name of this winery is ‘The Sisters Bronca’ and it is owned and operated by sisters Antonella and Ersiliana, who inherited their love of cultivating their steep hillside vines from their father and grandfather. Our tour of the facility was conducted by Elisa, the daughter of Ersiliana, and a noted oenologist herself.
On the marketing materials, just underneath the name of their vineyard, the Bronca sisters have included the words ‘Organic Vision’. When my husband asked if the Sorelle Bronca wines were certified as organic, the answer was interesting. While the vineyard complies with and possibly exceeds the criterion to be certified as organic, the process of this certification is so expensive as to be exclusionary at this moment.
The level of commitment of this vineyard to the principles of organic farming goes hand in hand with their commitment to quality. In fact, these two ideas are inseparable.
According to their website: https://www.sorellebronca.com/
‘A healthy, sustainable vineyard in harmony with its environment offers a superior quality product guaranteed by the uniqueness of each individual vineyard. Biodiversity is a natural system in which the land is ‘alive’ and is self-sustaining, and which therefore has no need for external nutrients because it produces them on its own. In this system, there is no chemical fertilizer and no animal manure.
The only organic fertilizer comes from ‘green’ manuring, which means grass, once it has been cut and buried in the springtime, is broken down by the microorganisms in the earth. Sorelle Bronca neither remove the grass nor irrigate the land.
Consequently, these vines have developed deeper root systems. This means the nutritive substances in the subsoil give the grapes a much more intense minerality, they grow more homogeneously, ripening with a lower sugar residue.
This complex character is why these grapes produce wines which are more harmonious, balanced, elegant and pleasant on the palate.”
The Sorelle Bronca winery employs less than 10 folks year round, adding an additional ten workers during harvest. It usually takes about 3 weeks, for these less than 20 people to harvest the grapes – MANUALLY – from the 25 or so hectares of their vineyard.
The grapes are carefully cut from vine, and placed in these relatively small crates.
If the crates were any larger, the grapes on the bottom would be either bruised or their skin would be broken, thereby already allowing the sugars to begin the fermentation process. To reduce or eliminate this problem, only small crates are used.
The crates of grapes are loaded onto this conveyor:
The conveyor belt feeds the grapes into the grape press shown below.
The resulting liquid is placed in a tank for the first fermentation. The tanks can be seen behind Al and Elisa.
It is then moved to the auto-clave, where it is monitored and analysed until the sugar levels reach the desired levels.
From there the Prosecco is bottled, corked and labelled.
Alvis is getting ready to enjoy the Prosecco tasting with Elisa.
Of the entire offering of Sorelle Bronca, my absolute favourite is their very special “Particella 68” – the first bottle shown below.
To take a tour and to enjoy a tasting, please contact the vineyard directly to make an appointment. For 10 Euros each, we received a comprehensive tour of the facility, an excellent explanation of the prosecco making process, and a lovely tasting!
BIKING THE PROSECCO REGION
After enjoying a lovely evening exploring the village of Cison di Valmarino, we arose early the next morning to enjoy a brisk bike ride through the vineyards, before heading back to Croatia.
After enjoying a delicious breakfast, we grabbed our bikes, and zoomed down the mountain from our hotel…..
….and stopped to enjoy the views such as this……
As the brisk morning temperatures started to warm up, and the fog lifted, the dawn gave way to a sunny day, and we were treated to scenery such as this….
If you ever find yourself in the Veneto region of northern Italy, I highly recommend a day trip to the Prosecco region.
Next blog: Christmas in the Eternal City