It’s been a huge year for Prosecco so far in 2015. Far from a poor man’s Champagne, the newest trend in sparkling wine has taken the world by storm with sales so strong there was even fear of a ‘global Prosecco shortage’ crisis.
Emilie Reynolds reports.
Building a reputation as a premium sparkling wine, the Italian variety overtook Champagne as the most popular choice of bubbles across the globe.
In the UK alone, Prosecco achieved a 74.6 per cent uplift in the year to 20 July 2014, according to figures from Kantar Worldpanel, while one of the country’s biggest on-trade suppliers, Bibendum, reported a 295 per cent surge in super-premium Prosecco sales with a 150 per cent rise for premium Prosecco.
The category is also on top in the US with 18 million Americans now said to drink sparkling wine at least once a week, according to a report by Wine Intelligence.
While Champagne has long been the dominant sparkling import in the US, Prosecco is beginning to make ground with an increased prominence of imported sparkling wine styles, especially Prosecco, pushing sales past 20 million cases a year.
In Australia, Prosecco is both imported and locally grown by a select few vineyards predominately located in Victoria’s King Valley.
Dubbed ‘Australia’s home of Prosecco’, the King Valley offers supreme weather conditions that allow a successful growing season for the variety.
History of Prosecco in Australia
Prosecco’s introduction into Australia can be traced back to Otto Dal Zotto, owner of Dal Zotto Wines together with his wife Elena. Dal Zotto recognised the tranquil King Valley was similar to his home land in Northern Italy and decided to take a huge risk by purchasing a property and planting vines.
In 1999, inspired by his childhood spent in the town of Valdobbiadene, the birthplace of Prosecco, Dal Zotto planted the first Prosecco vines in Australia.
Michael Dal Zotto, son of Otto and current chief winemaker and CEO of Dal Zotto Wines, said his family were lucky to discover an Italian migrant who had already imported the variety to Australia.
“Customs had the gentleman’s contact details which allowed him to be contacted to discover if cuttings of the variety were available,” Michael said. “In the spirit of cooperation common in the Australian wine industry, the gentleman obliged and so stage one of the dream of Dal Zotto’s growing Prosecco in Australia proceeded.”
Michael said by the end of 1999, the winery had planted their first Prosecco vines, after a 12 month process to produce grafted Prosecco vines in sufficient number to allow a viable planting to be undertaken.
“The overall project from sourcing the material to making the first bottle of Prosecco took six years (1998-2004) of hard work, with the first vintage being released in December 2004, under the new look Dal Zotto brand,” Michael said.
Growing Prosecco in the King Valley
With its numerous microclimates, the King Valley has become home to Prosecco. The grapes thrive in conditions which are cold in winter and hot in summer which makes north-east Victoria an ideal location.
Michael said Dal Zotto Wines have been growing Prosecco in a number of vineyards ranging from 300 to 400 metres above sea level.
“These vineyards are throughout King Valley in Whitfield, Cheshunt and the Rose River Valley,” he said “The vines are arch cane pruned as we find this gives the most even ripening and consistent production from year to year.”
Michael said budburst has traditionally occurred in mid-September with harvest kicking off around last week of Feb to the middle of March.
“The variety can be quite generous which is a reason for our change from spur pruning to arch cane and we tend to have a yield of 10 to 15 tonne to the hectare,” he said.
“The variety is quite disease resistant and it has an open bunch.”
Brown Brothers, another winery which produces Prosecco in the King Valley, has a bank style vineyard which sits at a 450 metre altitude on deep red, well-structured soil.
Brett McClen, Brown Brothers chief viticulturist, said the winery has been harvesting Prosecco in the region since 2008.
“Our annual production is pushing up towards 1000 tonnes,” McClen said.
“We started with something in the order of 80 tonnes back in 2008 and it has grown very rapidly.”
Without access to their own nursery, McClen said Brown Brothers source material from the nurserymen at Euston, which is the old Chalmer’s Nursery.
Like Dal Zotto Wines, McClen said he mostly cane prunes the vines, but has experimented with some spur pruning in the past.
“It’s a very productive variety,” he said. “We’re probably seeing a trend that it’s more fruitful off cane pruning but regardless it’s very productive under both systems.”
McClen said the grapes have been reasonably robust in adverse weather with the large bunch weight acting as an advantage.
“The architecture of the bunches are also very large, so it is quite a straggly bunch which helps with the disease resistance,” he said. “It is prone to powdery but in terms of botrytis we find that when there is rain, the water actually drains through the bunches so it’s not prone to splitting.”
From bunch to bottle
To ensure Australian Prosecco is as close to the original Italian wine as possible, Michael said he has stuck to traditional winemaking methods.
“Dal Zotto Wines employ two methods to produce Prosecco,” he said. “L’Immigrante Prosecco, is made with the traditional method ‘champenoise’, but the majority of the harvest goes into making the Vintage Pucino Prosecco and NV Pucino Prosecco, produced using the ‘charmat’ method.”
In Italy the charmat method would be used for 99 per cent of all Prosecco produced.
Michael said the fruit was generally harvested around nine to 10.5 baume by machine and top loaded into the press.
“The juice is then racked and inoculated,” he said. “Fermentation takes approximately two weeks and aiming for a temperature range of 14-16 degrees throughout the ferment.
“We ferment the wine dry and then during the charmat process aim to ferment back to our desired residual sugar level and a CO2 level of around 9.5 to 10.5g/l.”
Michael said at the end of the process, the final wine was fresh with delicate aromatics of jasmine, wisteria and citrus blossom and on the palate.
“There is crisp apple and citrus flavours and good balance between acid and residual sugar,” he said.
A growing trend
Melissa Brauer, marketing consultant and Dal Zotto Wines’ Prosecco Queen, said the variety has been fast growing in popularity in Australia.
“Over the past few years there has been a much wider promotion and public awareness of the variety, especially through events and social media,” she said. “Australian trends seem to always follow the UK and US where Prosecco is very popular.
“The popularity over summer of the Aperol Spritz also put Prosecco on people’s drinking radar, and there has been literally a tripling of the number of Proseccos available at Dan Murphy’s.”
Brauer said the City of Wangaratta Tourism together with the King Valley wineries have worked hard to embrace social media in a really inclusive way, promoting the region as a whole as well as the home of Prosecco.
An initiative called ‘Prosecco Road’ has been started by King Valley Prosecco winemakers has been driven by Christian Dal Zotto, Dal Zotto Wines sales and marketing manager, for the past six years.
Christian said he has seen huge growth in the demand for Prosecco.
“As a wine, it is approachable with its delicate aromatics and fresh crisp palate, which makes it appeal to a broad audience,” he said.
“This is evident at our ‘Primavera del Prosecco’ festival in November where we celebrate the release of the new seasons Prosecco.
Michael said the winery has experienced as many as 2000 visitors across all demographics enjoy Prosecco at the festival.
“All in all we see Prosecco as a wine for all occasions and to be enjoyed at any time,” he said.
An extended version of this article was first published in the September 2015 edition of the Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine.
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