Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Rape of the Veneto

“What happened in Montalcino earlier this month was horrendous, but as bad as it was, it paled in comparison to what has been going on in the Veneto. They have virtually raped the land, stripped it of any character in pursuit of dollars. The popularization of Prosecco has had enormous effect on people, on farming, on the earth.”
In review of events that have transpired in Italy this year, the perversion of Prosecco persists. Enormous growth year after year has people chasing after more and more profit, pushing the land, changing laws, reducing the Veneto to a mere factory for the whims of folks who no longer want to spend money on Champagne and sparkling wine of character.

Many of us were struck by the harshness of the act that one man perpetrated early one morning in December in Montalcino. It was horrid, indeed. But the systematic dismantling of tradition in the Veneto, from Valdobbiadene and Conegliano, on the gentle slopes that humankind has lovingly nurtured - that is tragedy of legendary proportions. Culture, tradition, quality, values - all receding like the arctic ice in the Polar zones.

Yet there are those who remain true to their calling. Treating the earth below them as a temporary place to care for and husband. They exist in the hills, following after their grandfather’s ways. Some of them found their way there in the 1970’s, young, idealistic, returning to their roots and Mother Earth.

But America and Great Britain came knocking, looking for sparkling wine alternatives to the more expensive (and drier) Champagne. And in less than a generation, a sea change, a revolution took place - the popularization of Prosecco.

What once was a curiosity in the bars of Venice, dolloped with peach puree or simply by itself, grew in popularity. Like a ravenous army that couldn’t get enough of war and pillage, agents were sent in to procure more, and at lower prices. Importers, wine buyers from supermarkets and massive chain stores went in looking for a steady supply of sweet fizzy inexpensive juice for their thirsty clients back home. And with not so much as a struggle the Veneto gave up its hearts and souls. It was really less of a rape than an act of consent, but the effect would be seen in the future more as a wave of aggression with no resistance.

Chemicals poured onto the land to make the vines produce higher quantities. Yeasts developed for soft, velvety, fruity flavors. Shortcuts to bring the product to market sooner. Shorter ageing, taking the wine off the lees, cold stabilization so the wine wouldn’t go "its own way", and on and on.

And who raised a voice? Who dared to peer beyond the linen curtain? Everywhere you would see young men and women dressed in the best fashions from Milan, driving the newest flashiest cars from BMW, Rover, Mercedes. Gold and marble dripping from the new wineries. All of a sudden the summer house in Rolle wasn’t good enough; they had to go to Panarea, Costa Esmeralda or the Seychelles.

Overnight the values of generations of souls who worked the land intimately, they were all swept under the mat. For a few pieces of silver.
“The world wrings their hands over every little fart that is made in Montalcino, but the Veneto has encountered a tsunami and no one cries out. Our collective values in Italy have genuflected to desire and desecration.”
From a distance it does seem Italy has no regret of giving up the Veneto to Mammon. The grand cru of Prosecco, the hill of Cartizze, a place like I have never seen anywhere else in the world. Is this where the devil took the collective soul of Italy to tempt it to give up their sons and daughters, their way of life? On the gilded walls of San Marco in Venice, were the artists prescient in their depiction of this vile act?

The greater tragedy isn’t a loss of 60 thousand bottles of one man’s wine. It’s the loss of an entire culture, a culture in which Prosecco was integral to the lifeblood of the soul, not solely the economy. 60 million bottles, not 60 thousand, and a culture destroyed to boot! And where are the wine writers and bloggers? Scratching around for more dirt on the Soldera incident, or rooting around the MacLean affair or the Parker sale. Little things compared to the end of an epoch.

And yet will we not see thousands of words spilled over articles with titles like “Best Buys in Bubbly for New Year’s Eve” from which Prosecco will be crowned the king of all things sparkling? A king without a robe, or a heart. Or a land.

Thinking on these things as we transition form one time to another. Not the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, some discretionary value that we have all agreed to believe in. Something greater than 365 measly days. Meanwhile the hundreds of years of tending the land with love is shown the door and sent out the back way to roam in the desert for the rest of time.

The devil is in the details.

Under the Doge's Palace

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Anonymous said...

Caro Alfonso, il tuo post rispecchia appieno la triste realtà di un territorio devastato dall'uomo, e di un vino, che da ragazzo gustavo con gli amici nel "giro di ombre" qui a Treviso, ad un "monstre" eno-economnico, tradito e violentato anche dalle scelte politiche dei nostri governanti veneti (la scandalosa riclassificazione del DOC e DOCG!).
Nicolò Seminara (un trevisano ferito)

Vit said...

Dear Mr. Cevola. Thank you very much for this article. I come from small village in Czech Republic near Austrian Border. There is old wine country and situation in last 20 years is very similar like in Veneto with Prosecco. Money kill wine culture everywhere. (And not only wine culture).

Wine Curmudgeon said...

Right on! Another one of your posts I wish I had written.

Thomas said...

...and the worm keeps turning. This post could have been written a long time ago, when large Italian shipping companies wreaked havoc on the Roman wine industry.

Anyway, now I know why I have not appreciated a Prosecco in quite some time. The stuff has been ruined, or at least most of what floods the New York market these days.

Alfonso Cevola said...

thanks, all, for the great putting 2012 to rest here on the wine trail. back atcha in 2013

Auguri, tutti!

Franco Ziliani said...

BRAVO Alfonso, bravissimo!
Standing ovation for your marvelous, stunning post!
Franco Ziliani

Anonymous said...

Herewith the links to my post about your article:

Franco Ziliani

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thank you, Franco

Rolando said...

I facili guadagni immediati portano spesso a causare danni a lungo termine. E l'aumento eccessivo delle denominazioni venete, grazie agli ultimi due ministri dell'Agricoltura, ha ulteriormente accelerato il degrado

Anonymous said...

Signor Cevola,
il prosecco è già da 20 anni fatto nella maniera che lei dice, vale a dire un protocollo di enologia industriale. Si scopre l'acqua calda, mi pare. E a proposito di Cartizze, su cui sono d'accordo nell'essere uno dei siti più belli del mondo per tenere vigna, si è mai domandato perchè produce un vino mediocre nonostante l'eccelsa posizione? Provi a darsi una risposta e capirà perchè il prosecco è quello che è ora.
Alvaro Pavan

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year, Mr. Cevola.
Thank you for this touchful post.
Let me add one thought, though.
The entire operation was set to avoid an even more dangerous problem.
Prosecco was the name of the grape varietal (old name is "glera"). Because it is a name of a grape varietal it cannot be protected and everyone in the world could legally call Prosecco a sparkling wine made everywhere.
At that point the option was to have a generic sparkling wine called Prosecco and made possibly in millions of bottle may be in Argentina or in Australia, or to find an escamotage to keep the name prosecco in Ttaly. The extension of the geographical area of production was found thanks to the name of a tiny village near Trieste called Prosecco.
They extended the area including Friuli-Venezia Giulia even though that territory has nothing to do with Prosecco but, at least, Prosecco can be only Made in Italy
Thank you for your attention in this so delicate matter.

Thank you, Alfonso.
All my best,
Francesco Bonfio

pat thomson said...

Re: “The world wrings their hands over every little fart that is made in Montalcino, but the Veneto has encountered a tsunami and no one cries out."

I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "Now, where is the Veneto?" -- even people who profess to love Italian wine. Sadly, it's just not on people's radar.

Thanks for the post, Alfonso.

Carlo said...

Dear Alfonso Cevola,

I "devour" your posts and have never written before as I have always been in perfect agreement with your views. This time ? Mixed feelings. At last is Italy having some worldwide recognition, monetary and mediatic, for one of its wines.
Do we need it, boy ! On the other hand this means the "rape of the land". Well, there are of course still several top rank quality producers,
if you are looking for the real agricultural thing,
while many "industrial" Proseccos still stand their ground and certainly do not deserve the harsh
canvas flack your post seems to dispense. Is the situation much different in Champagne, Bordeaux,
Bourgogne ?? Can a commercial succes be achieved without costs of some sort ? Is the land really raped or we are only reacting not on an absolute scale but in proportion to the local idyll it was before ?
Aren't "devastation" and "rape" two a bit too emotional and unforgiving terms ? Has all the the sparkle gone ?

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks for your note, Carlo

Italy is having continued commercial success, in America. Last year Italian wine grew 8% last year.
Chianti, Lambrusco, Asti Spumante, the list goes on. Moscato, Pinot Grigio, Prosecco. Italy has no shortage of wins.
And yes there are wonderful Prosecco wines available from producers, as I mentioned in my post.
What I am lamenting in this post is the loss of culture, a homogenization of something that is particular and unique. And it is becoming diluted.

Zanotto col fondo said...

That is my idea, forget prosecco and believe in the col fondo
Tks Riccardo

S.C. said...

So che "rape" ha diversi significati. In italiano lo possiamo tradurre con stupro, violazione, violenza. Quale di questi termini intendeva sottolineare con il titolo del suo post?
Come sa, c'è molta differenza in Italia tra le parole sopra elencate, ed è molto facile travisare il contenuto...

Alfonso Cevola said...


all of the above

Alessandro Carlassare said...

I translated your post but you must translate my reply!

Da buon veneto non mi manca il corretto senso critico, anzi sono il primo a denunciare le situazioni di evidente disagio di cui il territorio in cui vivo è zeppo, ma il suo post, signor Cevola, è un assurdo minestrone di luoghi comuni e di demagogia.
Non dico ci sia cattiveria in quanto lei scrive, ma ignoranza (intesa proprio come mancanza di conoscenza) si, e pure tanta: magari un articolo del genere lo si poteva scrivere dieci anni fa, oggi è solo un insulto ai tanti giovani che si dedicano con sincero amore alla cura di viti e vigneti.
E’ addirittura offensivo il passaggio in cui egli scrive “ovunque guardate potete vedere giovani donne e uomini vestiti con le migliori griffe milanesi della moda, alla guida delle auto più potenti e costose, con ori e marmi ad abbellire le nuove cantine”.
Io vedo, quotidianamente a differenza sua, ragazzi freschi di istituto enologico quando non di laurea, confrontarsi con genitori e zii per recuperare le parti corrette del loro sapere ma eliminare quelle nocive ereditate dall’agricoltura degli anni ’80 - ’90, quelli dove ogni azione era giustificata alla voce del “fare”.
I territori di produzione del Prosecco non sono certo popolati da santi e benefattori, e di sicuro (al pari di tutte le altre zone vitate del mondo) ci saranno persone a cui interessa solo ed esclusivamente il ritorno economico, ma questo non giustifica un articolo dove si parla addirittura di perdita dell’anima.
Perdita che puoi giudicare solo se quel territorio lo vivi dal di dentro.

Alfonso Cevola said...


Thank you for your comment. I am not a professional translator, so that will have to be for other folks who are more adept at that kind of thing. What I do know is this: I see with my eyes and my heart and I have traveled more of Italy in the last 40 years than most Italians. So I do have a right to my opinion based on my observations. Have a nice day.

Paul Franklin said...

interesting little write-up. I think any that money influences gets pillaged like the wineries producing fine wine.

Travel and Taste said...

Thank you for this great post!

Giancarlo Vettorello said...

Dear Mr. Cevola,
We read your post “The Rape of Prosecco” with interest and attention. We hesitated in writing to you because we hoped to be able to meet you and talk about it personally on the occasion of the event we will be hosting on 5th February in Houston, where we will once again describe and explain to a US audience how the hilly area of Conegliano Valdobbiadene is where Prosecco is “Superiore”.
We cannot of course agree with some of the positions you have expressed and we hope that we will soon have the opportunity to discuss your article face to face. You talk about the hills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene being a very beautiful region with a strong identity, and we think that this opinion is absolutely true. Ours is in fact one of the few areas where virtually all of the wineries are owned by people who live in and love their zone, and who have passed down the tradition of grape-growing and wine production from generation to generation.
In your article you talk in sharp tones about the inordinate growth in the production of Prosecco. I think I should stress that this growth in the production of Prosecco has been going on for several years, when it was still an I.G.T wine without any sort of control.
It seems that you attribute the increase in production to a widening of the zone in 2009. If I may, I should like to point out that the new regulations have merely identified the borders of the area where the cultivation of this variety was allowed anyway. Rather than “widening”, I would take about “regulation”, which we ourselves wanted in order to create a certain amount of norms and hence legal protection regarding the name of this wine.
Up until 2009, in fact, the word “Prosecco” referred to a grape variety, and for that reason it was extremely difficult to protect against any type of fraud or imitation. With the creation of the Prosecco D.O.C., on the other hand, production is now limited to the D.O.C. area in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia.
As regards to the historic denomination of Conegliano Valdobbiadene, which became D.O.C.G. in 2009 and is a zone that I think you know well, I should like to stress the fact that it has never altered its boundaries since it was first recognized in 1969.
Notwithstanding the many clichés one hears about our area, I am sure you are aware what toil and sacrifices are involved in growing grapes on steep hillside sites; yet there are still lots of young people - and old ones as well – who choose to carry out the “hands-on” type of viticulture that is our hallmark.
From the outside everything may seem easy and indeed glittery, but I think that cultivating land with a gradient of often over 70% is a courageous choice that calls for real commitment. We at the Consortium seek to repay the growers by giving value to their hard work, which in our opinion yields a wine that is unique and inimitable.
Naturally we can still do more – and better – but we are proud to have well-conserved hillsides that, in spite of the general economic climate, are still in production.
Of course, any observations – even the less welcome ones – give us cause to reflect on what we are doing. I therefore invite you to come back to our zone, so that you can not only admire once again the hills you like but also really get to know the people whose families have been tending them for generations.
Kind regards,

Director of Consorzio Tutela del Vino Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore
Giancarlo Vettorello

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