Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Battle for Prosecco

“I’m a little upset with you over that blog post you wrote about Prosecco.” That was my introduction to Primo Franco, an iconic producer in Valdobbiadene, with years of history and dedication to the elevation of the simple sparkling wine of the Veneto that has become a world phenomenon. His disarming daughter Silvia had brought me here to their home for my last day in Valdobbiadene. Not sure where this afternoon was going, I replied, “I agree with you, I am upset as well, and you know why. So it seems we are fighting the same fight.”

Primo is a force, a “big tree,” one of a handful of men and women in landscape of the modern Italian wine revolution who, when you meet them, you know they're playing for keeps. They’re not in it for ego gratification. Primo has an intellectual and artistic side that is equally disarming. We share a love for architecture, both fans of Frank Lloyd Wright. Primo had even been to Scottsdale to Taliesin West. “So you know also of Paolo Soleri?” I asked. It seems we will need to be taking a trip together in the future to visit Arcosanti; Primo hasn't been there.

The organizers of Vino in Villa brought me here to Valdobbiadene, and for six days I tasted many different Prosecco wines. I know more now than I did a week ago. I am also aware that I barely have scratched the surface of this wonderful and sometimes frustrating wine. My concerns have more often focused on the industrial out-sourcers of Prosecco DOC. But there are also producers in Valdobbiadene who stretch their lines up to the edge of a tenuous credibility. They are fighting the good fight.

There are millions of dollars at stake. Land values in Cartizze that rival Bordeaux First Growths, but with wines that sell for a fraction of the price. Extreme wine-growing areas that require the ongoing hand of man (and woman) to tend the vineyards. Some of the growers are getting older and cannot do the manual labor they once did. The relentless soil calls for more hands, more labor. Technology cannot solve everything. And young people aren’t all following in their parents' or their grandparents' footsteps.

How is it one can open up a bottle or two of Prosecco over a plate of risotto with fresh asparagus and the libraries of thought, philosophy and art fling their doors wide open? With a family like the Francos, it’s part of their everyday existence. It’s in the way they breathe. Prosecco is a very important component. But this family has seen fit to chart far shores and bring back their discoveries, Prosecco becoming more than a mere wine with bubbles. But Primo had me at Frank Lloyd Wright.

Something about Primo Franco reminded me of Roberto Bava, another crusader. Both love their wine and their terroir, both have become modern day Marco Polos. They are adventurers of the mind, the land and an esthetic. These are kindred souls. How did I get here? What luck exposed me to these extraordinary people?

This is what makes Italy great. Not the monuments or the museums crammed with forgotten masterpieces. Yes, those are wonderful to look upon and feast one’s eyes. But the blood in the stream of the timeless idea of Italy through the ages, this comes from life in process. And on my last day in Valdobbiadene, Italy gives this parting gift.

I should talk about the wines, yes? After all this is a wine blog, no?

Primo had a program for the afternoon. He wanted me to taste a vertical of his Nino Franco cru, Grave di Stecca Brut, to see how the wine evolves. Primo is a terroirist as well, so we would be encountering some of that. But first he took me on a tour of his winery - not to see any more stainless steel or autoclave, thank you very much, but to a little building out back which he called his pensatoio. It was a cube within a cube, an octagonlike building with two floors. On the top was his thinking office, complete with two fireplaces. Below was his infernoti, his library - more, his history of Prosecco in bottles. “I think we should let you taste an old one. But not too old, this is just your first time here.” I was happy that someone had a room like this. To taste something from it would be a thrill. “Let’s try this one from 1991, Primo Franco.”

And so we climbed back to the winery office and tasting room, where his daughter joined us.

“Silvia, Silvia", I thought, “your father is a big tree. And you are his daughter. You must be stronger than a man,” I thought. I believe Silvia is up to the challenge. Many young people in this area that have a serenity and a depth, as if they have been prepared by the ancients to go forward. And the bloodlines carry these strengths. I am not worried about Silvia.

Primo the man and Primo the wine at the same table. One of those moments when the lines are blurred between man and terroir. “Man is terroir in this region,” Primo said to me more than once.

And the wines, how do they stack up? Are you expecting a tasting note? You know better than that.

Let me say it like this. Mr. Vettorello, the Prosecco event was wonderful, and the bookends of the event were two amazing people at different points in their career. The first being the young old soul Christian Zanatta, the other being Primo Franco. I met many wonderful people, and I will write about them in future posts, so this love affair with the true, authentic Prosecco is far from over. But the fates had it that two people not directly involved with the event gave me a deeper view into the world of Prosecco. There are more stories, for sure. I met them. And the fight to keep the lineage of purity and simplicity, what makes Prosecco so wonderful intrinsically, that battle wages on. Some Valdobbiadenese are in the fight, fighting for what makes Prosecco great.

Two souls at different ends of their work, fastened together by invisible spider silk, delicate and resilient. This is the timeless power of Prosecco: the people, the transmitters.

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

3 comments: said...

It sounds like you had a nice, interesting and productive trip. Love this post. Makes me want to go with you next time.

Alfonso Cevola said...

thanks, Sis - wish you were there....really pretty time of year and such nice people

JP - I predict there will be a collaboration with him in your future...

Unknown said...

Beautiful blog, well written posts and you pick out good moments on your journey!

You have my support--keep it up ^^

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