Conegliano Valdobbiadene: a model for rural and cultural development
The Consorzio di Tutela del Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, a private body with the public interest at heart that groups together 3,000 families of vine-growers and 5,000 associates (vine-growing, vinifying and bottling companies), considers it important to reaffirm its commitment to safeguarding and promoting the product, as well as to maintaining sustainability with regard to the region’s production. Prosecco Superiore represents 20% of the overall production of Prosecco.
The history of Prosecco began in the Conegliano Valdobbiadene zone more than three centuries ago. Indeed, in this area, passion for vine-growing and the natural vocation of each individual hillside are part and parcel of every village and every hamlet. Here wine is an element that is intimately linked with the identity of the place: a wine that combines ancient wisdom and a constant quest for quality.
In the Conegliano Valdobbiadene zone, the various generations of men and women have perpetuated traditional practices based on manual labour and in high-altitude hillside vineyards, with the aim of guaranteeing outstanding quality in their production.
The Viticultural Protocol
The Consorzio di Tutela del Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG has, since 2011, availed itself of a Viticultural Protocol, a document that has the objective of guiding, guaranteeing and monitoring the process of change in the use of products that ensure plant health towards greater environmental and sanitary compatibility and sustainability. The goal is, by increasing the sensibility of the vine-growers, to minimise the impact and risk in the use of plant health products for the benefit of man and of the environment.
This project preceded the implementation of the complex set of European and national rules governing the use of agrochemicals for professional purposes. In particular, the 2016 update contains a series of novelties resulting from new scientific collaborations, which have led to a further reduction in the chemical molecules to be used in the vineyard. The innovations of a technical nature are the result of assessments made by the committee of experts that draws up the Viticultural Protocol.
This technical and regulatory instrument is based on an assumption of responsibility by the whole of the production chain, which has realised the strength that is generated by a unity of intent among all those involved.
The application of the Viticultural Protocol depends on constant monitoring of the evolution of plant diseases and an analysis of the effectiveness and appropriateness to the local context of the operations that are recommended from time to time. The Viticultural Protocol avails itself of the technical support of the Consorzio di Tutela’s Viticultural Help Desk.
Along with the historic cooperation with the CREA research body in Conegliano, a new one has begun this year with Arpav (the Veneto’s Agency for Environmental Prevention and Protection), and in particular with the meteorological department at Teolo and that of hygiene and health. This important collaboration has growers to recognize better the risks connected with the use of agrochemicals, highlighted in the Viticultural Protocol in a special table, from which the vine-growers can glean the necessary information for using such plant health products.
With regard to the evolution of the management of agrochemicals and as a result of the awareness achieved thus far, it is also worth noting that, since 2013, helicopters for aerial spraying have been banned. This type of treatment had already been reduced in the preceding years (of the 6,500 hectares cultivated that year, only 350 were sprayed from above).
Wholesomeness of the product
Prosecco Superiore is produced in the zone of the historic Denomination and is made from at least 85% of grapes of the Glera variety and no more than 15% of the local cultivars Verdiso, Bianchetta, Perera and Glera Lunga.
An external certifying body (Valoritalia) is responsible for controls on the product from the vineyard to the bottle, so as to offer guarantees to the consumer well before the product is released onto the market. Vinification has to be carried out according to the strict norms of the Production Regulations and can only take place within the 15 communes of the D.O.C.G. zone.
The Consorzio di Tutela itself regularly carries out analyses on samples of grapes in order to ensure that the Production Regulations are being adhered to and guarantee the healthiness of the fruit. The competent health authorities (USSL) also analyse samples of Prosecco D.O.C.G. wine to guarantee that they conform to the regulations.
There are currently 129 hectares of organically-cultivated vineyards within the Denomination and numerous producers are starting or have already begun the process of converting their vineyards. A group of producers of organic Prosecco Superiore is looking into the possibility of creating a bio-district within the D.O.C.G..
Organic viticulture is, though, an agricultural practice that requires considerable time to put into place and presents numerous difficulties to be implemented strictly, especially in an unforgiving terroir that calls for extreme efforts on the part of the vine-growers, who have to dedicate themselves to so-called “heroic” viticulture due to the particular environmental and working conditions. The steep slopes as well as the quantity and frequency of rainfall in the hills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene make organic cultivation particularly demanding.
According to Professor Vasco Boatto, Full Professor of Agricultural Economics and Policy at the University of Padua, Dean of the Degree Course in Viticulture and Oenology in Conegliano and Director of the Interdepartmental Centre for Research in Viticulture and Oenology (CIRVE), “the gradual transformation towards organic viticulture is complex for a company, and in particular for the very large number of growers who are involved in the production of Prosecco Superiore. Investments that have to be made during the conversion period are substantial, the incentives of which they are aware are still limited, and the insurance guarantees for growers are still being developed. The evolution that is taking place towards an ever more informed and precise use of agrochemicals (clearly represented by the Viticultural Protocol) is, on the other hand, a process that involves all the growers in an effective way”.
Safeguarding the production zone
Figures from the Veneto’s Agency for Agricultural Payments reveal that between 2012 and 2015 the area planted with vines increased by around 600 hectares. It is interesting to note from a survey of 1936 that the overall vineyard area of the zone at the time was greater than 11,000 hectares, compared to the roughly 7,000 hectares of today. In the 1960s, on the other hand, the area was similar to the present figure. Woodland saw a large expansion during the 20th century, and in recent years has remained substantially stable: in 1960 there were approximately 7,040 hectares of woods, and in 2007 about 7,925 hectares were registered. All in all, the area planted with vines for D.O.C.G. Prosecco DOCG and that of woodland are about the same.
To be even more precise, in the 15 communes of the D.O.C.G., the “wooded” area (which includes hedges, bushes, etc.) is 12,500 hectares, while woods themselves cover (according to the criteria of the State Forestry Corps) 7,000 hectares.
The Consorzio has launched projects – in collaboration with the university and research centres (CREA, University of Padua, and the Veneto Agency for Agricultural Growth) – for the development of an agricultural system that enhances and protects the biodiversity of the vineyards, wild flora, small amphibious animals and endophytic microorganisms in the vineyard; for the recovery, development and use of biomasses from viticultural activities as a source of renewable energy; and for ecologically sustainable defence systems, with a reduction of pollution in the vineyard.
Origins and the present
The Glera vine has found the ideal environment in the Conegliano Valdobbiadene zone in which to express the variety’s characteristics to the full. The success story of Prosecco began in 1876 at the School of Winemaking in Conegliano, the first institution of its kind in Italy and still active today. Science and technology came together in aid of a great idea, succeeding in perfecting the method for making sparkling wine and stabilizing the product, thus guaranteeing its keeping qualities and transportability. The Glera variety therefore found its perfect expression in the hills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene and was launched towards its current success.
Conegliano Valdobbiadene is a small hilly region between Venice and the Dolomites. It is a historic area, which features in paintings by the major landscape artists of the Veneto. It is a zone with rugged heights, punctuated with mediaeval hamlets and whose manicured aspect has been created by the tenacious efforts of skilful vine-growers.
Thanks to this perfect symbiosis between man and nature, Conegliano Valdobbiadene has become the homeland of Prosecco Superiore, which is now a candidate to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The combination between the local peoples and the area has created here a place that is unlike anywhere else on Earth, giving rise to a model for rural and cultural development in which beauty, history and ecological sustainability have coexisted in harmony for centuries.
The official accolades obtained by the region – and indissolubly linked to wine – are a source of pride for the Consorzio and especially for all of the area’s protagonists (members, institutional bodies, other promotional associations,…): Conegliano Valdobbiadene is the European Wine Town for 2016 (the first time that an entire region has been awarded such recognition) and is also a Historic Rural Landscape.
Moreover, Conegliano Valdobbiadene is the only Italian wine region to have been included in the “Cité du Vin”, the extraordinary museum in Bordeaux inaugurated in 2016 and devoted to winemaking culture.