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Francesco Drusian: Preserving the heritage of Prosecco DOCG

Prosecco DOCG hills

The steep hills of the unique Valdobbiadene-Conegliano Prosecco Superiore DOCG rise abruptly from the Venetian plain. The border separating the DOCG from Prosecco DOC lies at the base the hills. Story and photos by Dave Buchanan

BIGOLINO di Valdobbiadene (TV) – Standing amidst rows of spring-fresh vines climbing the razorback hills rising steeply to of the pre-Alps of northeast Italy, Francesco Drusian smiles at the thought of this region becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site.

“We did everything we could to preserve our heritage,” Drusian says, reaching out to a light-green shoot just opening to the April sun. “Now, it’s up to others to decide if we did enough.”

It’s only a few days past VinItaly and I’ve called on Francesco Drusian in hopes of learning more about Prosecco and Drusian’s place in the narrative of Italy’s popular yet oft-underappreciated sparkling wine.

I’ll post more about our discussions in the future.

Few people would argue Francesco Drusian has done as much as anyone to preserve his heritage and that of Prosecco.

Drusian Brut

Born in the hills of Valdobbiadene-Conegliano and 100-percent Glera grapes. Photo courtesy Drusian FaceBook

According to Francesco, he’s the fourth generation of his family (the fifth, his daughter Marika, already is producing Prosecco DOCG under her own label) to make wine from these geometrically perfect vineyards overlooking the village of Bigolino, which itself lies on the north bank of the Fiume Piave near where the river cuts through the famed Valdobbiadene hills.

The winery began in the mid-19th Century with grandfather Giuseppe Drusian and then his son Rino making still wines. Francesco took over in 1984 and today the name Drusian connotes Prosecco Superiore DOCG, one of the best versions of the iconic Italian sparkling wine now soaring on a crest of popularity.

Francesco introduced sparkling wine to his winery in 1986, shortly after the autoclave afforded a way to control the secondary fermentation that gives Prosecco its sparkle and shortly before the world’s love affair with everything Italian became the tsunami we see today.

The advantages of the pressurized autoclave – including preserving bubbles and fresh flavors and reducing the labor and cost involved with metodo classico – suddenly made it possible for lovers of sparkling wine worldwide to enjoy a wine that is light, refreshing, food-friendly and surprisingly affordable.

“Prosecco DOC is the ultimate simple but sophisticated wine which personifies the unique Italian lifestyle” says the Prosecco DOC Consorzio website.

However, the international rush to adopt elements of the “Italian lifestyle” had its expected result: a flood of Prosecco, much of it poorly made and of dubious background (google “Paris Hilton prosecco”), hitting the market.

Even the very existence of a Prosecco DOC gives voice to the expansion, some say uncontrolled, of Prosecco as an industrial product.

By the mid-2000s, Prosecco, as with many other great things, had to be saved from its own success. Read more…

What do you mean, ‘It’s time to go?’ Look at all the wines…

February 18, 2016 Leave a comment
Glasses @Vino 2016

Wine enthusiasts faced a daunting lineup of choices at the Vino 2016 and the Tre Bicchieri International Tour events recently held in New York City.

The plane had barely lifted out of La Guardia, headed west over the snow-covered country of upstate New York, and I already was thinking about the wines I missed during my brief stay in New York City.

Three days of Italian Wine Week/Vino 2016 in New York City’s Midtown Hilton with a brief interlude at the Tre Bicchieri 2016 International Tour tasting simply wasn’t time enough to do justice to all the wines and winemakers at the two events.

One of the expected drawbacks to having 160-plus winemakers and about 1,000 different labels in one room, as was the case with the two Vino 2016 Grand Tastings, is you simply can’t meet every winemaker even with an afternoon to do so.

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Prosecco maker Graziano Merotto, shown here pouring at his winery in Col San Martino, this year was awarded his fifth consecutive Tre Bicchieri.

Undoubtedly many gems went untasted or there simply wasn’t time to return to re-taste some of the more-interesting wines. I’m certainly not complaining, given the breadth and depth of the wines I did taste, and there are many worse places to be than surrounded by talented and ambitious winemakers.

It was an abundance of riches including a fascinating seminar about olive oil from Marco Oreggia (a fine article here from Susannah Gold).

The wine-cup-runneth-over was something I mentioned at the Vino 2016 tasting to Marco Funiati, owner and general manager of Agricola Messapica in Salento.

“Yes, there are many (winemakers) here trying to attract the American market,” said Funiata. “We don’t have much time to make an impression, and the American market is so big.”

He was pouring his 2014 Salento Chardonnay, an 80/20 blend of Chardonnay and Verdeca. Crisp, fresh and bright, available in the U.K. but still seeking a U.S. importer.

I stopped a few tables away to try Alex Polencic’s Pinot Grigio and although it hadn’t been in bottle long, was impressed by the rich mouthfeel and velvety apple/pear fruit, far different (and way better) than the sea of plonky Pinot Grigios now flooding the U.S. market.

“2014 was one of the most difficult years in the last 15,” Polencic said. “But 2015 was much better” with late-summer rain softening the earlier heat.

Over at the Tre Bicchieri International Tour tasting at the Metropolitan Pavilion, I slipped through the crowd to find Elvira Bortolomiol pouring her family’s 2014 Brut Prior Prosecco Superiore, the 2014 Brut Lus Naturae and the 2015 Extra Dry Bandarossa. Prosecco sales continue to climb and it’s no wonder after tasting the outstanding wines from Bortolomiol and those Maria Luisa dalla Costa was pouring for Graziano Merotto, both from the rugged hills of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG.

This, by the way, was Merotto’s fifth-consecutive Tre Bicchieri, honoring his Cuvèe del Fondatore.

Also of note were the 2014 Lugana Molin and 2014 Lugana Prestige from Cá Maiol on the southern end of Lake Garda. The wines, not surprisingly, were delicious, reflective of the area’s complex history and geography.

And all too quickly the weekend was over.