When I read news about the ongoing struggle between Italy an Croatia on Prosecco/Prošek, I shake my head.
For all the people that have been living under a rock, Croatia has applied to the EU for the protection of their Prošek, a sweet wine from passito grapes made in Dalmatia. The EU granted it, but that did not sound good to Italian authorities, who are now filing a complain against what they judge a blatant misappropriation of the Prosecco name and tradition.
What power can 7 letters have! What I would like to be clear though is that this is not a battle of tradition or identity, this is simply a battle for the use of a powerful brand. The story is known: Prosecco in its modern and successful form has historically being produced in the province of Treviso. At the beginning of the 2000s the wine started enjoying an incredible surge in popularity, especially in UK and US, and imitations started to appear, until the infamous “Paris Hilton Prosecco” convinced the producers that something had to be done to protect their wine.
Until 2008 Prosecco was the official name of the grape now known as Glera, and featured in many DOCs and IGTs. As it is custom with grape varieties names, it could be put on the label of varietal wines. However the smart producers were lucky enough to find an hamlet named “Prosecco” not far from Trieste: at that point they tied the name Prosecco with the town, renamed the grape “Glera” and created a gigantic appellation covering 4/5 of Veneto and the entire Friuli Venezia Giulia.
While finding it a smart move, the logic has always perplexed me: if Prosecco wine gets its name from the hamlet bearing the same name, why is the best Prosecco made in the area of Conegliano Valdobbiadene, some 200 km away from there? Why Asolo Prosecco DOCG and Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG have been allowed to keep their Prosecco name? If Prosecco is a hamlet in Carso, what is the relation between it and the identity of the Treviso hills? And if we want to talk about identity, what is the relation between the Prosecco identity and the new rosé version, what is its historical justification? The answers are simple, but I will not write them.
In Toscana you find a similar case, with the Chianti DOCG not covering the historical and geographical Chianti area, but there you also have a Chianti Classico DOCG which is steeped in the tradition of this wine at least since the end of the 19th century (in its present form). On the contrary there is very little Prosecco coming out from the village of Prosecco. The links between the wine and the hamlet are unsubstantiated, despite people doing their best to justify the situation.
The Dalmatian Prošek probably is linked with “Prosecco” in the same way Conegliano Valdobbiadene is. The area has been under the control of the Venice Republic for centuries. The term likely expanded in an age when commercial concerns were much narrower and trademark properties more fluid: it went to the west ending up indicating a grape, and it went to the east ending up indicating a sweet style of wine. We are not talking of a newly made commercial brand that tries to capitalize on its assonance with “Prosecco”, but of a style of wine that is being made for centuries and which is part of the Dalmatian identity.
I certainly understand the concerns of Prosecco producer, and maybe they are right, at least from a legal point of view. After all Prosecco hamlet is in Italy. However there are many “holes” in the supposed “Prosecco identity” of North-East Italy and every time issues like this come out, these “holes” show up clearer.