Prosecco by any other name
The stoush over the right to continue using the name ‘prosecco’ on Australian wines is a bizarre story. It serves to remind us that wine is a fashion business, and the lower-priced end of the business is the most fashion-dependent.
I would bet that the vast majority of drinkers of prosecco would not be able to tell the difference between prosecco and any other very young, simple, slightly sweet sparkling wine. I would include myself in that group. The wines are mostly neutral, simple, lacking distinctive personality.
The fact that the prosecco market is growing strongly in Australia at present is chiefly because it has an appealing and distinctive name. The name has acquired a certain desirability. We could argue that the increased travel of Australians to Italy and wider Europe and the ensuing rise in imports of Italian wines are behind prosecco’s modishness.
Italy, through the European Union, is trying to prevent Australians using the prosecco name on our wines. Prosecco was the name of the grape variety in Italy until the Italians successfully changed its name to glera just a few years ago. This seems to have been part of a strategy to argue that prosecco is a name with geographic specificity, and not a grape cultivar, and should, therefore, be confined to producers in a particular area of Italy.
Australian prosecco wines are made from the same grape, which we continue to call prosecco.
Some say the case has echoes of the Champagne producers stopping Australians using the name Champagne, but Champagne is a region with a history firmly tied to sparkling wine. The Italians’ prosecco move would be akin to the Champagne producers arguing that we should be prevented using the word chardonnay on chardonnay wines.
It’s easy to sympathise with Italy. Aussies have pinched part of their market. And there are precedents. Not long ago, Australians started producing pinot gris, but, realising that the Italians had created a big market for pinot grigio, and the market for gris was relatively small, they switched to labelling their wines pinot grigio. You could market the same wine as both gris and grigio and the grigio would sell much better.
Canny Victorian-based wine company Brown Brothers has been the prime mover with both pinot grigio and prosecco. Their region, north-east Victoria’s King Valley, is Australia’s Prosecco Central. Dal Zotto was the first to market one, closely followed by Pizzini and others, but Brown Brothers had the marketing clout to ramp up production. Executive director Ross Brown says his company generates about 10% of its sales from prosecco, and he sees major growth potential there. He is worried that the company’s plans could be jeopardised if the Italian move succeeds.
If being successful in the wine game is simply surfing fashion waves, Brown Brothers play the game well. But what will the next fashion bubble be? Maybe France’s Blanquette de Limoux will take off next. We can’t use the name Limoux because it’s a place-name, but we could call our wine Blanquette de Limo and put a stretch limousine on the label. Or Blanquette de Larry or Libby or some other name starting with L.
Stranger things have happened.