Wow, it's just spring but it's so hot that it seems summer already. Before the weather gets too hot, I decide to hop on a train and go to Conegliano to visit a grape farm and learn more about prosecco making.
Conegliano is a beautiful town about 50 minutes by train from Venice, it has a very elegant historical centre and there is always an art exhibition going on. If you come all the way to Conegliano, explore the countryside, hills, valleys and plains with vineyards practically everywhere.
I had an appointment with Ernesto Cattel of Costa di là. I wanted to meet him because the story behind this prosecco fascinates me: in fact, differently from other wines, Costa di là doesn't belong to one producer, it's a collective form of farm with different investors, one grower (Ernesto) and a few precious and trusted helpers. It was founded in 2007 with the provocative idea of re-elaborating a good house wine, close to the one produced by their ancestors.
We drove around the area and it was immediately visible that the production of prosecco here is such a big business that everyone that has a piece of land makes wine. If you have some land, you don't build a house, it wouldn't be worth even half the value of a small vineyard. But, we should start first from the consideration that the wine cultivation history of the Veneto territory, like for most parts of Northern Italy, is completely different from the one of France. In France the wine culture is characterised by varietal wines and blends, nobler, while in Italy it was -and partly still is- characterised by the use of different grapes. This to minimise risks of possible cultivation losses.
In Italy we were poor, peasants couldn't afford to waste months of hard work, so using different grapes was and is a way to reduce monetary risks. I learned that the name prosecco derives from a city close to Trieste, the wine originally didn't have a name, it was just called sparkling wine, but because without a name the law doesn't provide any form of protection it was decided to call the wine Prosecco and that specific type of grape Glera.
The other grapes used generally are Bianchetta, Verdiso, Pereira and Boschera. This guarantees an important production from the quantity point of view, in fact Prosecco is an inexpensive wine on the market. But there is a big difference between older vines, which are planted in higher and steeper hills that cannot be reached by a tractor, and the new vineyards, which occupy the lower and plain areas where there the ground is too humid, causing water stagnation and, thus, grapes that aren't that good.
In fact, in most new vineyards the trees are changed every twenty years, while if you decide to venture and climb the Conegliano hills to see the original ones, the plants are much older.
Anyway, there are three methods to make sparkling wine:
2) re-fermentation inside the bottle, and
3) charmat (re-fermentation in pressure tank)
The first method is reserved for higher quality and more expensive wines. The second method is more natural and produces a wine that is a living substance (more on this shortly!), while the third method is the more common and requires the wine to be filtered, which means that the wine yeasts are removed and, in order to create that fizziness, extra sulphites are added (and these are what cause headaches and stomaches).
Costa di là, like other virtuous producers, obtains the fizziness through the second method, thus living yeasts remain in the wine and the carbon dioxide is given by the fermentation of the yeasts. As a result, this type of prosecco is not clear and, for this reason, here in the Veneto we call it "torboin" (blurry) or "vino col fondo" (wine with an opaque bottom). If you want to compare it with another food, think of the difference between unpasteurised and pasteurised cheese, the first one evolves and changes more quickly than the second.
Costa di là offers two qualities of prosecco:
- a brighter one that underwent a second 6-day maceration and an
- amber colour prosecco, macerated for 15 days.
Both are previously fermented in stainless steel wine tanks and then in chestnut wood barrels.
Although Ernesto's initial idea was to allow locals to drink better wine (brief note: I know it may seem strange, but drinking is a big part of the culture in this area and men generally drink between 5 and 10 small glasses of house wine every day!), it's only thanks to the Venetian market and to the exportations to New York, London, Paris and Brisbane if this farm, like other small realities, have been able to occupy a space in the market.
Ernesto had tried to place his wine in the area, at only 2 euros for a 4lt bottle; but most places didn't want it because it was too expensive! Unbelievable! When I heard this I remained speechless for a while... I didn't know that other producers sell their product at 1 euro for 4 lt! And, believe me, after having seen the hard work involved to make a nice prosecco I think the price is too low. Ernesto explained that it is the fact that there is a very big production that allows to keep prices so low, and obviously the producers that use more invasive methods manage to save on other aspects too.
Anyway, in recent times, a form of association driven by angry mothers fought a great battle to avoid and stop the use of certain pesticides and invasive cultivation methods to protect the land where their children are going to grow up. It's thank to a united group of mums if there is a greater sensitivity towards organic production methods and if the landscape hasn't been further damaged. And luckily Ernesto isn't the only virtuous entrepreneur around, the interest in the sector is increasing and people are becoming more concerned about the origin of what they put into their stomach, so I am optimistic and believe it's only a question of time, but things are going to take a positive direction.
If by any chance you happen to live in New York, London, Paris or Brisbane and want to support this business, try googling Costa di là followed by the name of your city to see where you can try it, feeling a little closer to Venice and contributing to the maintenance of an important part of our territory.
In Venice, instead, the places where you can find Costa di là wines are:
Address: Santa Croce, 35, 30135
Phone: +39 041 718989
Address: Dorsoduro, 3778, 30100
Phone: 041 476 4914
Address: Calle Pestrin Castello, 30122
Phone: +39 041 241 2705
At this point I have to say goodbye, but: