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Proliferation of private labels hindering premium Prosecco

Prosecco’s growing popularity may be driving volumes, but selling top end examples is extremely challenging, according to one producer.

The vineyards of Prosecco’s Valdobbiadene

Silvia Franco, international sales manager from Prosecco’s Nino Franco, which is based in Valdobbiadene – the heart of the Prosecco DOCG – told the drinks business this month that shifting inexpensive Prosecco is not a problem, but convincing people to stock higher priced versions is proving increasingly difficult.

“It’s very easy to sell a Prosecco when it’s cheap, but it’s much more of a challenge to sell a Prosecco at a price that is a bit higher than a DOC or private label, even if you have a high quality product with a family behind it,” she commented.

Continuing, she said the success of the Italian sparkling wine has led to a proliferation of new and mostly private labels, meaning the market is now reaching saturation.

“A day doesn’t pass when we don’t get told that Prosecco is working so well at the moment, but if you go deeper, you see that there are so many new labels and so much competition,” she said.

“For example, last year when I was in Brazil, there were 10 different Proseccos on the shelf, but eight of them you don’t know, and only two are DOC or DOCG,” she added.

As a result, she commented, “There are so many in the market, it’s hard not to be eaten by the competition.”

For her company, a Prosecco producer founded in 1919 within the DOCG, the focus remains on brand building for the long term.

“It is important for us to be Nino Franco, producers of Prosecco, not the other way round,” she stated.

Nino Franco is currently celebrating the 30th vintage of its Primo Franco Prosecco

As part of this emphasis on the brand, Nino Franco is currently celebrating the 30th vintage of its Primo Franco Prosecco, which was first launched by Silvia’s father, Primo, using the 1983 vintage.

To mark the milestone, a new label for Primo Franco has been created, while the producer has organised 30 different events worldwide culminating in a final tasting in Italy on 31 October this year, where attendees will be able to taste every vintage of the Prosecco, including one of the last six remaining bottles of the 1983.

Primo Franco is a sweeter style of Prosecco, though classified as “dry”, and contains 28g/l of sugar, but the Nino Franco range starts with the brut Rustico DOCG Prosecco and extends up to the Grave di Stecca Prosecco from a walled single vineyard in Valdobbiadene.

Nino Franco can be found in upmarket outlets in the UK, such as Locanda Locatelli and Mayfair fine wine retailer Hedonism Wines – the latter carries just two Proseccos, both of which are from Nino Franco: the Rustico and Cartizze (the DOCG’s 106 hectare hillside sub-region).

Commenting specifically on the UK, Silvia said that the market was becoming “more and more difficult because there is so much competition, and that is from brands or private labels we have never seen in Italy”.

When asked whether Nino Franco would advocate the grouping together of family owned and quality oriented DOCG Prosecco producers to promote top end examples, like the Amarone Families do in Valpolicella, Silvia said that the players in the Prosecco region were too varied to unite.

“There are a lot of people in the consorzio and they are not of the same philosophy,” she said.

“For example, some are working more on the hills, which require 500 hours of labour per year [per hectare] to work compared to 100 hours on the flat land, while there are wineries producing 20-30 million bottles, as well as others producing just 100,000 bottles.”

Nino Franco produces around 1m bottles annually, with 700,000 bottles accounted for by the Rustico label, the brand’s entry-level DOCG Prosecco, which retails in the UK for around £14-15.

Silvia Franco is international sales manager for Prosecco Nino Franco

As reported in 2013’s March edition of the drinks business, Prosecco is traditionally associated with the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene region in the hills north of Treviso. In 2009 this area was elevated to DOCG status, while the DOC name was extended to examples of this grape variety produced within the wider Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions.

At the same time, Glera became the official name for the grape variety, although white varieties Verdiso, Perera, Glera Lunga and Bianchetta are also permitted in Prosecco in small quantities (up to 15%).

Prosecco is made using the Charmat method, where a high-acid still wine undergoes secondary fermentation in large, temperature-controlled, stainless steel tanks.

The rules for DOCG Prosecco also allow for secondary fermentation in bottle, though this is rarely practised. Prosecco is most commonly produced as either a fully sparkling (spumante) or lightly sparkling wine (frizzante), the former being more expensive due to its perceived higher quality, and the fact that its requirement of a minimum three bars of pressure raises spumante into a higher UK duty bracket.

Prosecco is increasingly being made in a brut style, though four different styles are permitted within the DOC: brut (up to 15g of residual sugar), extra dry (12-20g), dry (20-35g) and demi-sec (35-50g).

Around 5% of the region’s annual production is still white wine made from Glera, which is rarely sold outside Italy.

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