Why the rhombus is vital to Prosecco’s history

The rhombus-shaped Bellussera vine training system is an integral part of the history of Prosecco – a history consumers should be made more aware of, insists one of the region’s leading producers.

(Photo: Ca' Di Rajo)

The Bellussera system trains vines in what appears as an intricate series a rhomboid shapes, which facilitates even sun exposure. Once common in north-east Italy, it is now rare (Photo: Ca’ Di Rajo)

The Bellussera system is an overhead vine growing method invented in the late 1800s by the Bellussi brothers in Tezze di Piave, Treviso. It was introduced in an attempt to prevent grape diseases.

The system grew popular all over north-eastern Italy but in modern times, as Prosecco has become more industrialised, it has been almost completely replaced by systems more suited to mechanical farming.

Few people outside of the Treviso region are aware of the traditional system, but, said Marco Pozzi, export manager for Ca’ Di Rajo, it is time that that changed.

Consumers need to understand that Prosecco is not just a mass-produced, easy-drinking wine, but a high-quality product worthy of deeper consideration, he added.

“This is a big part of the winemaking culture of our region,” Pozzi explained, “[but] it is very expensive to maintain. This is why almost everyone is replaced it by new growing systems – so we only have a few left.

“We kept all the [original Bellussera] vineyards of Ca’ di Rajo in this system as we think this is a big part of our identity and the history of winemaking in our region.

“We definitely think that wine is not only the product itself but is [a product of] the people, the history, and we think it is very important to make people understand the historical background and the working background behind our products.

“We just want people to understand more and more the quality in Prosecco.”

(Photo: Ca' di Rajo)

Vines trained using the Bellussera system grow so high off the ground that vineyard workers must scale a raised platform to reach the cordons (Photo: Ca’ di Rajo)

Speaking at the London Wine Fair in London’s Olympia, Pozzi said that the image Prosecco had garnered over the past 10 to 15 years as a mass-industrial product had obscured its tradition of making high-quality wines.

“Prosecco during the last 10 or 15 years had a reputation as not a very high quality wine,” he explained, “but now I think people have started to understand and to evaluate the high quality of this product.

“We think Bellussera is a kind of symbol of our production, of our history and a strong starting point to explain our culture, our tradition, our art – because winemaking is an art – and of course the high value of our product.

“Because of this we launched our new packaging on our Ca’ Di Rajo sparkling wines at London Wine Fair 2015 and of course it helped a lot because it was a stepping up change. And we would like after one year to remind [people] what’s the meaning of our packaging.”

As well as having an overhead configuration in the vineyard, the Bellussera system is distinctive for its rhomboid grid structure – an element Ca’ di Rajo has incorporated into its packaging since 2015.

The company launched a new bottle design at the London Wine Fair 2015 which included an embossed rhombus shape and a label which also reflected the distinctive shape of the vine training system.

The structure of the system provides even sun exposure to the vines; historically, its overhead configuration also meant that other food crops could be grown underneath the trellises as part of the subsistence farming that was once common to the region.

Originally used to grow the region’s traditional red wine, Raboso Piave, the system necessitated that all vineyard work be done by hand, which was deemed too expensive by many of the producers who have replaced it with more industrial systems over the years.

New Ca' di Rajo Prosecco DOC Extra Dry

Ca’ di Rajo Prosecco DOC Extra Dry with its distinctive embossed rhombus shape

However Pozzi believes that the manual vineyard work it necessitates provides an assurance of quality that mechanical harvesting cannot.

“This growing system is very expensive because in order to keep the structure everything must be done by hand, and of course this way you can really make the best selection, so Bellussera means 100% handwork,” he explained.

Ca’ di Rajo (‘Ca’ being short of ‘casa’ – ‘house’ and ‘Rajo’ being an old spelling of the town of Rai in Treviso) is a third-generation family of Prosecco producers.

As well as producing a range of DOC and DOCG Proseccos, the winery also makes a range of still reds and whites from international varieties, and a varietal Raboso using partially dried grapes.

Recently the company, which is located just a short few kilometres from Tezze di Piave, where the Bellussi brothers first implemented the Bellussera system, has also introduced two new products: a Manzoni Rosa Spumante Extra Dry and a Ribolla Gialla Spumante Brut.

The two new products are made using the Charmat method, as Ca’ di Rajo seeks to use its expertise in producing Prosecco to make Charmat sparkling wines from north-east Italy’s indigenous varieties.

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