Photographer: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg
Photographer: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg

Take a Trip Along the Prosecco Production Line

It’s been a bumper year for Prosecco producers, with near-ideal growing conditions in the summer leading to record grape harvests across Italy. That won’t lower the cost of your wine, though, because vintners are stockpiling the surplus, and the Prosecco DOC Consortium – the organization that manages the appellation – expects up to 500,000 hectoliters will be put in storage tanks for a year or longer. As Italy prepares to overtake France as the world’s largest wine producer, we look at Cantina Sociale Cooperative Agricola di Vittorio Veneto winery in Conegliano as they prepare their harvest. Photographs by Alessia Pierdomenico. (• Note: This introduction has been amended to correct the description of Italy’s wine industry.)
Expanding Production
Expanding Production

At about $12 (€11) a bottle, Prosecco has become increasingly popular among younger drinkers in the U.K. and U.S. as an alternative to French Champagne that costs $52 on average.

Triple Production
Triple Production

Exports to the U.K., the biggest buyer outside Italy, quadrupled in the three years through 2014 to an all-time high of 64.9 million bottles.

Autoclave
Autoclave

Sparkling wines go through the process of fermentation twice to create bubbles. With Champagne, the second fermentation occurs in the individual bottles and can retain the fizz for years. The secondary fermentation for Prosecco occurs in steel vats known as autoclaves, pictured, which is quicker and cheaper, and the wine is intended to be consumed within a year.

First Reserve
First Reserve

This year, the Prosecco DOC Consortium altered those limits and allowed a reserve for the first time as vineyards overflowed with quality grapes, including the glera variety, which by law must make up at least 85 percent of the wine.

Muselets
Muselets

Regional governments restrict how much of the annual yield can be used to make Prosecco, said Luca Giavi, director of the Treviso, Italy-based Prosecco DOC Consortium. That helps control supply and preserve quality, because too many grapes on the vine can affect the taste of the fruit.

Keeping Up With Demand
Keeping Up With Demand

To keep up with demand, winemakers expanded planting in the northeast regions of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia designated for Prosecco grapes.

Pop the Cork
Pop the Cork

While new vineyards mean output will keep rising until 2018, this year’s surplus may not mean lower wine prices. While production has more than tripled since 2009 – mostly from increased planting that now covers 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) – the new vines take about three years to reach full harvest.

The inventory will be needed to meet surging sales in the next couple of years, according to Stefano Zanette, president of the Prosecco DOC Consortium.

All Time High
All Time High

Exports to the U.K., the biggest buyer outside Italy, quadrupled in the three years through 2014 to an all-time high of 64.9 million bottles.

Stacked
Stacked

Sales of Prosecco are soaring, especially after the recession forced consumers to seek cheaper alternatives to Champagne, said Jonny Forsyth, a London-based analyst for market researcher Mintel.

Skyrocketing Demand
Skyrocketing Demand

Vintners say they’ll need the surplus later, because demand is skyrocketing. The Prosecco industry forecasts global sales will jump 20 percent this year to 1.68 billion euros ($1.84 billion).