A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet Jeremy Parzen here in San Francisco. Many of you probably know Do Bianchi, his blog, which has been active since 2007 and is a great resource for anyone who is interested in an inside perspective of the Italian wine and food scene. “Do Bianchi” in Veneto means “Two Whites”. It’s a typical expression used by locals to order two glasses of white wine. You shouldn’t be surprised by two glasses: you always find someone to share your wine moments in the hometown’s bar.
Jeremy has a quite extensive experience as wine writer, translator and marketing consultant.
Being Italian, I really appreciate the depth of understanding Italy I can find on this blog. It helps me see some little things that are usually taken for granted in Italy but can be spectacular for a foreigner.
He is working with the Franciacorta Consortium, which I introduced in a previous post. His tour, named “Franciacorta: the Real Story”, stopped by in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. The event was hosted at St Vincent on Valencia Street in San Francisco and we had the opportunity to taste 16 different expressions of Franciacorta from some of the best wineries in the region. We enjoyed Brut, Satén, and Rosé expressions from Barone Pizzini, Bellavista, Berlucchi, Ronco Calino, Il Mosnel, Monte Rossa, Montenisa, Ricci Curbastro, Contadi Castaldi, and Camossi.
I enjoyed the introduction that Jeremy did about the region and I couldn’t agree more with him, when he was saying that the worst mistake the Franciacorta Consortium can do, is trying to market Franciacorta as alternative to Champagne. It would be a suicidal strategy and absolutely non-sensical, because the two expressions of the traditional method are significantly different.
I will now summarize some of the key differences. You can find the complete list of the wines poured at the event and many more details in this post on Do Bianchi.
As you remember, in the Franciacorta infographic we saw that there are 109 wine growers in the consortium, whereas the Champagne region in France counts about twenty thousand producers. If the number of Champagne growers is about 200 times bigger than Franciacorta growers, the ratio in terms of production quantities is also in favor of the French wine. Franciacorta sold 15.5 million bottles in 2014 and the Champagne region was reportedly already selling 20 million bottles in 1853 (read here the history of Champagne). Total sales of Champagne reached 308 million in 2014, which is only 20 times the production of Franciacorta.
Now you know it: when you read that the production of sparkling wine in Italy overtook the production in France, it’s mostly due to the production of Prosecco. However, we also noticed that the average producer in Franciacorta is ten times bigger than in the Champagne region.
In terms of popularity, a longer history and decades of marketing efforts all over the world make Champagne one of the strongest brands. What the Franciacorta Consortium did in only 50 years is impressive and remarkable, but it wouldn’t make sense to focus the attention on competing with such a strong brand that – as we will see – is a significantly different product.
In the screenshot below, you can have an outlook of the region of Franciacorta: located on the south of the Alps, the wine region covers 19 towns south of Lake Iseo, which plays a key role in the region’s climate.
Grapes in Franciacorta reach more ripeness than in the Champagne region, which is much cooler. This allows winemakers in Franciacorta to add only 7 grams of sugar per liter, compared to their French cousins, who add 24 grams per liter on average. This difference results in a lighter wine, where the sweetness comes from the fruit more than from the sugar.
The morainic subsoils complete the peculiarity of the region: it’s no secret that the Consortium is considering the opportunity to become the first Italian appellation to be 100% organic (30% of the 109 growers are already organic).
An Anecdote I didn’t know
The characteristics of the territory that we described above complement each other and make it possible to produce Satén, a fresh expression of white grapes. With only 4.5 atmospheres of pressure in the bottle, Satén is a name that recalls the silk, because of the elegant light sensation given by the bubbles.
What I didn’t know is that this name was first used by Bellavista, one of the historical wineries in the region. They created the trademark and later they donated it to the consortium, creating one of the most captivating product segments.
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Have you ever tasted Franciacorta?