In April, Drinks Retailing joined a group of buyers from indies across the UK to discover what sets Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG apart from its peers 

There’s no better way to illustrate the concept of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG’s hillside Rive vineyards than by starting our tour atop a slope so steep, the bus has to stay at the bottom. 

The Rive are referred to often by producers as the region’s ‘cru’ and their characteristic terraced slopes – or ciglione – stretch across the ‘hogsback’ hills of the region, giving the hills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene their unique terroir. This landscape, along with the abundance of woodland, flora and fauna, was instrumental in the area gaining UNESCO World Heritage status in 2019. 

The region counts 43 Rive over the DOCG’s territory, and the steeply sloped vineyards feature unique attributes such as microclimates, different soil types, biodiversity, low yields, and the need for manual harvest. 

The production of Rive is very limited: 3.6 million bottles were produced out of a total of 93 million of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, up by 6% compared to the previous year. Here, the yield is reduced to 13 tonnes of grapes per hectare. 

“There is a perfect match between the Glera grape variety and the hilly landscape,” says Consorzio director Diego Tomasi. “We have the Superiore status because we are a DOCG and our area is distinctive.”

SUSTAINABLE SIPS 

The use of glyphosate was banned in 2019 and one of the key priorities for producers and the Consorzio is sustainability. Tomasi adds: “Our goal for the future is to manage the coexistence between viticulture, landscape and sustainability.” 

He shares plans to achieve the SQNPI sustainability certification for 100% of the region’s vineyards by 2029 – and they are already at more than 60%. Some of the driving forces behind these moves are the Young Club Conegliano Valdobbiadene – a group of 70 people aged 25-35. 

Anna Nardi from B Corp certified Perlage says the next generation of winemakers are thinking about sustainability in a holistic way. “As well as the landscape, we think about sustainability in terms of economic and social change,” she says. 

“One of the great things about our generation is that we are all willing to collaborate. We help each other with best practice in every aspect of sustainability.” 

TASTE OF THE FUTURE 

Throughout the trip, there’s a buzz around the tastings, as retailers recognise Cartizze, Rive and producer characteristics. “I’ve been surprised by the vast difference in flavours and profiles of these wines,” says Josh Davis from Cornwall’s Bin Two. “The Prosecco scene in England is pretty naff – people are drawn to cheap bottles from supermarkets. 

“While this wine may be a harder sell, the wines are actually good quality and really tasty, so I think we can convince people to make the change to Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore.” 

Kristyna Weston, who founded Prosecco World to bring DOCG Prosecco Superiores to UK consumers, adds: “I’ve discovered new producers, new locations and new styles on this trip.” She says a few standouts include Bortolomiol, as well as Marchiori. 

“I think communicating Rive is easier than Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG,” adds Weston. “The Rive are my bestsellers – UK consumers absorb the context of Rive and they can taste the specifics. Sustainability is also a big focus and something I learned a lot more about on this trip.” 

London-based Theatre of Wine’s Ida Hagen flags up the level of craftsmanship and individuality from producers. And when it comes to selling these wines, Sadie Wilkins from Vineyards in Sherborne feels indie wine merchants are ideally placed to tell the story of the region. 

“There’s so much more to Prosecco, it’s really exciting – the 43 Rive and the soil studies are fascinating,” she adds. “Unfortunately, so many great products are still without importers in the UK. This needs to change.” 

Thom Allinson from The Oxford Wine Co, who championed the range at Andreola, says there is a distinct difference between the Rive and the soil types. “I think our consumers will be interested in extra brut, brut and sui lieviti styles,” he says. 

“Natural wine is very popular in the UK at the moment and sui lieviti, where the lees from secondary fermentation remain in bottle, fits into that trend – people aren’t phased by hazy wine anymore.” 

Overall the retailers, who have stood on the steep ciglione and have tasted the difference between the Rive, feel there is true potential for these wines in the UK. 

Maja Đerić from Birmingham’s Loki Wine finishes: “I feel confident I’m able to share with our customers why it’s worth spending more – the work that goes into the wines, how the soil influences the aromas, the Rive and Cartizze and what separates DOC from DOCG – I understand why, and I feel I can explain it from this first-hand experience.” 

While there may be a hill to climb to see the ciglioni, the slope is not so steep in terms of communicating quality to consumers.