Italian wine aims to emerge from champagne's shadow

Tue Aug 25, 2009 8:07am EDT
 
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By Svetlana Kovalyova

ERBUSCO, Italy (Reuters Life!) - It's hard to beat champagne but makers of top-shelf Italian bubbly franciacorta aim to establish their product as an alternative, using a blend of high quality and shrewd marketing.

Franciacorta wine is made from the same grapes as champagne -- Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with Pinot Blanc also sometimes added -- and uses the same method of secondary fermentation in the bottle. That inevitably leads to comparisons.

But rather than trying to take on the leading bubbly and its status as the world's celebratory drink of choice, franciacorta makers want to distinguish their product and carve out a niche as an upmarket wine to accompany a meal.

"We consider our wine an alternative to champagne rather than a rival ... We make a niche product compared to champagne," said Maurizio Zanella, chairman of the Franciacorta Consortium which represents 98 percent of the sparkling wine's makers.

The gap in size between champagne and franciacorta output would make head-on competition impossible, Zanella said at his high-tech Ca' del Bosco winery, some 70 km northeast of Milan.

The franciacorta district produces about 10 million bottles from vineyards covering 2,283 hectares and may boost output to a maximum of 25-30 million bottles, a limit imposed by the land available for cultivation.

That pales in comparison to Champagne's 32,900 hectares of vineyards and annual production of 320-340 million bottles.

Franciacorta makers say their bubbly is distinct thanks to the district's terroir, which lies 700 km south of Champagne.   Continued...

 
<p>Maurizio Zanella, chairman of the Franciacorta wine making consortium displays some bottles from his Ca' del Bosco winery, a wine growing district 70 km north-east of Milan northern Italy, August 14, 2009. The franciacorta district produces about 10 million bottles from vineyards covering 2,283 hectares and may boost output to a maximum of 25-30 million bottles, a limit imposed by the land available for cultivation. Picture taken August 14, 2009. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini</p>