In an interview with the leadership of the Consortium for the protection of Franciacorta, the official sparkling wine sponsor of Expo Milano 2015, we discussed the history of this northern Italian region, their time-honored tradition and approach to winemaking, and much more.
Tell me a little bit about the history of Franciacorta and how it’s evolved into a world-renowned region for sparkling wine.
The grapevine has always found a home in Franciacorta. As is well-known, references to winegrowing here go back as early as 1570, when Brescia doctor Gerolamo Conforti, in his book Libellus de vino mordaci, wrote of the outstanding aptitude of the Franciacorta area for producing “fizzy wines,” underscoring the significant distribution and widespread consumption even in that era of wines “with bubbles.”
Today, thanks to a just-completed study of the Catasto Napoleonico (cadastral maps), it is now possible to reconstruct, for each commune in Franciacorta, the crops that were being cultivated in 1809, which highlights the fact that winemaking, both for local consumption and for external commerce, was already deeply rooted in this area and in the traditions of its citizens. The data does not make it possible, however, to know which grape varieties were being grown and therefore what kinds of wine were being made.
This new study also clearly shows that winemaking was an important economic activity at the start of the 19th century for the approximately 40,000 local citizens here, and that the wine was made not simply for local consumption but as an item of commerce.
What is it about the winemaking process and passion in Franciacorta that sets it apart from other areas of Italy?
The quality! Franciacorta is the first wine in Italy produced exclusively through a secondary fermentation in the bottle to win, in 1995, the official DOCG (Registered and Guaranteed Designation of Origin) status and, in the same year, government recognition of the “Franciacorta production method”. Soon after, the term “vino spumante (sparkling wine)” was abandoned. Today, the wine label simply reads Franciacorta, a single term that identifies the growing area, the production method, and the wine. In all of Europe, only 10 denominations enjoy this privilege, and of these, only three pertain to re-fermentation in the bottle: Cava, Champagne, and Franciacorta.
The fruit of rigorous and meticulously-observed regulations, Franciacorta is a wine of uncompromising quality, the felicitous result of the commitment of the Franciacorta Consorzio and its producer-members, who use only noble grape varieties—Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—as well as Pinot Bianco not exceeding 50%. It is harvested exclusively by hand, and takes many months be able to finally savour that first flute of Franciacorta. In fact, the natural re-fermentation in the bottle and the slow, gradual ageing and maturation must last at least 18 months for the Brut style, 30 for the Millesimatos (vintage-dated cuvées), and a full 60 months for the Riservas.
It is the Franciacorta method that today ensures the quality of every single bottle. It represents an ancient art that unites, in perfect symphony, the most advanced technologies with the expertise of the local grape-growers.
How would you describe the Franciacorta philosophy?
Franciacorta is truly a unique case in Italy. In a little more than 50 years, thanks to the passionate commitment of its producers, it has become one of the iconic ambassadors across the entire globe of the finest “Made in Italy” products. Consumers are increasingly enjoying it throughout the meal, thanks to a range of styles—Brut, Extra Brut, Rosé, Satèn, Pas Dosé, Millesimato, and Riserva—that ensure great versatility in pairing Franciacorta with food. Significant in this respect is the recent partnership launched by Franciacorta and Slow Food Italy to design a series of joint projects in which “fine taste” and classic character will star together as one of Italy’s finest culinary achievements.