Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Pope of Prosecco

Meet Pierluigi Bolla, scion of one Italy's first families. They used to own the giant, highly respected Bolla winery outside Verona, which they sold in the mid-1980s, to their American distributor, Brown-Foreman. Pierluigi's brother until recently was chief executive of Barilla, Italy's largest pasta producer. And he himself runs Valdo, the fourth-largest producer of Prosecco, the iconic sparkling wine from the Veneto.

Prosecco is made from the glera grape, with the sparkle coming in a second fermentation that takes place in large, stainless steel tanks called autoclaves; it's known as the Charmat method even though it was invented by an Italian named Martinotti. Sparkling wine is made all over northern Italy, but it can only be called Prosecco if it comes from a delimited area of the Veneto; the best comes from two DOCG regions, Valdobbiadena and Conigliano. Valdo, founded in the 1920s and purchased by the Bolla family in the 1940s, makes more Prosecco, 10 million bottles, than all the fancy Franciacorta producers put together! (There are several posts on from my visit to Franciacorta last December. I'd link to them if I could figure out how to do it on the iPad.) Ten million bottles is also substantially more than the entire output of the Collio, where I visited just last month.

Impeccably turned out in a Brooks Brothers blazer, blue Oxford button-down and tie, Dr. Bolla presided over an Italian-style lunch at Serafina (bruschetta, calamari, ravioli, tuna, espresso). "Our biggest export market is Germany, then the UK," he said. "We've only been in the US for the past year, but we have some wonderful new products coming into the market." Like many, he was seduced by the potential of China, but abandoned that market after 20 frustrating years. His best sales are still at home; Italians drink three out of five bottles of Valdo.

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