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Prosecco producers kick off UK push for premium fizz

Published:  04 June, 2018

Producers of premium Prosecco that can cost as much per bottle as Champagne have kicked off a campaign to encourage Brits to reappraise Italian fizz.

Masterclasses showcasing wines from Italy’s Conegliano Valdobbiadene region – awarded its own DOCG status in 2009 – begin today to redress the idea in Britain that Prosecco is inferior to other sparkling wines and should be sold for less.

“It’s time to allow this category to show its nuance and diversity,” said Sarah Abbott MW, who is hosting the masterclasses in London and Manchester.

“There’s a clear opportunity to encourage drinkers to trade up. There’s this whole other side to Prosecco from this sub region which the UK trade is just ignoring. Consumers are thinking what shall I move onto next and there are all these wines waiting to be discovered.”

The vineyards of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene region in northeast Italy cover just over 8,000 hectares and are cultivated by more than 3,000 family winemakers dedicated to the production of pricier Prosecco Superiore.

Prosecco Superiore is mostly produced for the domestic Italian market, where it is typically sold through the restaurant trade. Producers are beginning to look for export opportunities, said Abbott, but have been put off by the "pile high sell cheap" mentality of the UK trade.

“Producers have been cautious about trying to enter the UK,” she added. “They’re saying it takes 800 man hours per hectare to produce and I am being asked to export it to Britain for £4 or £5 a bottle when I can get double or more for it here. Why should I?

“They are exporting to other markets such as Germany. This should be a salutary lesson for the UK trade in that we mustn’t get complacent about our role in the global wine sector. The trade ignores consumer trends at its peril.”

The campaign comes after new figures revealed last week that UK sparkling wine sales growth has slowed to its lowest rate since 2011.

British drinkers knocked back 35.8 million litres of sparkling wine in 2017, a 5% rise on the previous year, according to accountancy group UHY Hacker Young.

With Prosecco accounting for 51% of the UK sparkling market [Kantar Worldpanel], the slowdown was seen by some as proof that the Italian fizz bubble is about to burst.

Abbott rejected this. “The sparkling wine boom is not over – it’s stabilising,” she said. “Sparkling wine has moved out of something you only drink at New Year’s Eve and weddings to something you drink in a bar or a club or with a meal. That’s thanks to Prosecco.”

The next stage in Prosecco’s evolution in the UK is to convince drinkers it’s more than just cheap fizz. Conegliano Valdobbiadene wines can fetch more than £20 a bottle in the off-trade, putting it on a similar pegging to some Champagnes.

“It’s completely comparable to Champagne,” insists Abbott. “Prosecco is taking market share from discounted Champagne. Cheap Champagne is not a joyous drink and there is a segment of the market that wants high quality. This is it.”