The terrain and soils of Conegliano Valdobbiadene grow the most concentrated Glera grapes destined for Prosecco Superiore DOCG. But how? Let's find out.
Prosecco Superiore has a delicate combination of freshness, ripe fruit intensity, minerality, and floral nuance. If you take the grape, Glera, and plant it elsewhere, you don’t get the same results. So what is it about the terroir here that creates special wines?
The amalgamation of four key terroir factors makes Prosecco Superiore:
- Sunny but moderate climate creates ripe fruit flavors
- Steep and elevated terrain in the pre-Alps allows for freshness of acidity and flavor
- A perfectly suited grape variety, Glera
- A mosaic of ancient soils that produce intense, yet mineral wines
Let’s dive into each point a little deeper.
A "Goldilocks" climate leads to ripe-yet-fresh wines
Conegliano Valdobbiadene sits at 45°N, which is similar to Bordeaux. Here in Northeastern Italy, the region sits protected from northern storms by the Alps, and the Adriatic sea brings rainfall and warmth.
The average temperature here is 54 °F (12.3°C) which is a bit warmer than Champagne’s 51.8 °F (11°C). Still, it's plenty cool enough to grow high-quality sparkling wine grapes.
With 49 inches (1250 mm) of rain throughout the year, vines get well-fed and grapes retain acidity.
And with 3100 hours of annual sunshine (compared to just 1700 in Champagne), we find fruit ripeness. It gives Prosecco Superiore wines ripe pear and, depending on the soil type, pineapple, and even red apple notes.
Steep terrain means concentration, freshness, and flavor
The warm and humid Venetian plain is a large, flat, fertile area surrounding Venice. It's perfect for growing high-volume crops like corn, wheat, and grapes. However, to grow high-quality wine grapes, we need soils that are less fertile to produce more concentrated flavors.
Thus, the best vineyards sit on steeper slopes with poor soils. It concentrates the berries which, in turn, create concentrated wines.
All Prosecco Superiore DOCG vineyards sit on slopes and it's quite an effort. It can take over 800 hours of manual work per hectare to tend these vines versus 200 hours on the Venetian plain.
Where did the hills come from?
Conegliano Valdobbiadene is a unique range of hills, called hogbacks, which create steep southeast facing slopes. Hogbacks formed when the African tectonic plate pushed into the European plate.
Elevation retains acidity in Prosecco Superiore
As we move up into the hills, it becomes drier, and the average temperature drops about 1°F for every 330 feet (100 m). These features result in fresher, more elegant wines.
In Conegliano Valdobbiadene, vineyards rise to 1650 feet (500 m) above sea level, which provides a lot of cooling. This cooling ensures that grapes don't become overripe and helps retain delicate aromas of jasmine, rose, and frest fruit.
Cool nighttime temperatures create ripeness and balance
At higher elevations in the hills, the temperature drops substantially at night (called the Diurnal range). It can swing as much as 27°F (15°C) between day and night!
The hot days produce tropical flavors and the cool nights preserve acidity. Conegliano Valdobbiadene is the perfect setting to produce aromatic, intense, complex sparkling wines using the right grape variety.
Glera – The grape of Prosecco Superiore
Glera was called “Prosecco” up until 2009. The name was changed to distinguish between the regional designation and the grape variety. Glera has been home in the Mediterranean climate of these hills for over 300 years, where it thrives.
The poor soils in Conegliano Valdobbiadene keep Glera's vigor under control, growing concentrated grapes.
Glera is excellent at expressing different aromatic compounds based on vineyard soil, meaning it's possible to taste the difference from vineyard to vineyard. See Rive to learn more about this.
So, what soils and wine styles can we expect in Conegliano Valdobbiadene?
Varied soils create intensity and minerality in Prosecco Superiore
50 million years ago, the whole region was under the sea. Then, 20 million years ago, the African Plate pushed into the European plate, creating the Alps.
In more recent times (12,000 years ago), the retreat of glaciers from the last ice age left deposits of rock, sand, and iron deposits. This combination of ancient seabed and glacial retreat created a patchwork of soils in Valdobbiadene. Each soil type brings different flavors.
The main soil types found in Conegliano Valdobbiadene are:
Calcareous Marl: Limestone-clay soils hold water well. The result? Higher acid wines with more floral and green apple notes. The ancient seabed soils are particularly noticeable in Cartizze.
Moraine: Soils made by retreating glaciers. They drain well, and vine roots can go very deep. The soils are poor in nutrients but warm, leading to ripe apple and tropical fruit flavors.
Conglomerate: Also created by glacial retreat, these shallow soils contain sand and clay with large pebbles (and look a bit like concrete). They drain well but don’t hold water. They’re very warm soils, resulting in tropical fruit flavors, pineapple, banana, pear, and fuller-bodied wines.
Clay: Deep red clay textured soils, which are poor in limestone, retain water, and allow for deep roots. Resulting in wines that are fresh, balanced, structured with fresh fruit and spicy notes.
This patchwork of soils means that winemakers can create a balanced blend or look at specific vineyards to showcase the terroir. If you're looking for site-specific wines, check out Cartizze and Rive.