Thirst for prosecco leaves nasty taste

THE TIMES | Monday December 19 2016

Tom Kington, Montello

It is the drink that has put the fizz into Christmas up and down the land. So keen have Britons become on prosecco that Italian producers have redoubled efforts to supply tens of millions of bottles for export. But now the stampede to plant more vines is said to be stripping the landscape of northeastern Italy, to the anger of locals, and harming wildlife. If the vines spread much further, they could even end up crossing the Slovenian border.

[…] Critics say that the huge demand for prosecco has lowered its quality while boosting the price, and rumours that the bubble is about to bursthave ledsomeretailers to promote alternatives, the latest being the lightly fizzing crémant de loire, costing about £9 a bottle.

But Italy is still striving to boost production, and Enrico Moro, who lives to the north of Venice, has seen the impact on his neighbourhood. His home is in Montello, an area of undulating hills close to the Alps, which is characterised by protected pastures and dipping gullies that filter rain water. Standing at the end of his country garden last month, he saw three mechanical diggers hard atworkremoving a small hill and dumping the earth on a protected pasture to make way for a vineyard.

Mr Moro, 39, who works in marketing and moved to the area for some peace and quiet, claims to be a victim of the British craze for prosecco, which he blames for the loss of pastures as well as declining wildlife. He said: “I called in forestry officials and the work was halted, but I fear rain water filtering through the pasture has been blocked, which is why the nearby lake is no longer being fed. “Trees cut down to make way for this vineyard were home to two families of buzzards,and foxeswerewandering the lane after the diggers came, looking for their home. The vineyard had permits, but they cannot bury the protected meadow.”

There has been a rush to plant vines in Italy, from the Slovenian border down to Venice, the area where prosecco production is permitted, and where output has more than doubled since 2011, reaching half a billion bottles and spawning a €2 billion business.

[…] Andrea Zanoni, a regional councillor who has campaigned against the spread of vineyards, warned that woodland on hillsides was being cleared for new vines, increasing the risk of landslides because tree roots stop land from slipping. “In 2012, near Tarzo, trees were cleared from ten acres of hillside, vines were planted, and a landslide promptly followed,” he said.

[…] Mr Zanoni was challenged by Luca Zaia, the governor of the Veneto region, who is a firm backer of the prosecco boom.

“We have 9,000 landslides a year in the Veneto region, but they take place in woodland, not in vineyards, which are well cared for,” Mr Zaia said. “The only trees cut downfor vineyards are types like Acacia which are invasive and not local,” he added. The boom has also saved the economy in a region where small furniture businesseswere decimated by the 2008 financial crisis and where traditional maize farmers suffer because of imports. In the Veneto region alone there are 47,000 prosecco producers. Mr Moro is not to be mollified, however, and is particularly concerned about what will happen in the region if British palates change. “What will we do with all these vineyards if the British get tired of prosecco?” he said.