Grapelive Latest: Brandy’s Back in Italy

“Life Between Nature and Culture”–Prosecco Day with Isabella Spagnolo of Iris Vigneti
By Brandy Falconer, grapelive.com

iris_brgrapes.jpgThis week I traveled from Naples to Venice by plane to visit the heart of Prosecco country, and in particular the Iris Vigneti Winery (www.irisvigneti.it).  For the last 10 years, husband and wife owners Isabella (Spagnolo) and Loris  (hence, the combined name of I-ris) have been realizing their dream of producing and selling high-quality Prosecco in the luxury market.  I emphasize high-quality here because in the last bunch of years there has been an influx of inexpensive, medium grade Prosecco which, like in the ‘70s with basket-bottle Chianti, makes it difficult for quality producers to distinguish themselves and sell at prices they merit.  Isabella tells me that to combat this, the area where Prosecco is produced is working hard to make funds available to producers to market and export their product, which in her case means constantly traveling the world to show her line of bubbly.  In a sense, Prosecco is the valiant hero of the people of this region, the “Zorro” representing these dreamers, and fighting for a fair share in the global market.

Prosecco, sparkling wine from this particular region in Italy is made from Prosecco grapes using the Charmat method, rather than Méthode Champenoise which means the fermentation occurs in the stainless steel tanks rather than the bottles; and without the processes of riddling, or turning the bottles, and disgorging the sediment as with champagne, these bubbles usually cost considerably less than champagne.  For those of us who like to celebrate just about anything, this is one nice advantage!  Another is the fresh, crisp fruit flavors (without sweetness) rather than the more complex yeast and cheese flavors found in most traditional champagne.

iris_grapesbottles.jpgAt Marco Polo airport in Venice, Isabella picked me up and we drove straight to the seat of Prosecco country, Valdobbiadene, which you have probably seen on labels of Prosecco with DOC designation.  This area is a sharp contrast from the Venice we know and love, with its rolling green hills and more area dedicated to grapevines than to houses and towns.  Out of this green wilderness, order takes shape as small parcels of rows of vines  appear like puzzle pieces fitting nicely together.  Vineyards are rolling up and over hills, around houses and groves of trees, and though the grapes have already been picked, the  vines are beautiful as the leaves start to change color.  Valdobbiadene has signs for the “strada del vino” or wine-road throughout the town pointing Prosecco pilgrims to the different wineries which helps make this a tourist-friendly experience not always found in other famous wine regions.  The calm and tranquility of this town offer a nice contrast to the spirit of celebrations of every kind that merit popping open a bottle of bubbly, and this gives me a sense that this is a treasure, understated, and worth the effort of discovery.

iris_tastingtable.jpgBack at the winery, a beautiful and modern complex which houses the offices, tasting area and production facility, I start to learn the history and the source of the passion behind Iris Vigneti.  Awards cover the walls of the offices, from shows in New York, London and Valdobbiadene, and after tasting the collection, it is easy to see why.  The tasting area is upstairs at an incredibly long table that seats 30.  As I look around, admiring the open space and light, Isabella tells me that this part of the building is inspired by her love of Kenya, and the lodges found there.

iris_oderzo1.jpgThat night and the next morning, I had the pleasure of visiting the nearby town of Oderzo, an old Roman town that has aged gracefully and welcomes visitors with beautiful architecture, frescoes and a river that winds through it.  I will surely return to this town, because I found everything here: relaxed atmosphere, beautiful cafes and stores, and friendly people, and in addition, the first question at the restaurants and cafes is “a glass of Prosecco?”  My hosts at the Postumia Hotel Design will definitely see me again, as they offered all the comforts of a sophisticated American boutique hotel (not easily found in Italy), in a 33-room package, steps from the city center, with a restaurant serving delicious Venetian specialties along the riverbank; perfect.

iris_ibgrapes.jpgBefore leaving for the airport, I would have the opportunity to see the harvest and production in action.  The press is filled with grapes picked that morning, and Loris starts the machine, extracting the first juice to become Prosecco, and little Alessandro, their son, looks on from the seat of the forklift, pretending to direct the action.  Inside, Isabella shares with me her “wine book” which expresses in beautiful fashion what compels her to follow her dreams of producing these beautiful, shining bottles of bubbly, and this for me adds something to the experience of tasting the collection of Prosecco, because I know that it is produced with passion and attention to detail.  And when choosing the right bubbly with which to really celebrate something, in the true sense of the word, isn’t this a great reason?


(Dedicated to Daniel Barduzzi, a generous friend and a life worthy of grand celebration)

Brandy Falconer 

Wine Writer & Guest Columnist for Grapelive.com

Follow her trip through Italy and beyond on Facebook

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