When it comes to high quality Prosecco, the winemakers working between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene can rightfully claim to produce the best in the world. But the Cuvée Solicum from Colli del Soligo in August’s Bubble Box is in a league all its own.
In 1957, 30 farmers working vineyards along the Prosecco Road gathered for a meeting. They were losing control of what ultimately became of the grapes they cultivated, and they wanted to take it back. They agreed for form a co-operative, and in that moment Colli del Soligo was born.
Since that day the collective has grown and grown. Currently more than 650 farmers working 900 hectares of the Prosecco’s famous hills bring their grapes to the Soligo co-operative to be turned into beautiful bottles of wine.
This co-operative arrangement – not uncommon in the Prosecco region, which is just north of Venice – is a win-win situation for everyone involved. The farmers retake control and ownership of the ultimate fate of their grapes, while the winemakers can support the farmers and rest assured that harvests will be high quality. And for the Prosecco-lover, it has given rise to a delicious bottle of bubbly from the heart of one of Italy’s most famous wine regions.
As Luisa Bortolotto of Colli del Soligo explains, “Our great strength is to have control of the grapes from the vine all the way through to selection. And, being a co-operative with members in various areas, our wine is a very complete expression of the region.”
Before Prosecco was the UK’s favourite bottle of bubbly, it was one of Italy’s most famous wines.
But the term didn’t always refer to the regional fizz we think of today. Originally, the word ‘Prosecco’ was used to indicate the grape rather than the region; a whole range of different wines, produced all over Italy (or even the world) were eligible to become Prosecco just by virtue of the base grape.
For the grape farmers and winemakers of the region, this laissez-faire approach to naming was a serious problem. Allowing any old wine made from Prosecco grapes to claim the heritage and high standards of their region was a risk to their reputation, and so in 2009 the Italian government stepped in.
Not only did Italy mandate that Prosecco grapes start to go by the old synonym of Glera, but a new regional denomination was approved. DOCG – which stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – is a step above the plain old DOC.
While a DOC label is assurance that a wine comes from a specific region and has been made according to some production requirements, DOCG wine producers follow the strictest regulations possible. Their wines are also tested by a committee, which then guarantees the geographic authenticity of the wine along with its quality.
DOCG Proseccos must come from one of two sub-regions, one of which is the hills between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. For many producers this crackdown shone a light on their less-than-straightforward marketing; for Soligo, situated in the heart of the Prosecco DOCG sub-region and already working to stringent standards, it was a welcome opportunity to be recognised for their hard work.
Keeping quality uniform might sound difficult with more than 600 farmers to oversee, but Soligo is truly a co-operative. Everyone – from farmers to winemakers – works together to ensure that standards never slip. And, of course, rules help.
Luisa says: “There is a statute and regulations that all of our members must follow, and they also have to comply with all of the regulations that govern DOCG production. The Consortium also issues agronomic bulletins that must be followed – and, if necessary, our agronomist will work with a farmer one-on-one.”
Soligo’s winemaking is overseen by Andrea Curtolo, the general manager, and his two winemakers, Carlo and Loris.
“Our approach,” Luisa says, “is to avoid any kind of manipulation of the grapes. We want to maintain an authentic expression of our terroir.”
Soligo is famous amongst wine lovers for the distinct personalities of the wines produced there. Along with the Cuvée Solicum in August’s Bubble Box this month, Soligo produces a range of red, white and sparkling wines – and even beers, fermented on Prosecco yeast.
As Luisa says, “The identity of the wines is obtained through the careful selection of grapes from different origin zones. Choosing carefully helps us bring out the best in each wine’s characteristics.”
For Luisa, Soligo’s Pinot Nero is a perfect example of this ethos in practice. Soligo’s winemakers harvest this famously finicky variety – brought to Italy from the French region of Burgundy – by hand and only when the fruit is fully ripe, allowing it ample time to develop the classically elegant aroma it is prized for. But, as stunning as this wine is, it goes without saying that Prosecco is the star of the show.
The Complete Cuvée
On the steep hills of the Prosecco region, much of the harvesting must be done by hand. It’s done this way as much out of necessity as it is respect for tradition; the hills are simply too steep to safely mechanise the process. But whatever difficulties it presents, the Prosecco region gives back far more in incredible terroir.
Luisa explains: “The great diversity of soils in this area allow you to see really clearly how the Glera grape responds to each sub-region, and the climate really accentuates these differences. In hilly areas a fruity character emerges, while Conegliano and Valdobbiadene are enhanced by more pronounced floral sensations.”
Made from grapes harvested by hand in some of Prosecco’s most notable sub-regions, including the ancient hillside of Col San Martino, it is both floral and fruity, with a well-balanced body and persistent and pleasing acidity. The grapes are collected at medium ripening specifically to maintain this acidity; harvested in September, they’re gently pressed and left to ferment with yeast in steel reservoirs. The wines undergo a second fermentation in stainless steel tanks, where the soft bubbles are born. Then the now-sparkling wine is bottled and, after a short period in the cellars, ready to drink.
But it’s not as simple as it sounds. The bottle of Solicum in this month’s box is a cuvée wine, which means that its base wine – the still wine that goes into the tank for the secondary fermentation – is a blend of two or more expressions. In some cases, cuvées are developed to cover up mistakes or flaws in the grapes; here it’s quite the opposite. The Cuvée Solicum’s base wine is a blend of the best tanks of each harvest, topped up with wine from the illustrious DOCG sub-region of Cartizze.
With a delicate and lively bouquet of wild flowers and fruit, the Cuvée Solicum is a refined and harmonious expression of the incredible Prosecco region.
Luisa says, “It’s not made from grapes of a single plot of land, but from grapes that embody the characteristics of the soils and microclimates of our hills and plains.”
So raise a toast – you’re holding the best of Prosecco in a glass!