Just under an hour’s drive north from Venice lies the historic winegrowing region of Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Home to Italy’s first school of enology where the method used to create Prosecco was perfected, Conegliano is the region’s cultural capital. Together with Valdobbiadene to the west their borders encompass the dramatic landscape where this globally-loved wine style has historically been produced.
The wines of the Prosecco region are divided into five tiers of quality and the single-vineyard Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Rive DOCG wines are distinguished in several ways.
Within a decade of their elevation to DOCG status in 2009, the Rive wines of Conegliano Valdobbiadene have come to define a cru-level of quality for this dynamic region.
As a whole, the Rive are defined by 43 towns or microzones comprised of 13 boroughs and 30 sub-regions within Conegliano Valdobbiadene. They can be further divided into two main geographic groups – western and eastern – that vary distinctly in their geology.
Each Rive is a steeply sloped hill, some achieving 60°, making them equal to Germany’s Mosel and Portugal’s Douro regions in their severity and among the world’s most challenging viticultural sites to labor in.
In geological terms, they are quite distinct from other dramatically-sloped sites due to their unique hogback formation. Rive are defined by a narrow crest and steeply dipping (greater than 30 to 40°) slopes on both sides. One side of a Rive is characterized as its backslope and is typically very rocky. The opposing side is an escarpment or frontslope that has an eroded face exposing several different layers of soil. Rive vineyards are primarily planted to escarpments and to a lesser degree to backslopes. These terroirs result in sensory differences in the finished wines.
About one-third of the Rive are found in the eastern region around Conegliano. They’re lower in altitude with gradients of 40 to 50° as the hills were scraped by glacial activity of the Dolomites. Soils here are relatively deep, predominantly alluvial and morainic and composed of rocks, sand, and clay with deposits of iron oxide producing rusty terra rosa in some areas.
In contrast, the western region near Valdobbiadene wasn’t greatly affected by glacial activity. Here the Rive are very steep with shallower sedimentary soils of sandstone, clay, and marls that contain marine deposits.
As of 2018, there were 249 Rive-designated hectares (615 acres) under vine. The mandated yields for these vineyards are lower (a maximum of 13,000 kilos per hectare versus 13,500) and they must be hand‐harvested; not that mechanization is possible to any degree.
Interestingly, almost 60 percent of producers promote Rive place names on their wines. Colbertaldo (31%) and San Pietro di Barbozza (10%) near Valdobbiadene and Ogliano (8%) near Conegliano has historically been the most widely referenced. Prosecco DOCG producers are increasingly promoting other equally distinct Rive sites and, over the last decade, Rive plantings have increased by an impressive 40 percent.
Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Rive wines are easily recognized. Rive will be listed on the label indicating a Prosecco Superiore made entirely of hand harvested-grapes from one of the 43 registered Rive followed by the name of the particular designation. The wines are also millesimato or vintage dated.
Access to Rive wines for export markets is growing based on demand and, in 2018, more than 25 percent of Rive production made its way to international markets. Rive sales now account for about 12 percent of total the DOCG Prosecco production with the wines deservedly commanding a premium in price above Prosecco Superiore.