Anger is brewing in Prosecco country. In Veneto, Italy, winemakers are outraged over Croatia’s recent application for European Union (E.U.) recognition of Prošek, a centuries-old dessert wine.
Prosecco producers fear the similarly named wine might jeopardize their global marketability, but wineries in Croatia aren’t sure what the fuss is all about.
Last month, when the E.U. announced it would consider the Croatian application to establish Prošek as a geospecific product, there was an immediate backlash from Italian producers sensitive about any “Italian-sounding” product coming from another nation. President of the Veneto region Luca Zaia lambasted the decision by Brussels as “shameful.”
In Italy, Prosecco is a multibillion-dollar business with more than 600 million bottles produced each year.
Prosecco is no longer “a simple wine, it is now a real brand,” says Filippo Polegato, CEO of Astoria Wines, which has produced Prosecco for over 30 years. He believes the name is now recognized worldwide.
“Prosecco has been able to carve out an important place in people’s tastes and habits,” he says. “It is a sparkling wine but also a symbol, it represents the Italian lifestyle, with its aperitif ritual… This symbology is an important part of its success.”
With such success comes imitators. Currently, consumers can already pick up Rosecco, Prisecco and other inexpensive spin-offs of the sparkling wine. So, is Croatia also trying to take advantage of the marketability of Italian wine to boost its own product?
Croatian winemakers say no, the story of Prošek is very different. Prošek is an amber-colored dessert wine that has been produced in the Dalmatia region of Croatia for generations. The name derives from the word describing the drying process of the grapes.
It’s consumed differently, too. Whereas light, fizzy Prosecco gets an Italian evening started, sweet, aged Prošek finishes off a meal in Croatia.
In 2013, when Croatia joined the E.U., problems arose for Prošek and its similarly named Italian neighbor. Mario Jeličić Purko, whose winery is on the Croatian island of Hvar, found himself no longer allowed to label his dessert wine with the name that had been used for centuries.
Whereas light, fizzy Prosecco gets an Italian evening started, sweet, aged Prošek finishes off a meal in Croatia.
Today, as the E.U. considers Croatia’s application and Italy fears consumer confusion, Croatian producers are nonplussed.
“They have nothing in common,” says Croatian wine producer Alen Bibić of the Prosecco-Prošek issue. Bibic’s family has made Prošek and other local wines since the 15th century. “Prosecco is a sparkling wine, it has nothing to do with our dessert wine that is almost like sherry.”
Purko also points out that production processes are very different. Prošek has a steep price tag because it requires large quantities of grapes to be aged for a long time, sometimes decades, before it’s consumed. Families often make the wine when a child is born so that it will be ready to open on their 18th birthday.
For Prosecco producer Polegato, however, the threat remains.
“The assonance with Prosecco is too close,” he says. “The crucial point is not the wine, but its name. If Europe were to yield, it would establish a precedent that puts every European food and wine at risk of similar episodes.”
And yet, not all Italian producers are so keen on the name Prosecco. Winery Duca di Dolle began to phase out the name “Prosecco” from its labels over the last decade in an attempt to distinguish its product from a market saturated with low-quality Proseccos.
For Duca di Dolle, this shift was more about protecting traditions and heritage than names. The hills around Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, where quality Prosecco is made, was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019.
“Prosecco is the fruit of hard work and the secrets of the trade handed down from generation to generation,” says Andrea Baccini, owner of Duca di Dolle. “Only this reason is enough to convince oneself that Prosecco deserves respect and protection from all and for all.”
Croatia’s application was filed on September 22, and Italy has 60 days to appeal. Prošek producer Bibić isn’t nervous.
“It doesn’t matter to me what the outcome is,” he says. “I don’t mind if I don’t sell my Prošek, my friends and I will drink it ourselves.”