The hidden cost of cheap Prosecco

Posted by Mirela Mart

The World is crazy about Prosecco. Sales exceed 500 million bottles a year and 2016 saw a 30 percent increase compared with 2015. People pop a million bottles of the stuff a day.

sparkling wine bottle popping

Prosecco, pesticides and overproduction

In terms of sales volume, Prosecco fights in the same ring as Champagne. Impressive indeed. But is it?

I have recently started to learn Italian because I love Italian wine. In fact, my two most favourite reds are Italian. Knowing about my passion for wine, my teacher tries to teach me as much wine terminology as possible. So this week I watched an RAI report ‘La frazione di Prosecco’. So, what does Italian national TV has to say about Prosecco?

  • Farmers really want to grow the Glera grapes used in Prosecco. They can get €1.45-2.5 per kilogram, compared to 0.55€ per kg for Pinot Grigio.
  • Partly as a result, whole regions are turning into Glera monocultures, as the other crops are replaced with vines. Even small woods are chopped down.
  • Many wine growers are not shy when it comes to using pesticides and herbicides. You can see an image of aerial spraying with pesticides in Conegliano in Oggi Treviso
man manually spraying with pesticides vines
Manual spraying with pesticides in the vineyard

The last point makes my heart cringe. It’s a lot of mass production. There are articles in the press about locals protesting against the use of pesticides. They are keeping children in the house so they don’t inhale the dangerous fumes. The few organic and bio-dynamic producers suffer too. How can you make organic agriculture if your neighbour sprays his vineyards with helicopters or with trucks every few weeks?

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Pesticides and herbicides in your glass

The region, which is beautiful, plans to apply for Unesco World Heritage status, following the path of other Italian wine regions. The countryside is scenic, with the hills covered with vines. But is it so attractive if, between May and August, the air is polluted with industrial pesticides and herbicides?

Small italian town Valdobbiadene, surrounded by vineyards, zone of production of Prosecco
Small Italian town Valdobbiadene, surrounded by vineyards, zone of production of Prosecco

With Prosecco, as with all wine, cheap and good are rarely compatible. But well-made doesn’t have to cost the Earth: an organic Prosecco typically costs £10+.

Organic Prosecco on Ocado
Organic Prosecco from  Ocado is a better choice: well-made without the nasty chemicals, £13.49/ bottle

The dark side of Prosecco

In UK, the alcohol duties and taxes for sparkling wine are £3.20 per bottle, inclusive of VAT. So if you buy a £5-6 bottle of Prosecco, more than half of it is tax. Given the economics, the only way farmers can make money on ‘cheap’ wine is by using mass production techniques and forcing the land. There is no craftsmanship or respect involved. It’s an industrial product. It’s junk food.

fast food burger
Industrially-made Prosecco is like junk food. Tasty, but most likely to give you headaches next day.

If you fancy a good quality burger, you go to a gourmet pub or burger restaurant. Not only does it taste better, but you can actually see how it was made.

As with food, I’m all in favour of sustainable wine making. I understand that not everybody can produce organic wine and sometimes treatments are required in the vineyard. But winemaking should be respectful and considerate to the nature, to the communities and to the end consumer. Life is too short to ingest chemicals because wine growers and wine makers are pursuing a gold rush (or because supermarket chains and the tax man are squeezing their grapes).

Gourmet burger, definitely a better choice than fast food.
Gourmet burger, definitely a better choice than fast food.

As festive winter season approaches, I make this appeal: chose sustainable over mass production, chose quality over quantity, even if you have to pay a bit more. Get fizzy with a bottle of Prosecco but treat yourself to a good one, in every sense of the word.

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