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Thirst for Italy’s Franciacorta grows with record sales

Sales of Italian sparkling wine Franciacorta have jumped beyond pre-pandemic levels to a record 20.3 million bottles, and some producers are seeking more vineyards to satisfy growing consumer demand.

Franciacorta producers have reported sales up by 28.3% last year, compared to 2020, when sales fell by nearly 10% to 15.8 million bottles.

Sales of 20.3m bottles in 2021 were also higher than the pre-pandemic total of 17.6m bottles in 2019, according to the Franciacorta Consortium.

It declined to disclose the value of sales, but there is optimism among winemakers that more consumers are discovering these traditional-method sparkling wines from Brescia in Lombardy.

Arturo Ziliani, CEO of Berlucchi, a leading Franciacorta producer, described 2021 as a ‘very positive year’ and added that he did not consider the rise in sales as a ‘rebound’ from the impact of the pandemic on the business.

‘People wanted to “reward” themselves, and the quality of home meals and drinks increased during Covid. This factor, combined with the fact that Berlucchi is widely distributed through many channels, has ensured a steady sales flow, even during the pandemic,’ Ziliani said.

He added that Franciacorta prices were increasing due to several factors, including limited production size.

‘We had some natural events that impacted our productivity negatively (late frost in 2017 and hail in 2020), and as a consequence, prices are increasing.’

‘Last year, prices of other resources we use (glass, cork, energy, etc) have also increased in their turn,’ Ziliani said.

Franciacorta’s increase in sales last year ran closely in-line with production levels, which reached a record 20.9m bottles in 2021, up from 16.8m bottles produced in 2020.

Berlucchi, Bellavista and Ca’ Del Bosco dominate Franciacorta production, but growing consumer demand has triggered a desire from a new generation of smaller producers to obtain more vineyards.

Giulio Salti, winemaker at the biodynamic (Demeter-certified) estate, 1701, said the producer was looking to acquire more vineyards rather than buy in grapes.

‘Last year we sold everything we produced,’ Salti told Decanter. Salti said 1701 had increased exports to Germany by securing several new German importers last year.

Total Franciacorta exports accounted for 10.3% of sales last year, yet 1701 is one of the smaller producers for whom exports constitute about a third of total sales. Switzerland and the US accounted for around 33% of total Franciacorta exports in 2021.

‘We know there’s a little bit more space to plant, but unfortunately we don’t have specific data to share about this,’ a spokesperson at the Franciacorta Consortium said.

‘The increase in plantings is quite limited as our territory is tiny and planting outside our borders is not permitted.’

She added: ‘We can probably consider the increase of demand as the main reason behind the growth of production.

‘This should not be considered from a negative perspective or as something that has led to lower quality at all, and [is] reflected by the fact that the average price per bottle has increased throughout the years.’

Existing rules include a maximum yield of 12 tonnes of grapes per hectare for Franciacorta DOCG production.

Despite higher consumer demand, the regional Consortium told Decanter that changes to strict production rules were not being considered at present.

‘There are no plans to do this for now, because our goal is always quality and the producers are very determined to continue in this way,’ a spokesperson said.

This year, producers will be able to use native grape variety Erbamat in 10% of blends. It is not permitted in Satèn style wines. Erbamat is understood to provide wines with higher acidity levels, as producers grapple with the impact of climate change.

Ziliani also highlighted a trend for zero dosage wines in the region. ‘Due to its warm weather, Franciacorta terroir is exceptionally suitable to the production of naturally balanced wines,’ he said.

‘That factor, combined with the constant use of up-to-date technology in the field of vinification, has led to the recent boom of zero dosage wines in Franciacorta,’ he said, citing Berlucchi’s 61 Nature range.

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