by Michael Dal Zotto

In 1999, inspired by a childhood growing up in the town of Valdobbiadene, the birthplace of Prosecco, our father Otto Dal Zotto planted the first Prosecco vines in the King Valley, making him the pioneer of the variety in Australia.

It was our family’s connection with the town of Valdobbiadene and its long established understanding of the variety’s fresh fruit-driven style and natural vibrancy that immediately appealed to me and my brother Christian. Thus began the project of trying to source the planting material to produce Prosecco in Australia.

We made some inquiries to vine nurseries to find out if Prosecco had been imported into the country. Fortunately an Italian migrant had imported the variety to Australia, and Customs had the gentleman’s contact details. This allowed us to contact him to find out if cuttings of the variety were available. In the spirit of cooperation common in the Australian wine industry, the gentleman obliged and stage one of the dream of Dal Zottos growing Prosecco in Australia proceeded.

In 1998 we were able to obtain some Prosecco cuttings which we had DNA tested to confirm that they were, in fact, Prosecco. It took a further 12 months to produce grafted Prosecco vines in sufficient number to allow a viable planting to be undertaken.

By the end of 1999, we had planted our first Prosecco vines on our Cheshunt property. The overall project, from sourcing the material to making the first bottle of Prosecco, took six years (1998-2004) of hard work, with the first vintage released in December 2004 under the new-look Dal Zotto brand created by my brother, Christian.

My father said he always knew the King Valley, with its Mediterranean climate, was the perfect place to grow Prosecco. As a sparkling variety Prosecco ripens late so the warm days and cool nights allow for a long, stable ripening period.

I first developed a passion for Prosecco during a visit to Valdobbiadene in the province of Veneto, in north-eastern Italy, with our father. This is where my dad’s family also had a small planting of Prosecco from which his father used to make their own wine, and it gave me a deeper appreciation of the numerous family conversations had around the dinner table about the resemblances of the King Valley with Valdobbiadene and my father’s inspiration to grow and produce Prosecco.

In 2008 I was awarded a fellowship from the George Alexander Foundation which enabled me to travel and study how Prosecco in Valdobbiadene is grown, manufactured and marketed. I studied and experienced first-hand the manufacture of Charmat-style Prosecco with winemakers, viticulturists and university professors.

Having visited numerous destinations throughout the Veneto region where I spoke with experts, I determined the most aromatic and intense flavours come from fruit on the south-west facing slopes of Valdobbiadene. Aromatics include citrus blossom, wisteria and jasmine with lemon and lime on the palate. Harvest focused on flavour with a strong emphasis on the level of acidity, trying to make sure it was between 5.8-6.3g/L and a pH of around 3.2.

In addition, harvesting Prosecco occurs at around 18°Brix, ensuring there is enough natural acidity.

Viticulture

Currently, we are growing Prosecco in a number of vineyards ranging from 300-400 metres above sea level. These vineyards are throughout the King Valley in Whitfield, Cheshunt and the Rose River Valley. The vines are arch cane pruned as we find this gives the most even ripening and consistent production from year to year. Budburst tends to occur in mid-September with harvest taking place around the last week of February to the middle of March. The variety can be quite generous which is a reason for our change from spur pruning to arch cane, and we tend to have a yield of 10 to 15 tonnes to the hectare. The variety is quite disease resistant and it has an open bunch.

Winemaking

Dal Zotto Wines employs two methods to produce Prosecco, these being for its L’Immigrante Prosecco, which is the traditional method champenoise, while the majority of the harvest goes into making the Vintage Pucino Prosecco and NV Pucino Prosecco produced using the Charmat method. In Italy the Charmat method would be used for 99% of all Prosecco produced.

The fruit is generally harvested at around 9-10.5°Baume by machine and top loaded into the press. The juice is then racked and inoculated with fermentation taking approximately two weeks, aiming for a temperature range of 14-16°C throughout the ferment.

We ferment the wine dry and then during the Charmat process aim to ferment back to our desired residual sugar level and a CO2 level of around 9.5-10.5g/L.

The final wine is fresh with delicate aromatics of jasmine, wisteria and citrus blossom, while on the palate there is crisp apple and citrus flavours and a good balance between acid and residual sugar.