FRANCIACORTA, Italy--It is not the chalky, balky, ungiving terroir of Champagne, 500 miles to the northwest that feeds the roots of Franciacorta's vines but a patchwork of glacial and fluvial soils, anchored by the great moraine at the base of Lago Iseo. Some shallow patches of clay, some sites more exposed to the cooling Alpine winds.
Franciacorta's 3,000 vineyard hectares lie on the exact latitude of Portland, Ore., while Reims, the capital of Champagne, is at the latitude of Vancouver, B.C. Champagne's base wines are austere and need rather more sweetening to make them palatable; the best of Franciacorta's wines require no dosage at all.
Fifteen years ago, the technical and marketing organization of Franciacorta wine growers and wine makers commissioned a study to identify the region's specific soil types and found six main categories, some more suited to chardonnay, some to pinot noir. One Franciacorta producer, Villa Crespia, makes six distinct sparkling wines to take advantage of these subtle differences. "Interpreting the land is our mission," says Marco Sgoifo, brand manager for Crespia's parent company, Muratori, which owns four wineries in Italy (in Tuscany, Ischia, and Campania in addition to the 150-acre Franciacorta property). Crespia produces 400,000 bottles a year, a small number of which find their way to the US, but most of Muratori's wines are sold in high-end restaurants around Italy.
A rising star in the Muratori family's holdings is 30-year-old Michela Muratori, newly elected president of the prestigious "Le Donne del Vino" (Women in Wine). Muratori has also created a board of high-profile advisors from the worlds of art and politics, two dozen white males and one token woman. Sgoifo and his staff say they want to find a high profile "brand ambassador" to expand their marketing. Seems to me, they could start by shaking up the advisory board and calling on Michela herself to go on the road.
Our thanks to the Consorzio per la Tutela del Franciacorta, which sponsored our weeklong visit.