Wine Ink column: UNESCO considers a sip of Prosecco |

Wine Ink column: UNESCO considers a sip of Prosecco

The author and his wife high above the steep hillside vineyards in Valdobbiadene.
Courtesy photo |

Under the influence

2015 Crede, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG: This is perhaps the longest name ever to appear in an Under the Influence. Next week’s column will examine Prosecco, its grapes and production, but in the meantime a bottle of Crede from the Bisol family vineyards will make you smile. Pretty bubbles and fragrant hints of apples and pears will make you feel the summer sun. Even in February.

This past July, I took a drive in Northern Italy on my way to visit the southwestern flank of the Prosecco wine region.

For two hours, I drove through the flatlands and neighborhoods of the Province of Treviso, west of Venice, on my way to a mythical place called Valdobbiadene. The most prominent feature of most of the drive were the roundabouts. Hundreds of them.

At each, the disembodied voice on my GPS would instruct: “Take the second left at the roundabout,” or “Take the fourth right at the roundabout. ” Had I not taken my GPS I would still be going ‘round and ‘round in circles.

But eventually, the road straightened on a street called Via Europa and I found myself surrounded by the greenest, most verdant hillside vineyards I had ever seen. Here, in the foothills of the Dolomite Mountains, were thick, lush vineyards that seemed as much like a Bali jungle as a wine region. Every inch of the jutting peaks was covered in resplendent, full vines.

I had just one day to spend in this wine utopia. But I was so impressed that I have resolved to come back and learn as much as I can about a place that had barely been on my radar, much less my GPS, until that day.

So I had to smile recently when I received a story over the transom that the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Region has been submitted by The Italian National Commission for UNESCO for consideration as a World Heritage Site. This is a significant step in a process that could eventually result in the region being named by UNESCO as one of just 1,000 places globally designated as a World Heritage Site.

“Co-knee-lee-ano Val-dough-BEE-AH-den-ay”

Let’s start with a couple of things you should know about Conegliano-Valdobbiadene. First, it is very hard to say. Though pronounced phonetically as spelled, it ties the tongue of even the most determined Italia-phile. So difficult is the pronunciation that if you look the name up on the internet (good luck spelling it) you’ll find YouTube video pronunciations.

Second, it is the home of the regional glera grape that is the backbone of one of the world’s most popular wines, Prosecco. Conegliano-Valdobbiadene is a DOCG wine region, which means that it is one of just 74 places in all of Italy that are classified as having “controlled (controllata) production methods and guaranteed (garantita) wine quality” in their specific wines. These are the best of the best when it comes to places to grow grapes.

But perhaps most importantly, Conegliano-Valdobbiadene has a centuries-long history of making wine in a very difficult place. For more than two centuries, vintners have crafted the hillsides with these dense vineyards that can only be planted, maintained and harvested by hand.

It is the traditions and the cultural aspects, combined with the unique natural beauty, that makes it a place worthy of consideration as a World Heritage site.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

In 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden, UNESCO, for short, adopted the “Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage.”

The goal was to identify and locate individual regions, places, and buildings that help define our cultural history on this planet. In 2008, the Convention described these places as “irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration … our touchstones, our points of reference, our identity.” Cool, right?

As of this writing, there are 1,052 sites that have received the designation ranging from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to the works of the Swiss French architect Le Corbusier to the Palmyra site in Syria that has been endangered and bombed by ISIS forces.

Italy has the most with 51, including the “Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont: Langhe-Roero and Monferrato.” There are 23 in America, with the Taos Pueblo, the Statue of Liberty and Yosemite National Park amongst them.

A dozen or so wine related regions are on the list as well. These include Burgundy and Champagne, which both were added to the list in 2015 and are recognized because of their historic significance as historically important wine regions.

An Endorsement

As a citizen of the world, and one who understands the value of wine as an agricultural commodity and an elixir that brings people together across governmental borders, I whole-heartedly advocate for the inclusion of wine regions with rich cultural and geographic properties to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

Ultimately, I would suggest that the most effective way for the UNESCO Convention to make decision on the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene application would be to simply go right at the roundabout and take a walk in the hill-covered vineyards.

It would be a slam-dunk.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass, Colo. He can be reached at

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