It is unclear as to where the name ‘Franciacorta’ has its origins. There are two predominant myths as to where it originated: the first is that it is named for the ‘france corte’ or tax-free zones, which it encompassed. The area was inhabited by religious orders in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries that were not subjected to the taxes of the ruling Brescians. Historian Iacopo Malvezzi put forth the second myth. Malvezzi believes that the area was named by Carlo Magno, the King of France better known as Charlemagne or Charles Magne, who, in 744, while staging an attack with the Longobards found himself near the town of Rodengo Saiano on the feast day of San Dionigi. Magno had promised to spend that day in Paris. To alleviate his aligning conscience, he called the area “little France,” hence Franciacorta. Regardless of its origin, today, through the diligent dedication of the producers and their consortium, the name is synonymous with quality sparkling wines.
Franciacorta is a relatively small region encompassing only 18,000 hectares, with the actual vineyard areas being 1,500 hectares, distributed amongst 200 growers. The zone itself is bound on the west by the Oglio River, to the north by Lago Iseo and the easternmost portions of the Rhetic Alps. On the east by the Morainic hills and the south by the Bergamo-Brescia highway. Geologically the zone is the result of glacial activity, which descended upon the Val Camonica, shaping it. As a result of this activity, a large number of minerals were deposited here, which sit atop the indigenous soil. Such minerals are an essential component in viticulture, which are critical for aromas—also being granular in structure, which is necessary for drainage.
Climatically, Franciacorta is much milder in the winter than most sub-alpine zones, while the summers are hot. Winds, which blow off the lake help maintain a moderating the temperatures, also the winds help prevent fogs and humidity from the plains of Brescia, reducing the possibility of parasites. Most importantly, given the climate ripening occurs here sooner than in other areas in Italy, lessening the risk of exposure to autumn rains.
History of Winemaking
Although the history of viticulture in the area of Franciacorta is centuries, old-the wines were extolled in the writings of Pliny the Elder, Columella, and Virgil-the contemporary development is quite recent. The sparkling wines of Franciacorta-the wines were actually “frizzante” or effervescent, not sparkling in the sense in which we think of it today, and remained “sparkling for only four to six months-inspired the first book ever written on bubbly beverages; Brescian physician Geronimo Conforto wrote the book Libellus de Vino Mordaci in 1570. He used the adjective ‘mordace’ or ‘biting’ to describe the wines of Franciacorta.
Almost four hundred years later, of-technician Franco Ziliani found the long-forgotten text and, based on the book, decided to start making wines according to the method developed by the French monk Dom Perignon–he chose to make wines refermented in the bottle, in the champenoise method. Doing so at the time seemed utterly fruitless, as the wines of Franciacorta were all still and consumed only in the immediate area, which was mainly a vacation area for wealthy Brescians. When Guido Berlucchi, the owner of the estate at which Ziliani worked and carried out his experiments, tasted the wine, he realized the potential, and the history of viticulture was changed.
When other people in the area realized the potential, they too began making wines in the same fashion. This lead to the establishment in law of the DOC in 1967, not only for sparkling wines but for the Rosso and Bianco as well. Since then, the growth in the area has been enormous, and with several factors contributing to this, along with the qualities of the soil and the climate. First, few of the producers depend upon agriculture for their subsistence; they are industrialists or professionals involved in a field outside of agriculture. Hence, they brought with them not only the entrepreneurial mentality but also the resources and innovative ideas which were not overly bound to traditions. Therefore, they also needed technical assistance to produce the wines, so they hired specialists to oversee each level of production, as well as marketing and administration. Secondly, they were driven not so much by financial concerns, instead of by quality and prestige. Thus they have not gotten involved in destructive price wars.
The result of the above is not only great wines, but also the incorporation of DOCG classification. Franciacorta is the first Italian sparkling wine region to receive this honor. It is important to note that the still wines are named DOC ‘Terre di Franciacorta,’ while the sparkling wines are simply ‘Franciacorta.’ In 1990 the regions growers formed a consortium to developed and enforced standards and strict quality control regulations. These code of standards are called the “Franciacorta Code.” Ninety-two percent of the regions growers are members of the consortium, which speaks volumes for the commitment of the zone to producing the best possible wines.