By Elizabeth Sweeney, WSET Level 3July 26, 2019
VICENZA, Italy (July 26, 2019) -- After a 10-year wait, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has registered Italy's Prosecco Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin (DOCG, the highest designation of quality among Italian wines) area of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene as the 55th World Heritage Site in Italy for its "Cultural Landscape" -- based in part on the vineyard aesthetic characteristics.
"It is the commitment of generations of wine producers working in the vineyards, forging the 'patchworks' that we see today, as well as the characteristic 'ciglioni,' which distinguish our viticulture - and therefore our territory - that has led to UNESCO recognition," said Innocente Nardi, President of the Consortium for the Protection of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG.
UNESCO has defined a "cultural landscape" as: Cultivated terraces on lofty mountains, gardens, sacred places … which testify to the creative genius, social development and the imaginative and spiritual vitality of humanity. These combined works of nature and humankind express a long and intimate relationship between peoples and their natural environment.
Specifically, UNESCO awarded the cultural landscape designation to Le Colline del Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene for unique characteristics that link humans to their environment: steep hills (le colline) with cultivated, terraced plots of vines (ciglioni), along with local forests, small villages and farmland.
"For centuries, this rugged terrain has been shaped and adapted by man. Since the 17th century, the use of ciglioni created a checkerboard design landscape consisting of rows of grape vines that run both parallel and vertical to the slopes."
By the 19th century, grape vines were trained in a distinctive rhomboid grid pattern, known as the "bellussera" method, further contributing to the aesthetic characteristics of the landscape while providing grapes with necessary sun exposure and disease prevention. As demand for Prosecco wines grew, the expensive and time-consuming bellussera system lost favor with local farmers and was replaced by other systems better suited for vineyard mechanization. Although rare today, the bellussera vine-training system will likely make a comeback thanks to a few vine growers who remain committed to preserving historical viniculture.
The Hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene is the 10th site in the world to be registered under the category of "cultural landscape" as a tribute to generations of small-scale farmers who, in a difficult environment, created a sustainable living and much-valued wine. Prosecco joins the list with nine similar territories: Alto Douro, Portugal; Tokaj, Hungary; Pico Island, Portugal; Lavaux, Switzerland; Langhe Roero and Monferrato, Italy; Champagne, France; Burgundy, France; Saint-Emilion, France; and Wachau, Austria.
According to Nardi, "This recognition should not be seen as a destination but merely as an important step on a journey towards enhancing the cultural, artistic and agricultural heritage of this small area -- known for its principal product -- Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore."
Writer's note: Sources used for this article include https://www.cadirajo.it/en/bellussera/; https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/2006; https://www.prosecco.it/en/the-prosecco-hills-of-conegliano-and-valdobbiadene-proclaimed-unesco-world-heritage-site.