The year is 1957. The post-war Baby Boom peaked. The Little Rock Nine bravely integrated into a segregated high school. A 5.7 magnitude earthquake rumbled across San Francisco. Across the Atlantic, situated on the lower bank of a lake, quiet history was also taking place.
A new type of wine was budding in a small region of northern Italy. Franco Ziliani, a young winemaker began experimenting with a new vinification process while working on the Berlucchi estate. Ziliani adopted a fermentation process unique to France, and in 1961 began selling Italy's first sparkling wine that rivaled Champagne.
His innovation became Franciacorta as we know it today: a luxurious libation of delicate, effervescent bubbles. It's heralded for its similarities to Champagne but maintains a distinct flavor palette you can't find anywhere else in the world.
Plus, the Champagne region of France produces about 300 million bottles per year, while Franciacorta remains at 20 million, making this gem of the northern Italian wine region a location yet to be discovered by mainstream wine lovers.
The History of Franciacorta Wine / What is Franciacorta?
Franciacorta is a variety of Italian sparkling wine produced within the country's northern region. The area where it's produced is small in scale compared to other popular Italian wine regions, only about eight square miles, though what it lacks in size, Franciacorta makes up for in complexity.
Wine enthusiasts get excited over the distinctive geographical and climate differences that set Franciacorta apart from other regions. History buffs love the area for its rich heritage of wine-making that dates back to the 13th century, long before Franciacorta earned its name. And those who imbibe only the best will appreciate that Franciacorta wine is produced under one of the strictest vinification standards in the world.
Franciacorta is Equal Parts Nature and Nurture
Franciacorta wine combines a unique mix of grape varieties, terroir, traditional winemaking methods, strict regulations, and a focus on quality and sustainability, Michele Bozza, President at La Montina claimed.
Although Italy is known for its mild, Mediterranean weather, Franciacorta's fortuitous sub-Alpine location next to Lake Iseo allows for a colder climate with a breeze that effectively cools the grapes as they grow in the summer.
After the harvesting period, grapes are pressed and aged using the classic method developed by Ziliani. The classic method requires two fermentation periods and a whole lot of patience. From the beginning of harvest until the day you can finally pop a bottle open, Franciacorta’s vinification process lasts nearly two years.
How is Franciacorta Made?
Franciacorta wines are crafted using a method over half a century old and involve a secondary fermentation that takes place directly in the bottle. This results in a finer and more persistent effervescence, contributing to the wine's overall quality. Bozza of La Montina reports, "Each Franciacorta undergoes a unique natural fermentation within itself. Every bottle is an unrepeatable experience."
This second fermentation is a process distinctive to Franciacorta and Champagne, setting these two sparkling wines apart from other related libations. Also heralding from Italy are Spumante or Prosecco, though these options don't come close to the lively, crisp bubbles produced in Franciacorta. Trying a bottle is understanding the value of the whole painstaking process.
How to Visit This Sparkling Wine Region in Northern Italy
I woke up one day in the middle of August, promptly jumped out of bed, and bypassed the neck stretches that are increasingly necessary in my thirties. I was so thrilled this particular morning because I had scheduled a tour of Franciacorta that morning with Travel Local.
The business model of Travel Local is perfect in its simplicity: match a visitor with a local, and let the local be the guide.
Waiting outside of my apartment in Brescia was Roberto, a lifelong Franciacorta resident and liaison for Travel Local. We cruised through the rolling hills and grape fields in his comfy BMW 5 series while he gave me first-hand knowledge of the area.
What to Do in Franciacorta
Getting to know the Franciacorta wine region is a two-step process. The first step is to arrange a knowledgeable guide who knows their way around the area. While the area is small, there are over a hundred wineries packed into Franciacorta to choose from. Planning a trip with a professional guide at Travel Local can help you explore the best of the best during your stay.
The second step is why we all come to Franciacorta: to drink some wine! Each winery has to follow strict production guidelines to ensure quality, so rest assured wherever you choose to go will be an authentic experience.
La Montina is a boutique winery in the extreme north of Franciacorta, a location that echoes the simple beauties of bucolic Italy. The roads leading to the winery are unpaved and the foothills cap at higher peaks.
However, the allure of La Montina doesn't simply attract wine enthusiasts and romantics. The estate is also home to a contemporary art museum open to the public at regular exhibit hours.
Address: Via Baiana, 17, 25040 Monticelli Brusati BS, Italy
Hours of Operation:
Sunday: 9 AM–12 PM, 2–6 PM
Monday: 9 AM–12 PM, 2–6 PM
Tuesday: 9 AM–12 PM, 2–6 PM
Wednesday: 9 AM–12 PM, 2–6 PM
Thursday: 9 AM–12 PM, 2–6 PM
Friday: 9 AM–12 PM, 2–6 PM
Saturday: 9 AM–12 PM, 2–6 PM
Antica Fratta, nicknamed “the great cantine,” is an enduring fixture of Franciacorta and is defined by its ancient underground tunnels. Those tunnels carved five hundred years ago are still in use to this day, where 800,000 bottles of wine rest in the natural stone-enclosed spaces. Plus, the owners of Antica Fratta are the descendants of Franco Ziliani, the father of Franciacorta.
“Bubbles are for celebration,” Cristina Ziliani, owner of the Antica Fratta, told me while we sipped this bottle of Franciacorta on the second floor of the family villa.
Address: Via Fontana, 11, 25040 Monticelli Brusati BS, Italy
Hours of Operation:
Monday: 9 AM–12 PM, 2–5 PM
Tuesday: 9 AM–12 PM, 2–5 PM
Thursday: 9 AM–12 PM, 2–5 PM
Friday: 9 AM–12 PM, 2–5 PM
Saturday: 9 AM–12 PM, 2–5 PM
From harvest to bottling, Ferghettina takes painstaking care in its production of wine. They examine each grape for perfection and estimate that only 65% of the grapes are used. Then Ferghettina wine goes into their infamous square bottle.
Beyond the marketing of a unique bottle shape, the design (patented by a family member) is meant to increase the fermentation inside the bottle.
Address: Via Saline, 11, 25030 Adro BS, Italy
Hours of Operation:
Sunday: 10 AM–12 PM
Monday: 9 AM–12 PM, 2–6:30 PM
Tuesday: 9 AM–12 PM, 2–6:30 PM
Wednesday: 9 AM–12 PM, 2–6:30 PM
Thursday: 9 AM–12 PM, 2–6:30 PM
Friday: 9 AM–12 PM, 2–6:30 PM
Saturday: 9 AM–12 PM, 2–6:30 PM
What's better than a glass of refreshing wine? A refreshing wine that's 100% organic. Barone Pizzini has been in the farming and wine-making business since 1870 and was the first to specialize in organic Franciacorta wine.
The Pizzini's are a family who live and breathe wine. The act of nurturing Franciacorta takes place here, where vintners have established production practices that foster a deep respect and connection to the territory.
Address: Via S. Carlo, 14, 25050 Provaglio d'Iseo BS, Italy
Hours of Operation:
Monday: 9 AM–12:30 PM, 2:30–6 PM
Tuesday: 9 AM–12:30 PM, 2:30–6 PM
Wednesday: 9 AM–12:30 PM, 2:30–6 PM
Thursday: 9 AM–12:30 PM, 2:30–6 PM
Friday: 9 AM–12:30 PM, 2:30–6 PM
Saturday: 9 AM–12:30 PM, 2:30–6 PM
Where to Stay in Franciacorta
The Franciacorta territory is located within the lake region of northern Italy, so you may already know that there are several prominent cities within driving distance. You have Brescia, Bergamo, and Milan all between one and two hours away. There is no shortage of AirBnBs and Hotels in the area, though if you want a particularly diverse experience, I suggest an agrotourism trip.
The Al Rocol estate is a family affair, with siblings who manage the business and parents who operate the restaurant. Their accommodations will give you a farmhouse feel (think: exposed wood beams and starry nights) while still enjoying modern amenities so you're not totally "off the grid." You can easily fill your days with cooking and wine education courses, estate tours, or simply meandering through the seemingly endless grape fields.
Address: Via Provinciale, 79, 25050 Ome BS, Italy
Hours of Operation:
Tuesday: 9:30 AM–12:30 PM, 1:30–5 PM
Wednesday: 9 AM–12:30 PM, 1:30–5:30 PM
Thursday: 9 AM–12:30 PM, 1:30–5:30 PM
Friday: 9 AM–12:30 PM
When to Visit Franciacorta?
Gianluigi Castellini, the operator of Al Rocol suggests visiting Franciacorta during the autumn months. "People can visit wine cellars but also because people have the chance to see a landscape which is full of colors, inspiring warm emotion."
Plus, this is around the time that harvesting takes place. If you time your trip correctly, you might get lucky and see workings speeding through the field aisles to pick the best grapes. Keep in mind that because the temperature is increasing and the weather is more volatile, the harvesting period tends to occur in August.
Though the most monumental time to visit is in September, for this is the time of the Cantina Festival in Franciacorta. A week-long celebration takes place throughout the region when wineries open their doors for public wine tastings, live music, and exhibitions. Upwards of 65 wineries participate in multiple events throughout the week.
Franciacorta's Cantina Festival is usually scheduled early in the year with the 2024 dates yet to be announced. Make sure to check back in February or March for more information!