Calgary’s Own Prosecco
Giusti Wines is the largest single owner of prosecco-producing vineyards in the world, and their head office is right here in Calgary
The southeast Calgary industrial area not far from where the Stoney and Glenmore trails meet looks pretty much like you’d expect – large,steel fabricated buildings and warehouses surrounded by parking lots and scrubby grass.
What you wouldn’t expect is that this is home to the corporate head office of Giusti Wines, the largest single owner of prosecco-producing vineyards in the world.
“Nino Franco is probably one of the best-known prosecco producers for Canadians,” says technical director David Walker. “Nino Franco has one hectare of prosecco vineyards. Giusti owns 100 hectares and no one knows us.” Part of that is because Giusti Wines wasn’t created with a plan to corner the prosecco market.
Having had success with his construction business, the Giusti Group, Joe Giusti was in a position to buy his wife’s family’s vineyards in Northern Italy, the region that grows prosecco grapes, when they came up for sale in 2004. He followed that by buying up his own family’s former vineyards in the region and those of friends from the old country who were having trouble during the recession.
Northern Italy was in economic depression. The country was defaulting on payments and about 100 local businesses in the area had gone under. Giusti’s intention was not to become a winemaker, but to help the area he’d grown up in. He worked to restore the vineyard buildings and now offers tours and accommodations at some of the properties.
“When I met him, he had all these vineyards,” recalls Walker. “I asked him where he was selling his wine and he said, ‘Nowhere!’ Because he’s a farm kid and a builder, he bought the property first and didn’t really think about how to sell the wine.” Now that’s Walker’s job, developing Giusti Wines and bringing its story to light and its wines to market.
In some ways, Giusti’s unusual home base is an advantage. “Calgary’s the best wine market in the world,” says Walker. “Here, if you say, ‘Try this, it’s good!’ they will. People are open-minded. There’s less pretense.”
But Walker has to combat not only the stigma of being a new company, but also prosecco’s past reputation. Unlike Champagne and cava, sparkling wines that are fermented in the bottle, prosecco is fermented in stainless steel tanks. This makes producing it cheaper, but that has also meant a race to the bottom on price, since it’s already seen as a discount wine. “Prosecco is seen as cheap and cheerful, but there has been no incentive to improve,” says Walker.
The challenge for Walker and Giusti is to make a great prosecco and to get buyers to realize it’s great. “Every other area in Italian wine has had this renaissance, except prosecco,” Walker says. “We will be one of the benchmarks for quality.” The company now produces more than a dozen wines, all from its own grapes – five proseccos, as well as a pinot grigio, Chardonnay, ripasso and amarone. And, while the old chestnut that the easiest way to make a small fortune in wine is to start with a large fortune would seem to apply here, Walker is very positive about the company’s future.
“We’re up to speed and we’ve got loads of wine that is en route,” he says. “You create luck to some degree.”