A simple question – “what if we make sparkling wine like the French do?” – that changed winemaking history. Berlucchi winery is a pioneer of Franciacorta, Italy’s most celebrated sparkling wine.

It has been 58 years since Guido Berlucchi and Franco Ziliani changed winemaking history. In 1961, the two unlikely partners released the first commercial sparkling wine with a “Franciacorta” label, to almost instantaneous critical-acclaim. Since then, Franciacorta has become an international superstar, renowned for its elegance and finesse.

The Franciacorta Territory

berlucchi franciacorta vineyards

Vineyards in Franciacorta, Berlucchi, Lombardy.

Franciacorta is a relatively small wine area nestled in the hills located between the southern shores of Lake Iseo and Brescia. There are 2,900 hectares of vineyards across 19 municipalities that fall under the regulations of the Franciacorta DOCG. The cultivation of grapes in the Franciacorta territory is divided between 80% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Nero and 5% Pinot Bianco. Although the appellations are modern, winemaking in Franciacorta is many centuries old.

An Ancient History of Franciacorta

The story of Franciacorta wine is much older than half a century. In fact, it is ancient. Archaeological evidence of grape seeds, as well as references in works by Virgil and Pliny the Elder, give a small glimpse of winemaking in the Franciacorta territory as far back as the Romans.

However, the first true account of the territory and wine being called Franciacorta is dated to 1277. There is a citation of “Franzacurta” is Brescia City Council books, describing the sale of wine. The name Franzacurta and then later Franciacorta may be a portmanteau of francae (tax-exempt) and curtes (the word for towns in Brescia), alluding the important economy of trade in the area. From the Middle Ages to 1961, the Franciacorta region was synonymous with still table wines that were mainly produced for personal consumption, or at most, local sales.

The Bubbly Rise of Franciacorta Sparkling Wine

Guido Berlucchi and Franco Ziliani

Guido Berlucchi and Franco Ziliani in the 1980s.

In 1955, Franco Ziliani, a young enologist who was rapidly making a name for himself consulting some of the largest wineries at the time, set out on a course that would chart new waters in the winemaking traditions of Franciacorta with a simple question: “And what if we were to make sparkling wine as the French do?”. It was posed to Guido Berlucchi, a country gentleman of noble descent who had sought Franco’s consultation on how to improve his “Pinot del Castello.”

Franco immediately saw the potential for making Traditional Method sparkling wine, in the style of Champagne, at Guido’s estate. The climate was ideal, but above all, were the 17th-century underground cellars running below Guido’s home, the historic Palazzo Lana.

palazzo lana berlucchi franciacorta

Palazzo Lana, Berlucchi, Lombardy.

Guido had been producing the local still wines from the vineyards on his estate. Intrigued by Franco’s vision, he agreed and the two began trialling the production of metodo classico sparkling wine. The first few years were fraught with failure, but in 1961, they released the first 3,000 bottles of bubbles with the Franciacorta label. It was an instant success.

In 1962, the duo pushed the innovation even further with the release of Max Rosé. Inspired by a close friend of Guido’s, they wanted to create a sparkling Italian rosé wine that was just as refined as the prized French labels. Once again, it was an instant success.

A new Franciacorta had been born.

The Journey from Table to DOCG

Berlucchi ageing tunnels

17th-century ageing tunnels at Berlucchi

By the end of the 1960s, Berlucchi Franciacorta was synonymous with glamour and prestige. It was served in every parlour and sitting room of Milan’s upper crust and other producers began focusing their attention on making sparkling wine. By 1967, Franciacorta had been designated a DOC appellation, instantly increasing its value in the international wine community. In 1995, Franciacorta Metodo Classico sparkling wines were designated a DOCG appellation, once again confirming its quality and importance to Italy’s winemaking heritage.

Franciacorta for the Future

the Ziliani family of Berlucchi Franciacorta

The Ziliani Family, Berlucchi, Lombardy.

Today, Berlucchi Franciacorta is managed by Franco Ziliani’s three children – Cristina, Arturo and Paolo. They have inherited their father’s innovative approach to winemaking, and have set Berlucchi on a new course to preserve Franciacorta for the future. All the vineyards and production areas were updated to ensure the lowest impact on the environment. As well as launching the Berlucchi ’61 and Palazzo Lana Riserva lines, ranges that have become the winery’s flagships. Palazzo Lana remains as a testament to the passion and faith Guido showed in Franco. A partnership that changed the world.

Contact us for a custom Franciacorta 1-day wine experience. 

Share