“With Grave di Stecca,” writes American wine writer Ed McCarthy for Glass of Bubbly, “Nino Franco reaches the quality level of a fine Champagne.”
“Nino Franco, one of the older Prosecco wineries, was founded in 1919 by Antonio Franco, grandfather of the current owner. It is located in the central part of the town of Valdobbiadene, a town large enough to have five hotels. Antonio’s son, Nino Franco, established the winery as one of the prime Prosecco producers. When Nino Franco’s son, Primo Franco, took over in 1982, quality rose to new heights. Primo Franco, an urbane man and great conversationalist, has traveled the world, visiting wine regions. He developed a special affinity for Champagne, an unusual passion for typically provincial Italian wine producers.”
After completing her studies at the prestigious European Institute of Design in Milan, Silvia Franco returned to her native Valdobbiadene where she began working side-by-side with her father Primo.
She represents the fourth generation of the Franco family legacy.
And she is also part of a growing number of women who play increasingly important roles in running high-profile Italian wineries.
Since joining the family business, which was founded by her great-grandfather in 1919, she has worked in every capacity of the winemaking process, from vineyard management and vinification to branding, packaging, and marketing. She developed her command of English in part thanks to her mother Annalisa, an English professor, and in part thanks to summers at camp in England and Scotland. But it was during her first working trip to the U.S. in 2009, she says, that she achieved her mastery of the language.
“I believe that my background in design, my first passion, has helped me a great deal in my work,” says Silvia. “Having a ‘creative’ mind has helped me in every aspect of our work. Creativity plays such an important role in what we do, whether it’s making a decision about graphic design or even tasting the wines with my father.”
Although working full-time for the winery, she has never stopped studying: in 2008 she became a certified sommelier with the Italian Sommelier Association and she continues to study enology, business strategy, and branding.
Today, the U.S. is her focus but she occasionally travels also to Asia and South America where there is an expanding market for her family’s wines.
“We are working to show the world that the Prosecco DOCG represents the highest level of quality in the appellation,” she says. “It’s a niche category that includes only the best wines from our appellation.”
Her favorite pairing for her family’s wines?
“I once paired our San Floriano with oysters on the half-shell in the Pacific northwest. We don’t regularly eat raw oysters in the Veneto [where Prosecco is made] and so it was as surprising as it was delicious.”
Primo Franco, the third-generation of his family to lead the historic Nino Franco winery in Valdobbiadene, is widely considered the architect of the Prosecco revolution across the world.
His legacy is owed in part to the era in which he came of age. After completing his studies and then spending a few years perfecting his English in the “swinging” London of the early 70s, his father Antonio finally convinced him to join the family business.
At the time, the world’s thirst for high-quality sparkling wine was growing rapidly. Primo, who had lived abroad and spoke English fluently, had experienced firsthand the English passion for bubbles and he was among the first to recognize that the new generation of Prosecco had enormous potential for growth in English-speaking markets.
Valdobbiadene — where he, his father, and his grandfather were all born — was undergoing a radical change. Winemakers were shifting from the rustic style of Prosecco, often cloudy and sometimes bitter in taste, to a new and cleaner, fresh style of sparkling wine. Primo, whose experience outside of Italy had made him familiar with Anglo tastes, recognized that the new generation of Prosecco would be embraced by wine lovers on the other side of Atlantic, where a new generation of Americans was beginning to appreciate fine wine for the first time in the country’s history.
As one of the leading producers of Prosecco, armed with a keen interest in graphic design, Primo Franco and the Nino Franco winery had all the right stuff. His elegant labels, which evoked the rustic origins of his wines, were inspired by the artisanal traditions of Prosecco and the people who grew the grapes and made the wines. With their unprecedented artistic flair, the new look for the Nino Franco winery, conceived and developed by Primo, would ultimately prove to be one of the most enduring icons of the appellation. Little did the Franco family know at the time, but Primo was about to embark on an adventure that would reshape the world’s taste for sparkling wine.
Primo made his first trip to the U.S. in 1979, two years after he married the beautiful Annalisa, also from Valdobbiadene, whom he’d first met some years earlier in London where she was completing her studies in English. In 1982, in the wake of the initial success of the wines, he began to travel with greater frequency to North America, where he crisscrossed the country introducing Americans to Prosecco and forging relationships with hundreds of wine buyers and restaurateurs. It was around this time that he also took over winemaking responsibilities from his father.
By the end of the decade, the Prosecco revolution had officially begun. And with the passage of another ten years, as Primo returned each year to the States as Prosecco’s leading ambassador, Prosecco had become one of the most popular wines in America.
“Every Prosecco producer should give Primo ten cents for each bottle they ship to the U.S.,” said recently a young Prosecco grower and bottler who views Primo as a mentor and an inspiration for his own career as a winemaker.
Today, more Prosecco is sold throughout the world than Champagne. And Primo, perhaps more than any other winemaker, was the man behind this sweeping transformation of the fine wine landscape.
Today, he is an outspoken advocate for traditional farming practices in his beloved Valdobbiadene and although his daughter Silvia has now stepped into the role of the winery’s CEO, Primo continues to travel abroad, tasting and sharing the magic of his family’s wines with wine lovers across the globe.
The wines of the Nino Franco winery are quality benchmarks in Prosecco and specifically Valdobbiadene (North East Italy) and this is thanks to the tireless work of Primo Franco, who both labours in the vineyards and travels around the world to explain the differences between his Prosecco and other Prosecco.
At a revealing dinner in February 2013 (full article here) Primo Franco rallied against volume-orientated producers in Prosecco and extolled the virtues of wines produced from hand-tended vines located on the verdant hillsides of his Valdobbiadene, over those that are machine tended and located on the plains below. The tasting of Primo’s range of “Nino Franco” Prosecco that followed was conclusive and showed that vines tended with love, affection and human hands(!) tended to produce wines that are more flavoursome, complex and attractive than mass produced equivalents. It is this that is that is at the heart of the Nino Franco winemaking philosophy.
Originally established in 1919 as the “Cantine Franco” winery by Antonio Franco, today the Nino Franco winery produces more than a million bottles of wine a year. Whilst the majority of grapes are purchased from a network of growers (each of whom are assisted by Nino Franco technicians throughout the year) a few hectares of vineyards are estate owned.
More than half a dozen DOCG classified Prosecco are currently produced at the Nino Franco winery, with “Faive” (a Merlot-based sparkling rosé) and the new “Primo Brut” (a sparkling Chardonnay) the only wines of the Nino Franco range not to be produced from Glera grapes. The “Primo Franco” Prosecco Superiore may be this winery’s signature bottling, but two single vineyard Prosecco (the “Riva di San Floriano” and “Grave di Stecca” bottling) are just as (if not more) characterful and accomplished.
Antonio Franco founded the “Cantine Franco” Winery in Valdobbiadene in 1919. Valdobbiadene is located at the foot of the Prealps, in the Venetian region, and is famous for the Prosecco vine and wine production. This winery is proud to be one of the oldest in Valdobbiadene, located in the town center, not far away from the countryside and the vineyards.
Thanks to a careful and wise management, the estate has been growing and evolving throughout four generations of producers. Antonio founded it, Nino expanded it, Primo improved the company performance and Silvia is the future of the brand.
In 1982, when Primo took over management, he began to travel and to successfully export the wines in Europe as well as in the Americas and the Far East. At the same time he invested in the production process in order to make high quality wines, eliminating all those wines that were atypical for the area. He also started to monitor closely the grape cultivation with the aim of achieving high quality from the raw material level to the final product.
Primo Franco was one of the first pioneers to export the Prosecco and to introduce a different sparkling wine than Champagne into the international market. He has been successful, thanks to his open minded personality, his spontaneity, reliability and competence as well as his charm and ability to communicate his love for his job, and last but not least thanks to his high quality and delicious wines.