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Brief history of viticulture in Tuscany: from the Etruscans to the art labels

The wine of the Etruscans

The history of viticulture in Tuscany began in the seventh century BC, when the vitis vinifera found in these areas and in those of upper Lazio, not only a land and an ideal climate for its growth, but also the passion and inventiveness of a people of oenologists ante litteram: the Etruscans.

By honoring Fufluns (god of wine, corresponding to the Roman Bacchus and the Greek Dionysus), the Etruscans were masters in perfecting the viticulture they had initially learned from the Greek colonies in southern Italy: they first experimented with grafting techniques, creating hybrids and learning to select the sweetest grapes for their wines (both white and red), which did not take long to be greatly renowned and appreciated throughout the Mediterranean and – thanks to the undisputed commercial skills of this peaceful people – even in Northern Europe.

History of wine in Tuscany until the Renaissance

The Roman conquest marked the end of the Etruscan civilization, but not that of viticulture in Tuscany, which the Romans cleverly knew how to continue, making wine (which was drunk mixed with water, honey or spices) the protagonist of banquets.

The place names, rather than the scarce documentary testimonies, tell the story of viticulture in Tuscany in the Middle Ages: for example in Florence, via della Vigna Vecchia and via della Vigna Nuova (which take their name respectively from the monks vineyards of Badia Fiorentina and San Pancrazio) still remember the role of abbeys and monasteries in wine production in Tuscany.

A new impetus for viticulture in Tuscany arrives a few centuries later: in the Renaissance this region exports all over Europe culture, art, manufacturing products and of course also wine. White wine, above all, like the white of the Valdarno, which in this era is considered more noble and valuable.

The roots of modern viticulture

If in the Renaissance viticulture in Tuscany still follows the trail of medieval traditions, it is in the seventeenth century that, following the contraction of the international manufacturing market (which had made the fortune of Florence and Tuscany), the great patrician families reconvert their economic activities focusing on agricultural production and, above all, on viticulture.

Cosimo III de ‘Medici, ascended the throne in 1670, can be considered the first name of the modern history of viticulture in Tuscany. He hosted at his court Francesco Redi, doctor, naturalist and scholar, author of the famous composition “Bacco in Toscana”, a praise of wine that is also an oenological review of over 50 Tuscan wines and not only, at the end of which the red of Montepulciano is consecrated “winner”.

Above all, in 1716 Cosimo III issued the announcement “Above the Declaration of the Borders of the four Regions of Chianti, Pomino and Rufina, Carmignano, and Val d’Arno di Sopra”, which set by law the boundaries within which the fourmentioned wines could be produced. It can legitimately be considered as the first production disciplinary of the history of wines.

Let us remember Cosimo III, therefore, when still today on the “Gallo Nero” brand of every bottle of Chianti Classico wine, we read the words “From 1716”.

Tuscan wine today, between DOCG and author labels

The ‘700 can be considered a golden age for the history of viticulture in Tuscany, in which Cosimo III was able to give political voice and economic dignity to the great revival of the agronomy studies that was taking place in those years.

The work of Cosimo III was pursued about a century later by another great innovator, Baron Bettino Ricasoli who, experimenting and scanning every secret of winemaking and wine conservation, developed what still today – only with small differences – is the production disciplinary of the Chianti Classico DOCG wine: a wine produced from a blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Malvasia vines and subjected to a vinification technique known as “government for Tuscan use” (a refermentation made with the addition of must of grapes previously left to dry in the air on racks).

If today we are talking about Tuscan wines DOCG (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin), DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin) or IGT (Typical Geographic Identification), and if the producers of these wines are organized in Protection Consortia, which oversee the observance of the respective production regulations, we owe a lot to figures like Cosimo III de ‘Medici and Bettino Ricasoli, who made the history of viticulture in Tuscany.

So protected, the Tuscan wine can travel new roads, not only towards the conquest of new markets, but also towards art and culture, with great architects and artists who lend their creativity to create futuristic cellars or art labels, while the revival of food and wine culture and wine tours make it a popular phenomenon, also educating the general public to the consumption of good wine.

 

 

 

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