Italy of Wine and Wineries


"Near the village of Areni, in the same cave where an extraordinarily well-preserved 5,500-year-old leather shoe was found, archaeologists have found a grape press, vessels for fermenting and storing wine, cups, as well as remains of stems, seeds, and skins."

Karayr Cave - Armenia

National Geographic (2011)



Until the 1950s, the civilization of wine thrived on thousands of years of stratification and codification. The wine was a drink with mythical and symbolic content for all social strata, which, at the fall of the empire of Rome, were divided into Oradores (the religious class), "Belladores" (the ruling political class), and "Laboradores"

As many of the readers will recall, the vineyard was present in every landed property, even small ones, as wine consumption was part of an ingrained culture in our society. Beginning in the 1960s and in the decades that followed, an epochal change took place that revolutionized society in interpersonal relationships, collective imagination, and lifestyles while maintaining, on the whole, the model of the Greco-Latin Mediterranean culture.

By that time, the alternation of the seasons marked the rhythm of life, and the family had close kinship and community relations giving rise to small homelands (Heimat). Hence, historically, the diversity of behaviors and the social and economic structures that have become the matrix of contemporary civilization developed.

In his analysis of the diversity of civic traditions in Italian regions, Putnam presents an Italy split in two. Communes and walled cities organized Northern Italy, and south of the boot, the dominance of the baronies, with their castles and latifundia.
In northern Italy, the "Laboradores" were also viticulturists; in southern Italy, viticulture was extensive and submitted to the "Belladores" of the castles and "Oradores" in the monasteries.

This agrarian society with archaic modes and tools of production handed down for millennia, as evidenced in Diderot and D'Alembert's Encyclopedia lived by a curtense economy and through oral transmission of skills.

According to physiocrats active in the 18th century, the foundations of the economy, represented by productivity and employment, were mainly the result of what is now called the primary agriculture sector.

In this static world, the so-called industrial revolution intervened in the nineteenth century, and the prodromes were already present in the boroughs (bourgeoisie) of late medieval and Renaissance European civilizations. The maritime trade preceded the initiation and acceleration of this process from the 16th to the 18th century, abandoned short-haul trade, and extended trade to the entire world through coteries and the extension of sails.brueguel2

The revolution in energy initiated by Watt applied to mechanical looms, rail transportation, and the new construction of ships with steel hulls (Sheffield and Krupp) accelerated world history and trade.

Furthermore, how does wine fit into this revolution?

The civilization of oars and sails, Greek, Phoenician, Carthaginian, Roman, and even the Italian maritime republics, carried out limited trade and only by river and sea. Therefore, from Marcus Aurelius Probus (Roman emperor from 276 to 282 A.D.) onward, the need for viticulture locally emerged.

Centuries later, for similar motivation, colonial viticultures arose: the Jesuits with their "Reducciones" or "Misiones," Franciscans and Dominicans with settlements "in nuce," that is, in embryo, were the matrix of present-day American viticultures.

The multiplication of trade and sailing ships is the stimulus for energetic wine products such as Port, Jeréz, and Marsala. Symbols of the international success of the last great colonial empire, the English, whose territories also conditioned the food habits, determining the development of viticulture even in areas foreign to the European grapevine.

This set of realities with different historical evolution, nonlinear, is the matrix of the current models; for example, viticulture in Veneto is very similar to the Catalan heirs of the "Pago"; Languedoc and Castile-La Mancha are comparable as they originated from the baronial-latifundium model. Burgundy, despite the Tree of Liberty (symbol of the French Revolution) and the destruction of Cluny and Cîteaux, also linked to the revolution of 1789-1791, still maintains elitist wine-making models with Champagne.

Aquitaine (Bordeaux), conquered by the Drakkars (ships) of the Normans (Plantagenets), a privileged supplier of English land, for an extended period, maintained almost a monopoly of the world wine trade contributing to the renown of biturici grape varieties (Merlot, Cabernet-Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and others).

Almost as a historical nemesis, finally, it is worth mentioning that the descendants of the Viking-Norman, detached from the Vatican with Henry VIII (following the Anglican schism), are the matrix of the viticultures of the global south (Australia and South Africa).

With the rise of the bourgeoisie, the prevalence of the capitalist model, liberalizations, and the rise of democracy, the industrial revolution brought about the slow evolution with the change of human, social, political, and productive systems.

In Italy, after World War II, increased consumption made the "Great Change" due to the population going from agricultural to industrial and from rural to urban.

Italian viticulture, up to this point promiscuous (Figure 4.15 Italy: Historical Viticulture), specializes; production increases exponentially, from 22 to 75 million hl; ownership-possession regimes change, and the process that will lead to the elimination of sharecropping (the early 1980s) begins; establishing countless cooperative wineries to bring the capital gains from processing or marketing to the advantage of the wine producer. The Cooperative system is favored and facilitated by tax exemptions and substantial subsidies.

Fig 4.15

The "social-political" factor prevails over the "economic" factor also thanks to EU interventions (EAGGF), which through distillation, storage, and enrichment of wine products, support the Italian and European political economies.

Fig 4.16

At high levels, the political prices guaranteed to incentivize surpluses and state interventions to destroy them; burdened surpluses by the change in consumption from 100 liters per capita to the current 40 liters per capita.

In the same historical period, wine, from being food, became a drink recovering image values, and from this evolution came all the social, political, and regulatory actions aimed at giving historical content, typicality, and value, which led to the codification of Denominations of Origin (DO) and Geographical Indications (GI).

This phase sees the multiplication of the unthinkable of regulations and the bodies in charge: specifications, protection consortia, certifying bodies, chambers of commerce, and others.

It is the golden age of consultants, guides, and "gurus" who modify vineyards, agronomic systems, grape varieties, and enology.

Fortunately, the pursuit of image for its own sake is downsizing.

For regulatory and union reasons, the demijohn -Dame Jeanne of 54 liters, a container par excellence, a witness to the rural matrix, and the roots of the country of origin until the 1980s- has almost disappeared.

The wine system is in search of a new equilibrium due to the rupture of the old model caused by the following factors:

Alongside the traditional operating figures (transforming social wineries and second-tier cooperatives, private bottlers of various sizes), new and very aggressive ones have appeared: MGM-World of Wine, Italian Wine Brands, Enoitalia, Contri Spumanti, and others.

Thus, wine results from the work of the winemaker who originally domesticated the wild vine. Introduced vines previously "domesticated" in other areas and selected the introgressed varieties (spontaneous crosses). Settling the vine (cultivar) in a suitable environment and making its qualities known and valorized through winemaking techniques in the post-World War II period have made continuous innovations, thus originating surplus values linked to the territory.

Underlying this valorization is, on the one hand, the affirmation of quality concepts based on the geographical origin of grapes and the resulting viticultural suitability. On the other, the adoption of legislation capable of incorporating these principles into the protection of wine quality.

We analyze in this section the production of wines by compartments and wineries-actors in the processing and marketing sector. (Figure 4.16 Distilled Wine in Italy)

Legally speaking, wine, without other specification (e.g., apple wine or cider) is the product obtained exclusively from the total or partial alcoholic fermentation of fresh grapes, whether crushed or not, or of grape must. (EC Reg 1308/2013 Annex VII)

This subdivision shows the transition, begun several thousand years earlier, from nomadic to settled life (birth of agriculture) not only based on annual, but perennial crops. They determined the need for togetherness, while creating the moral laws of social living (religions) and the need for the government of society, capable of using collective force (army) to defend it. To defend its source of income and surplus trade, increasingly represented by crops such as the grapevine, whose fermented fruit also had a value in supporting the otherworldly. It therefore became the drink of excellence for the two ruling classes (Religious and Political) and consolation for the real social engine (the people) who often had to make do with similar, but less noble (beer) and cheaper drinks

Putnam Robert D. (1933).” La Tradizione Civica nelle Regioni Italiane”. Ed. Arnoldo Mondadori. Milano

Diderot & D’Alembert (1751 - 1780) “Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers”

A medieval sailing ship, round in shape, which followed the period of ships with mixed propulsion-oars and sails.



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