At an unknown date the grape vine arrives on the Italian peninsula probably from the Black Sea area. There is little Greek literature on this subject, though wine is regularly mentioned in Homer as a part of civilised life: the best is ‘old’, ‘sweet’, ‘strong’ (ie unblended with water), ‘dark’ and ‘fragrant’. See also Hesiod’s ‘Works and Days’ and references in other ancient Near Eastern literature, eg the Old Testament.
Tuscany and the rest of southern Italy shares in a common culture of cultivating vines and olives – as illustrated on Greek vases.
The remains of a terracotta jug for keeping must (fermenting wine) and the seeds of Vitis vinifera (the cultivated grape vine) found on site of Etruscan farm in the Albegna valley.
Two splendid small bronze statues found at Etruscan site at Ghiacco Forte (beween Scansano and Saturnia) of a man with a roncola, the characteristic scythe used for harvesting grapes since antiquity until very recently.
The word ‘rasola’: a unit of production in a vineyard equivalent to a day’s labour
280 BCE –
Roman conquest of Vulci and its territories led to great estates and extension of agriculture and viticulture in Tuscany. Export of wine to Roman France and Germany. Stability and large labour force including slaves makes commercialisation of wine possible Evidence of important Roman family, the Sestii, who had estates at Cosa (modern Ansedonia). Their stamp appears on terracotta amphorae with distribution in N. Italy, Sardinia, France and Germany
Picture – two people carrying amphora, from a road sign at Pompeii. Roman wine bar or storehouse, Herculaneum
Lucius Columella (4-c. 70 CE), Latin writer originally from Cadiz, officer in the Roman army in Syria, who owned and farmed estates near Rome and in Abruzzo. He reports hat hillside sites produce the best wine and gives instruction of methods of cultivation. The volume on gardens is in hexameters! He shows by far the best grasp of the technical detail on vine growing in the Roman literature (Books 3,4, 12 of De re rustica) Cf. also Cato, Varro, Pliny and Virgil.
From end of C2 CE on
As the power of Rome begins to fade: replacement of labour intensive vine and olive growing with cereals and pasture. Decline of ports and roads begins. Continuing evidence of the cult of Bacchus.
In the ‘dark ages’, the only reference to have survived about wine are in reference to the eucharist.
Attacks by Goths and Ostragoths, and on the coast Muslim pirates
Castle building led to some stability under the Aldobrandeschi family
C12: Establishment of inland towns, eg Scansano, to get away from the summer malaria on the plains. Official policy of moving the local government from Grosseto to Scanscano in the summer (l’estatatura)
C16 Laws from Scansano specifically forbid damaging vineyards
Maremma under various Sienese and then Florentine families, but there is little development
1737: Maremma passed from Medici to the Lorena family: real progress with roads and drainage
1766: Maremma becomes the lower province of Siena
1783: Scansano becomes a community in its own right
Mid-century writers (eg A. Salvagnoli Marchetti) comment on separation of crops in the Maremma, ie growing vines, olives, etc, in separate fields. This is an advanced practice unlike elsewhere in Tuscany and Italy which continued with mixed fields of crops, vines and olives
Mid C19: Baron Ricasoli of Brolio (Chianti) tries to found a wine estate in the Maremma but has to retreat because of too many difficulties (malaria, brigands) Late C19: new markets open as the rest of European vineyards are ravaged by phylloxera
1884: Giacomo Barabino states that ‘the wines of Magliano, Pereta and Scansano [all now in the Morellino di Scansano DOCG] are excellent and in few other places is so exquisite a wine produced’
End of l’estatura in 1897
First half of C20
Use of quinine to control malaria
End of piracy
Great drainage works begin, continue under Mussolini
Mario Incisa della Rochetta, an aristocratic horse breeder, observed the similarity of the Tuscan coast to Bordeaux – maritime climate and gravely soils. He imported grape varieties from Chateau Lafite in Bordeaux to grow in Bolgheri in the 40s and employed the wine maker, Giacomo Tachis. At first the wine is for family’s own use, but sold from 1968 as ‘Sassicaia’ (see below
In Italy more generally, Luigi Veronelli
- starts to promotes quality Italian wine:
- Writes first general survey of Italian wine since Andrea Bacci’s book of 1595 (350 year gap!)
- Championed the small grower against the DOC system which he believed favour the big producer
- Saw potential for ageing in barriques after visit to California in early 1980s
Beginning of bottling of wine in Tuscany – previously wine sold in bulk, with exception of a few aristocratic estates in Chianti and Montalcino
First DOCs in other regions (1966): eg Brunello di Montalcino, but also Bianco di Pitgliano in the Maremma
Beginning of revival of Italian/Tuscan wine industries through the international success of Sassicaia and other ‘supertuscans’, ie making wines outside the rules:
- use of French grape varieties and ageing in small barrels – in an unknown area, ie not Chianti / Montalcino / Montepulciano
- adding French grapes to Sangiovese
- producing 100% Sangiovese wines of quality
- the success of Tignanello
1976: ‘Judgement of Paris’: Stephen Spurrier organises blind tastings of Californian and Bordeaux wines in Paris – with American winners: non-French, new world wine has to be taken seriously
Decanter magazine’s tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon around the world, organised by Hugh Johnson, puts 1972 Sassicaia in first place – the Tuscan coast has arrived as fine wine area!
1978: DOC granted to Morellino di Scansano, 85% Sangiovese + 15% other recommended or authorised grape variety
Beginning of tourism in Maremma
Beginning of wine tourism in Maremma – le strade del vino from 1996 on
The 1990s saw inward investment in vineyards/wineries from outside the region (Chianti; Piemonte; France, USA, Japan etc), a sort of ‘winerush’ into a non-traditional area for fine wine.
Frances Mayes: Under the Tuscan Sun, sold 2m copies world wide, eulogizes ‘Morellino di Scanscano, black like Cahors: a discovery … what a wine … soft and full and only costs $1.70 a bottle’
2007: granting of DOCG status to Morellino di Scanscano
‘The hype of the 1990s about the potential of the Maremma is giving way to more realistic evaluation. The investments of the 1990s have not really produced the returns – though some very good wines are being made’ (Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd ed, 2006).