Trento, the capital of the province of Trentino and the main town in the Valle dell’Adige or Adige Valley, is rich in art and architecture with its Cathedral, its Renaissance houses with frescoed façades and its ancient crenellated town walls. One work of art, however, deserves a special mention: the Cycle of Months (by Buonconsiglio Castle). Perhaps one of the best-known scenes in the Cycle of Months is October, dedicated to the grape harvest and to other related activities. A vineyard occupies a large part of the picture and men and women are working to harvest the grapes, crush them and start the wine-making process. Their movements are graceful as if they were dancing rather than working hard, and the peasants are shown as they pick the grapes and carry them to the wine-press in panniers, typical wooden containers which peasants could strap on to their backs. Other peasants can be seen preparing the must, tasting the must and pressing the grapes. Particularly impressive for the way in which it is depicted is the wine press which, as was common at the time, is protected from the weather by thatched roof. This elegant and highly detailed work of art easily conveys the importance of wine-growing in the Valle dell’Adige.
Despite the greater number of inhabitant today and, in particular along the river Adige, the presence of small factories, the valley has essentially remained the same as the artist depicted it seven centuries ago, especially as regards the tradition of wine-growing. The numerous vineyards (where Nosiola, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Cabernet grapes among others are grown) give rise to a distinctive agricultural landscape which can be best appreciated in the stretch between the area to the north of the town of Trento and the Piana Rotaliana area further north, one of the most renowned wine-growing areas in the region.
The economy of the Valle dell’Adige over the centuries has not been limited to wine-growing. The fact that it stands in the middle of four distinct areas (the Piana Rotaliana area to the north, the Valle di Cembra to the east, the Valle dei Laghi to the west and the town of Trento and the surrounding area to the south) made the Valle dell’Adige an important meeting point between north and south and a strategic one, given that the old Roman Road, the Claudia Augusta Altinate, runs through it. The road runs through Veneto, Trentino-South Tyrol, the Austrian Tyrol and Bavaria, and was for centuries a major trade and communications route. The old road can still be followed in stretches, for examples in the Meano area where the Valle dell’Adige meets the Valle di Cembra; here the Claudia Augusta Altinate runs through several vineyards whose grapes are made into wine by Cantine Monfort winery, giving rise to an interesting mix of economic aspect from the past and the present.
Today some of the traditional methods employed in the wine-making process have been abandoned in favour of more modern mechanized means. These old ways of working displayed skills and knowledge that are important for the growth and the development of wine-growing in Trentino, which is today in the forefront of the wine industry at both the national and the international level.
Indeed some of the wine-growers who bring their grapes to the Cantine Monfort winery prefer to crush their grapes in the traditional way, using wooden wine press in order to produce small quantities of wine for their own use. A leap back in time to a period in which to own one’s own wine press meant that a person was, if not rich, then at least well-off; more commonly people shared wine presses or had access to a “tithed” wine press in exchange for giving up a proportion of the grapes they had grown themselves.
The history of the wine press is interesting and worthy of note. The Italian word “torchio” comes from the Latin torculum (torque/twist) and in fact wine presses go back a long way.
In Egypt and the East stone containers were used to press the grapes but in Rome the poet Marcus Porcius Cato mentions the use of wooden wine presses. Early versions of wine presses were made from tree trunks and had a screw, a handle and a pressure stone while the later wine presses, used for two thousand years, had a double screw. It was only at the end of the nineteenth century that presses with levers and hydraulic presses replaced the traditional wooden wine presses in a process of improvements in technology aimed at maintaining the high quality of the wine.