Vallagarina valley runs about sixty kilometers from the village of Mattarello, to the south of the town of Trento, and the Province of Verona in the south.
Vallagarina’s climate is partly mitigated by nearby Lake Garda and it is characterized by a wide variety of sceneries. From the Lessini mountains and the Brentonico plateau high up to the hillsides lower down and the flat valley floor covered in vines, besides the terraced parcels of land of the Valle di Gresta known in Italy and abroad for the cultivation of organic potatoes, carrots and cabbages.
The land here has been cultivated for centuries: legend has it that it was Hercules himself who – having stationed the Greek settlers, the Graii, in the Po Valley to the south – planted the first cuttings here, even if the name of the valley (“Val” + “Làgare”) is Germanic in origin, from Lager, meaning “field”. On the valley floor or on the hillsides around the distinctive villages there are vines everywhere which flourish thanks to the soil which is rich in basalt and brings out the best in the cultivars grown here: Schiava, Cabernet and Marzemino.
Indeed Marzemino, which originally came from Carinthia, thrives here in the Vallagarina, its adopted home, and is the most commonly grown variety in the area. These are vineyards which blend with the scenery and which have inspired poets, musicians, intellectuals ana men of letters who have devoted pages not just to the drink beloved of Bacchus but also to the landscape.
Among the plenty of witness from the eighteenth century, it is worth remembering the intellectual Clementine Vanzetti who celebrated in verse the grapes from which the “liquors that … from the spice of the most sumptuous banquets” were obtained; Johann Wolfgang Goethe, the German poet and writer described the area with affection: “at the foot of the mountain vines are grown on the hills. Amid the long, low rows of vines stand poles and the brown grapes hang gracefully from above, ripening in the heat of the ground underneath”; Wolfgang Amadus Mozart (who was much loved in the Vallagarina where he gave his first concert in Italy at the age of thirteen) immortalized the local wine in the second act of his opera Don Giovanni with the words “Versa il vino, eccellente Marzemino” (“Pour the wine, excellent Marzemino”). In the nineteenth century the Futurist artist Fortunato Depero, who often included grapes in his colourful pictures, paid homage to wine in prose: “I want a dry wine. Light red, clear as rubies. As I bring the glass to my lips, a fragrant warmth should lightly intoxicate me. To my palate it should appear calm, smooth and thirst-quenching. In my throat it should slide down like a crystal-clear cascade of peace and silent poetry…”
The numerous vineyards give origin to a distinctive agricultural landscape which can be best appreciated in the stretch between the area in the north of the town of Trento and Piana Rotaliana area further north, one of the most renowned wine-growing areas in the region.
The peculiar composition of the soil is the result of alluvial detritus deposited by the River Noce, and the summer climate, aided by the rock faces which reflect the sun’s rays, combine to produce a very special wine in the Piana Rotaliana area: Teroldego.
Cultivated in the vineyards on the valley floor and surrounded by the mountains, Teroldego gets its name from the village of Teroldeghe near Mezzolombardo.
It is considered one of the best wines of Trentino and may well be related to Marzemino through shared biochemical characteristics.
Its origins are shrouded in mystery: legend has it that it comes from dragon’s blood or, more probably, from Asia. Whatever the truth, Teroldego has clearly found ideal growing conditions in Piana Rotaliana which make it unique.
Valsugana has always played an important role in the valley in the trade and tourism sector of the area.
The famous road Claudia Augusta Altinate (the roman road which runs through Trentino-South Tyrol, the Austrian Tyrol and Bavaria) crosses the valley together with the river Brenta that flows through the valley.
Wine-growing is a thriving activity in the valley and was apparently introduced by the Romans. There are plenty of indications of the importance of wine-growing for the valley, including the oldest document which has so far come to light and which dates back to 1220; it describes the obligation that the inhabitants of Portolo, Prato, Riveda and Zivignago had to hand over precise quantities of wine to the canons at the cathedral in Trento.
Today, as elsewhere, during the productive cycle of the vines, the fruit trees and other plants, the fields of the Valsugana are populated by the quaint and curious presence of scarecrows.
Mannequins with human appearance, dressed in eccentric and colourful clothed, together with ribbons flapping in the wind or more modern system of scaring birds such as machines that fire blanks, are linked to the old tradition of hiring guards for the fields. In the past they were taken on St James’s Day (25th July) or St Lawrence’s Day (10th August) and remained on duty in the fields until the harvest was safely in, keeping out thieves and unauthorized people and sleeping in straw huts.
Meaningful and important initiatives, in the recent years, have brought the Valsugana to the forefront of the agricultural sector. Among them the reintroduction in wine-growing of the cultivation of old vines in the traditional manner. An important choice, aimed to respect and go back to the cultural traditions of a territory that till the nineteenth century was entirely cultivated with native varieties. Only in the years later, the most of them were replaced by French vines from Bourgogne and the Bordeaux area which were believed to be superior. Besides the time passes by and the modern trends, today the passion of some wine-makers has remain the same keeping in their vineyards the varieties of the past. Thanks to the desire and will of some wineries like Cantine Montfort, these varieties have been rediscovered and proposed as prized wines to connoisseurs.
There are numerous theories to explain the origin of the name of the one most distinctive valleys in Trentino: the Valle di Cembra. Whether the name comes from the woods of arolla pines (pinus cembra) which still grow on the hillsides, or the presence of Cimbri’s settlements, with any doubt the valley’s history goes back a long way.
Archaeological remains have been found dating back to the Neolithic period, the Aeneolithic period and especially to the late Bronze Age, the Iron Age and the period of Roman occupation. Not only is the valley rich in history, but also its landscape is rich in unique findings, with vineyards that cover the steep hillsides down to the Creek Avisio, interspersed here and there with woods.
Today, as it is possible to admire from its amazing views, this steep and rugged valley is highly devoted to the vine growing. With is variety of colors that change according to the season, this landscape seems like it is always wearing its best cloths. The green of summer gives way to the riot of autumn hues, with bright yellows and brown that light the hills up with surprising matching, the snowy winter quiet gives to the vineyards a weird and rarefied atmosphere. Nature and people like two elements that are always tied together, shaping and sculpting the landscape, able to give the right value to every available inch of land. In fact, it is possible, staring at the vineyards, to have clear witness of the tenacity and creativity of generations of peasants that for centuries looking at the use of the natural resources, snatching the cultivable soils out, transforming the steep hillside of the right bank into a myriad fields of vines right down to the River Avisio.
Thiny and precious fields, crossed by narrow and steep roads, are divided by dry-stone walls where stones of different sizes have been placed one on top of the other without the aid of mortar. These walls which dot the landscape have been here for dozens, even hundreds, of years. Today they are periodically strengthened with stones brought up the hillsides by hand and with a skill that sadly seems destined to be lost in the future.
The walls are built from leftover porphyry stones excavated from quarries on the hillside of the left bank of the Valle di Cembra and are a kind of homage to what the people of Trentino call “red gold”. Porphyry is volcanic in origin: 270-280 million years ago an accumulation of nuées ardentes which had erupted through a huge fissure in the earth’s crust cooled to form this stone that today is widely used as a cladding material and as paving stones.
While there are similarities between the way wine-growing is practiced in the Valle di Cembra and in other parts of Trentino, it is impossible to generalized about the province as a whole. Wine-growing in the Valle di Cembra is called “dry-stone”, “heroic” or “vertical” because the vines stand on such steep slopes that other crops could not be grown here. Everything connected with wine-growing in this valley is unusual. Because it is impossible to use mechanical means during the grape harvest. Before being tipped into special large containers which are then taken to the winery where the wine-making process will begin, the bunches of grapes are placed in panniers which the farmers then have to hoist onto their shoulders and carry up the steep slopes, a procedure that requires both strength and a good sense of balance.
Today, as in the past, the harvest is an important moment for socializing as families and seasonal workers put in long hours together to bring the grapes home.
Thanks to their characteristics the grapes grown in the Valle di Cembra go to make wines much appreciated by experts and connoisseurs; in addition they can accompany both simple and refined dishes whether from local or international cuisine. The reason for the high quality of the wine lies in the vines. As a result of the great difference in temperature between day and night, the grapes are rich in sugar and have an excellent bouquet while the roots of the vines reach deep down into the soil in search of water.
And finally, the farmers carefully and lovingly select the ripest bunches during the harvest, throwing aside the unripe or damaged grapes as well as leaves and twigs, so that only the best fruit goes to the winery to make the wine.
Among the artistic beauties of Trento, the capital of the province of Trentino and the main town in the Valle dell’Adige or Adige Valley, stands the Cathedral, its Renaissance houses with frescoed façades and its ancient crenellated town walls that, today as in the past, surround the historical center, and with any doubt the 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. In the background a vineyard together with men and women working hard to harvest the grapes, committed in carrying out all the phases of the grape harvesting. Their movements are graceful as if they are dancing rather than working hard, and the peasants are shown during the activity of picking the grapes, preparing the must and (carrying them to the wine-press in panniers, typical wooden containers which peasants could strap on to their backs). Others are busy in tasting the must and pressing it. 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 is essentially the same as the artist painted it seven centuries ago, especially as regards the tradition and vocation of wine-growing. The numerous vineyards (where Nosiola, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Cabernet grapes among others grow) give rise to a typical agricultural landscape which can be best appreciated in the path between the area in the north of the town of Trento towards the area of Piana Rotaliana, one of the most renowned wine-growing areas in the region.
The history told us that, over the centuries the economy of Valle dell’Adige has not been limited to wine-growing. The fact that it stands in the middle of four distinct areas (Piana Rotaliana in the north, Valle di Cembra in the east, Valle dei Laghi in the west and the town of Trento and the surrounding area in the south) made the Valle dell’Adige an important meeting point and trade center between north and south and a strategic one, given that it was crossed by one of the most ancient Roman Road: the Claudia Augusta Altinate.
Its route through Veneto, Trentino-South Tyrol, the Austrian Tyrol and Bavaria has been for centuries the pillar for trade and communications. The road, rich in proves from the past, is still accessible. For examples in the Meano area where the Valle dell’Adige meets the Valle di Cembra; here the Route Claudia Augusta Altinate runs through several vineyards whose grapes are made into wine by Cantine Monfort winery, giving origin to an interesting mix of economic aspect from the past and the present.
Following the common trend of the return of ancient traditions, it can be possible sometimes to experience the phases of the wine-making process, following traditional methods, that today have been abandoned in favour of more modern mechanized systems. These old ways of working keeps alive the skills and knowledge 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. For instance the crushing of the grapes in the traditional way, using wooden wine press. A system used by some of the wine-growers who bring their grapes to the Cantine Monfort to respect the traditions and to produce small amount of wines for their own consumption. A leap back in the past to a period when, if a person owns its own wine press meant that that person was, if not rich, at least well-off. It was common, among the people to share the wine presses or to have access to a “tithed” wine press in exchange for giving up a proportion of the grapes they had grown themselves.
Worth mentioning is the history of the wine press. The Italian word “torchio” comes from the Latin torculum (torque/twist), the wine presses can be rooted in a far past.
In Egypt and in 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. They were made from tree trunks and they forestall the press with screw and 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 technological innovation aimed at maintaining the high quality of the wine.
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