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A History of the Married Grapevine Symbology

23 augustus 2021 door in Blog, English, Foodhistory, Gastblog |

PART 1 Chapters 1.2 and 1.3


The Etruscan Married Grapevine Millennial Tradition

1.2 Labrusca: primary and secondary wilderness and the archeo-wine projects

As Pliny the Elder perfectly pointed out in his text, a peculiar characteristic of grapevine is that it can easily (and rapidly) degenerate into a wild form, due to a not proper or erroneous cultivation technique or to the actual abandonment of the vineyard to wilderness, after cultivation.

For this reason, we talk about primary and secondary wilderness of the grapevine. The primary wilderness is the original primordial wild form of the grapevine, before being cultivated by man: the Labrusca (Lambruscaia) of first type. The Labrusca (Lambruscaia) of second type is a second wilderness Labrusca (Lambruscaia): a grapevine once cultivated and with the typical characteristics of the cultivated grapevine (thick and dense grape-clusters), that progressively reaches back a wild status, by slowly losing the peculiarities of the cultivated grapevine, to show again those of the wild grapevine. In Italy both forms live attached to trees and so may look similar to the Arbustum Italicum, as seen in Gesina’s aquarelle.

Starting from this fundamental principle, a few University researchers established a series of projects (ArcheoVino, Senarum Vinea, VINUM) at the beginning of the 2000s, with the target (among others) to genetically reconstruct the first Etruscan vineyards of the Arbustum Italicum type.

Sangiovese Canaiolo Nero [Italian Ministry Official Record of Sangiovese] [Italian Ministry Official Record of Canaiolo Nero]

Among the results, the remarkable archeo-botanical analysis of the Tuscany Etruscan area of Ghiaccio Forte, near Scansano, allowed the scholars to identify the varieties Sangiovese and Canaiolo Nero as the grapevine types the nearest ones to the aboriginal wild vines cultivated by the Etruscans through the method of the wild Labrusca/Lambruscaia at the margin of the cultivated fields (probably mostly of wheat or other corns; see on this Servius, Scholia in Virgil’s Eclogue V, 7: labrusca vitis agrestis, quae quia in terrae marginibus nascitur, labrusca dicta est a labris et extremitatibus terrae; vel quod sapore acerbo labra laedat.) and then of the much-refined Arbustum Italicum, described by Pliny the Elder.

Inter alia, we remember the book in collaboration with the Asti region, one of the most important wine Italian producing areas, that has a peculiar interest in knowing the genetical history and the historical dynamics of the grapevine varieties:

Zifferero A., Il primo vino degli Etruschi: vitigni, vigneti e modi di consumo, in Etruschi. L’ideale eroico e il vino lucente (edit. by Mandolesi A. and Sannibale, M., 278 pages), Milano 2012, pp. 67-75.

As far as we know, the wine produced from the wild Labrusca grapevine is particularly light, harsh, sour and naturally rich in tannins (but see Servius supra). Probably a few wild varieties provided also strong forms of natural black/red colour.


Lambrusco,br />[Italian Ministry Official Record of Salamino di Santa Croce]

In Italy entire series of now long cultivated grapevine varieties still carry, in their names, the indication of an origin from a wild Labrusca/Lambruscaia naturally married to the trees and forming so wild grapevine woods: the many most famous different varieties of the Lambrusco grapevines, the Abrusco, the Asprino, the Raverusto, the Abròstine, etc.


1.3 Conclusions

The married grapevine depicted by Gesina is without doubt an Arbustum Italicum or a Secondary Wilderness Labrusca at a very early stage and this is due to the quality of the grape-clusters.

The actual still surviving Italian wild woods of grapevines, which are naturally married to trees (Labruscae/Lambruscaie), are to be found today mostly in the regions Tuscany (southern area) and Lazio (whole area). Much smaller groups of Labruscae can be found also in Marche, Sardegna, Basilicata, Calabria. Just a couple of Labruscae can be found in Piemonte and Emilia Romagna.

Both in antiquity and in modern times Labruscae and Arbusta existed also in other European areas (in particularly in France and in Spain) and even in some areas of the Middle East, but such viticulture activities (mainly derived from the Italian models themselves) have never been more important in grapes production than the Etruscan/Italian ones (see Pliny the Elder on this).

22 July 2021
Leone M. Jennarelli


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