Viticulture

Origins and History

ORIGINS

Ours is a story that first took root long ago. Sparkling wine has been produced in Franciacorta since the sixteenth century, and still wines have been produced since the dawn of time, but for a long time they were only for local consumption.

Various events relating to viticulture and marketing hindered its production. The renewed interest in Franciacorta on the part of winemakers dates back to the late 1950s, when, quite suddenly, there was a newfound confidence in the region’s potential to produce base wines suitable for making sparkling wine. In 1967 name Franciacorta was granted official recognition thanks to the efforts of a small group of producers who were encouraged by the new Italian laws regarding designation of origin. Pinot di Franciacorta DOC was made from Pinot Blanc with the possibility of adding Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, with natural fermentation in the bottle or in the vat. The early 1970s set the stage for the great revival of Italian wine, and Franciacorta had already laid solid foundations to start manufacturing quality products. Entrepreneurs and managers began to buy land in Franciacorta, enriching the area with vineyards that they used to produce their own fine wines, for themselves and for their friends. However, this casual approach was clearly not suited to the character of the local Lombard people, and the properties were soon transformed into an “oenological laboratory”. The first historical group was soon joined by another dozen producers. Secondary fermentation in the vat could still be used, but even then most of the producers preferred the much more challenging secondary fermentation in the bottle.

The 1980s were marked by the arrival of a wave of entrepreneurs, who came to Franciacorta seeking new or remodelled vineyards and who had the spirit and the means to get things off the ground and the determination to succeed, even if they weren’t original from the winemaking business. Despite this, they showed willing by seeking the help of wine experts and specialists who were able to enhance the quality of the product. This was the period when Chardonnay was distinguished from Pinot Blanc, and its perfect harmony with the terroir of Franciacorta became well established. By 1983, the original 50 hectares had become 550, and sales of Pinot di Franciacorta exceeded one million bottles while the number of companies doubled once again. The 1990s began with the establishment of the Voluntary Consortium, marking the beginning of the contemporary era of Franciacorta and Franciacorta DOCG.

Ancient viticulture

Vines have been planted on the hills of Franciacorta since ancient times, as proven by the discovery of grape seed remains from prehistoric times. In addition to the archaeological material found throughout the area, several testimonies have also been provided by classical authors, including Pliny, Columella and even Virgil. We also know of the peoples who settled in Franciacorta, such as the Cenomani Gauls, the Romans and the Lombards, from a vast array of historiographical evidence.
The most abundant historical material available relates to the Roman period and consists primarily of funerary inscriptions, memorials and military stone structures. One particularly exceptional archaeological item is the huge temple architrave, which was made in Erbusco and taken to Brescia, where it is now exposed in the facade of the palace of Monte di Pietà located in Piazza della Loggia. The Romans left their mark in many place names, such as Cazzago and Gussago, which referred to the Roman nobility.

A particularly interesting and useful contribution for understanding the configuration of the agricultural landscape and the significance of human work within it is the large-scale work by Gabriele Archetti on “Vineyards and Wine in the Middle Ages: the Franciacorta model (X-XV centuries).”

Archetti’s investigation, which spanned the area between the Mella and Oglio rivers, made it possible to draw a map of the winemaking landscape in the High Middle Ages, to assess its impact over the centuries and to identify the variety of the grapes used, the yields per hectare, the cultivation techniques and the tools used by farmers in the vineyards and in the cellar. It even established the prices of wine, the labour costs for farmworkers and craftsmen, and the statutory provisions enacted to protect the vines and the wine trade.
Another great piece of territorial research on Franciacorta was conducted by Angelo Baronio using maps of large monastic institutions, the assets of which contributed significantly to the consolidation of a rural society deeply linked to their influence, even before the year 1000. One of the monastic foundations most active in the tilling, reclamation and cultivation of the land was the female convent of Santa Giulia of Brescia, whose properties in Franciacorta were documented by a source of exceptional importance: an Altarpiece from the second half of the ninth century. In the same era numerous other monastic courts were also active, including those of Clusane (a Cluniac priory), Colombaro (cell of Santa Maria), Timoline (court of Santa Giulia), Nigoline (court of Sant’Eufemia), Borgonato (court of Santa Giulia), and Torbiato (court of the monasteries of Verona and San Faustino of Brescia).

The first document that tells us of landed property located in Franciacorta, which belonged to the monastery of San Salvatore in Brescia, dates from the year 766. It is the diploma in which Adelchi, son of Desiderius, in agreement with his mother, Ansa, promised to make a donation “pro remedio animae” (for the remedy of his soul) to the monastery, which was founded a few years earlier at his mother’s instigation.
Prior to the tenth century, however, our knowledge of the extent and nature of the local viticulture remains scarce and fragmented, though some locations must already have been the site of intense winemaking activities in Roman times. In a document dated 7 April 884, the monastery of Santa Giulia exercised “undatio fluminis in Caput Ursi,” that is, the right to levy a toll on the river Po, at Caorso in the area of Piacenza, and received spices, salt and oil while the monastery transported red and white wine to their properties in Cremona, Piacenza and the area around Rieti.
As is apparent from the Altarpiece of Santa Giulia and from the maps of Leno and other major urban monastic institutions, the documents from the ninth century, and especially those from the tenth and eleventh centuries, testify to the expansion of vine cultivation in practically every direction. Together with significant archaeological finds uncovered in the area, they are also indicative of the continuity of the winemaking activities in Franciacorta throughout late antiquity to the Middle Ages, which was in part facilitated by its favourable climatic and soil conditions. Further documentary evidence of this continuity comes from the maps of Santa Giulia and those of the bishop’s refectory, as mentioned by Gabriele Archetti.