Welcome to week two! This week we’re getting our hands dirty (haha) and talking about territory: the actual dirt and rocks that make up the soil of Chianti Classico AND numerous battles over the territory. We’re going to talk about Noah getting drunk in Tuscany (yes, you read that correctly), how Medici dictators influenced Chianti forever, and how two guys literally named “The Chicken Brothers” created a huge mess for the Chianti Classico Consortium.
Sorry. You thought we might be talking about wines today, but before we do that we have to talk about the earth the vines are grown in.
All good winemaking starts in the vineyard. Once in the cellar you can transform the product you have, covering less desirable traits and adding layers of complexity. But in our opinion this can mask what makes a wine unique to its territory. Sure, you can blend three tasty grape varieties, refine them in just-toasted French oak barrels and come up with a crowd pleaser that pairs well with many different types of food. While this is a fine product, it’s not what the Uncork Italy project is particularly interested in.
We want to try a wine that is unique to its place, that tells a story and that has the ability to express the territory it comes from and the people who make it. People. Not big wine associations that have studied markets and blah blah blah.
So. Where does that bring us. The soil. What the French call “terroir.” What Lauren calls “Dirt” and what Luca and Luca (the Italians) call “il territorio” – the territory.
The soil of Fietri (which Walter talks about in the video below) is made up of galestro (breakable schist), alberese (limestone), and arenaria (sandstone).
So…What does that mean? These varied and rocky soils provide rich minerality to the vines and also create a lot of work for them to do. They can’t just plop their feet down and drink water, they have to WORK for it. The roots, seeking water will push deeper and deeper to get through this “scheletro” (translation “Skeleton” but basically “rocky structure”) of mineral rich stones to find the water beneath.
At Fietri, when they prepared to the soil for the new vineyards, they dug deep trenches to create a loose mattress of stones that the roots could wind their way through. They basically kept the stones that make them have to grow but loosened them to make it a little easier on the little guys. On the way, they pick up that rich minerality. Sangiovese does wonderfully in this rocky situation whereas other grapes don’t benefit from the struggle that make Sangiovese delicious.
Not every winery does this, often just digging down a few meters. In some cases, with different soil types, you don’t need to do such deep digging. In other cases they’re saving money since, as you’ll see if you watch the video, the process isn’t cheap.
So it’s just like your parents always said – hard times build character! For grapes, I guess that would be: rocky soils build structure! Doesn’t have the same ring to it, but you get the idea.
Watch the Video
In the video Walter and Luca dig around for some rocks beside the Fietri vineyard as Walter explains how to trench the earth before planting a vineyard (and how much it costs to do it right) as well as how cats were once used to test whether the drainage system was working. Yes… cats.
To watch the video click the button below, use password: TUSCANY.
How Noah got lost in Tuscany, mistreated roosters winning races & a low blow from the chicken brothers
Noah invented wine… yes, that Noah
You’ll see this imagery ALL over Renaissance art in Italy. The story goes that when the Biblical flood receded, Noah planted the first vineyards and effectively invented wine. But THEN, as happens to the best of us, he had a little too much and passed out naked in the barn and his sons had to cover his … embarrassment. It’s on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it’s on the belltower of Florence, carved by Andrea Pisano in the 14th century (see image below). When in Italy, just start looking for a guy in a vineyard, missing pants (ahem) and passed out and that’s Noah!
Then Noah got lost in Tuscany… huh?
You might be wondering what all this has to do with Tuscany.
Annio da Viterbo, a Dominican friar in the 1500s wrote that Noah landed in Tuscany not Mount Ararat (bit of a stretch, dude!) and thats why the first cultivation of wine happened here in Tuscany. Sound insane? That’s some early wine marketing from the 1500s. Guess who was probably paying this guy… Cosimo I de Medici.
Cosimo I was the first grand duke of Florence. People like to say he “rose to power.” Another way to say this is he went to war against Florence and took it. Michelangelo fought in this war (Yes, the artist!) on the side of the city of Florence so when the city lost to the Medici, he feared for his life and hid in a basement for days, then fled to Rome and never returned to Florence.
So now Cosimo I was grand duke of Tuscany (i.e. dictator) and what do dictators do? They seek to control everything. Language, culture, art, history, even wine production!
Under Cosimo I de Medici, the story of the Dominican friar (trusted religious source!) Annio da Viterbo was that Noah landed in Tuscany (let’s rewrite the Bible!) and planted the first wine there in Tuscany which was now the famed Chianti Classico wine… controlled by the Medici dukedom. How convenient.
He even went so far as to say that the language of the Etruscans (which we still can’t decipher today) was impossible to understand because it derived from the Hebrew brought to Tuscany by Noah. Wow.
*The Etruscans were the population of people in central Italy before the Roman empire.
Mistreated Roosters & Knight races
Once upon a time… in the 13th century… the independent republics of Florence and Siena were fighting (as usual) about borders (as usual). So they came up with what must have seemed to someone like a great plan. At the crack of dawn, when the roosters crowed, a knight would set out from Florence on horseback going south while an opponent knight in Siena would set out going north. Where they met would be where the border between Florence and Siena was located. What a beautiful idea (you can see where this is going).
Well, the crafty Florentines decided not to feed their poor rooster for a week so on the day of the great race he was up before dawn complaining about his empty stomach and the Florentine knight got a head start, gaining valuable territory. Thus, Florence gained more land and the black rooster became the symbol of Chianti Classico while the white rooster probably ended up as someone’s dinner. Whether or not the black rooster ever got fed is lost to history.
Grand Duke Dictators drink Chianti Classico
You can’t go two steps in Tuscany without tripping on something the Medici family made famous. They were the fabulously wealthy banking family in 15th century Florence that became fabulously wealthy Dukes in the 16th century (along with a few popes in there) and then died out in the 17th century – they had a good run.
It was grand duke Cosimo III who decided in 1716 where the borders of Chianti Classico would be and effectively made the very FIRST protected origin area for wine in Italy. Thanks Coz. If you pick up a bottle of Chianti Classico you’ll find the symbol of the black rooster and it will say “From 1716.” Now you know why!
Finally…. Meet the Chicken Brothers
Yes, Americans got into the mix and started making things complicated (I can say this because I’m not only American but also Californian) and in the case of Chianti Classico they really mucked it up. Everything was going along fine with the black rooster as the symbol of Chianti Classico until suddenly, a California winery called “Fratelli Gallo” (literally the Chicken brothers) decided to do the oh so American thing and SUE the Chianti Classico consortium for using the word “Gallo” on their label.
It was two brothers, Ernest and Julio (I am NOT making this up) against 600 members of the Italian Chianti Classico Consortium.
What about the knights? What about the black starving rooster that won Florence more land? What about the fact that the Chianti Classico consortium had been in existence for way longer than “the chicken brothers” making random wine in California? What about the fact that “Gallo” is just a WORD in the Italian language for chicken!!?? None of it mattered.
The chicken brothers won. And so Chianti Classico of the Gallo Nero had to drop the “Gallo Nero” script on the bottles. As Walter said, “Well, Americans have better paid lawyers.”
1. League of Chianti after the Knights competition (1208)
2. 1500s painting on the ceiling of the “Room of 500” In Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio by Vasari for Grand Duke Cosimo I mythologizing the Chianti Classico Rooster.
3. “Consortium of the Black Rooster” created in 1924.
4. After the “Fratelli Gallo” won their ridiculous case in 1991, the symbol changed to say “Consortium of the Historic brand Chianti Classico.” No more mention of “Gallo.”
5. Then they simplified it.
6. In 2016, with the 300 year anniversary, they made a new symbol. You’ll find statues of this rooster all around Chianti Classico.
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We’re finally going to drink some wine!