Le origini del Lambrusco

Lambrusco: The origins of an age-old wine

The research to find the origins of this grape variety begins from its common factor, the various interpretations of the meaning of the name Lambrusco.
Aside from the obvious correlation with the Italian term "brusco", indicating the characteristics of young wines, connected to a pleasant lively acidity, the philological interpretations attribute the definition of a wild grape that grows on the edges of fields spontaneously.
This interpretation recognizes the Latin term "labrum" which means to limit, borders (referred to fields) and "ruscum" which means spontaneous plant.
Therefore, this vine is wild and spontaneous, very different, and much older than the current variety grown in the padana.
There is evidence that the "labrusca" grape from the padana area was one of the first vines used in the enological experience in the Italian territory as early as the Bronze Age. Scientific research done on fossils has extracted woodland grape seeds dating back to this era in the present day areas where Lambrusco is cultivated. These seeds were found in the archaeological sites near the "terremare", islands formed from the marsh land due to the path of the Pò River, and on the earliest Apennine layers. Further discoveries have led experts to believe that these wild grapes were used not only by the Latins but by the Etruscans and Gallic Ligurans as well.
Virgil, ancient Rome's greatest poet and native Mantuan, offers us with direct testimony concerning the Latin culture. In his fifth bucolic he makes clear references to the existence of the "vitis Labrusca" over two thousand years ago.
His quote "vitis labrusca that covers a grotto with bunches of grapes" comes from concrete testimony tied to direct knowledge of the area where the grape grew, due the fact that he had seen it in Mantova during his childhood.
The vast diffusion of this wild grape and its' consequent use in our area has also been affirmed by Strabone in the third century A.D., when he spoke about the area and observed that there were wine barrels bigger than houses, a sign of the enological practices of its' inhabitants that were already highly evolved. Therefore there was a theoretical influence of the Celtic customs of harvesting these grapes followed by the use of immense wooden wine containers, so oversized that they were considered "bigger than the houses". Such a statement indicates that the area was particularly suitable for the production of wine. It isn't clear whether there was a massive agricultural organization or whether the production of these grapes was left to the spontaneity of nature. Experts assume that the quantity of wild grapes would not have produced enough wine to fill such enormous containers and thus there must have been some sort of structure during the harvest period.
This discovery is even more interesting if one considers that during this period wine, regarded as a precious liquid, was generally stored in earthenware anfores that were much smaller in size.
In conclusion we are happy to remind you that "Aigleucos", sparkling wine in ancient times, was produced with a portion of Lambrusco grapes, allowing the sweet must to settle in closed anfores and then immersed in cold water to stop the fermentation process, then before offering the wine for consumption the anfores were carefully exposed to heat, in this way the must began ferment constricting the carbonic acid gas, that then could not be dispersed, that evaporating in the wine gave it its' sparkling quality.

Early stabilization of the cultivation of Lambrusco

Experts have deduced that the cultivation of this variety can be attributed to the Longobards and their later conversion to Christianity that created a consequent diffusion of ecclesiastic communities in the territory. These communities, connected with the roman parishes from the VII to the VII centuries, were probably devoted to the custom of grape cultivation, which was a normal practice in the area.
This would also explain the isolation of the Lambrusco varieties whose characteristics are so different that they seem to have been jealously protected inside of these communities. The diffusion of the cultivation of these varieties in the respective territory happened gradually, over time.
Though the process was slow, it was also consistent and articulated enough to offer a great deal of diversity in the different Lambrusco varieties.
Sparkling wine produced in this period was considered rough or biting with the term "saliens et titillans". The localization and stabilization of the regional cultivation of this variety, as we now know it, appears to be in direct correlation with the period in which the area was under the administration of the Countess Matilde di Canossa. At the end of the XI century she constructed a web of fortresses, strategically connected, that stretched from the Canossa Castel to the holdings in the hills in the Reggiano-Modena area and expanded to the banks of the Po in the area around Mantova. In this period the Canossa Castel was the centre of the "enlightenment" of Matidian influence as well as the physical location of the "gran perdono", the pardon of the excommunicated Holy Roman Emperor Richard the V by Pope Gregory the VII. It is also important to note that the Countess died in Bondeno in the Mantova area.

In the centuries after this period Lambrusco also became well known outside of the territory. In June of 1430 Nicolò D'este the III ordered that "of all the wine brought to Paris, half was exempt from duties". He was referring to Lambrusco exported to France.
The XVII century was a period of innovation for Lambrusco in the basic techniques of conservation and of its' peculiar qualities. The introduction of the resistant glass bottle and the relative cork tap refined the methods of closure used to maintain the pressure of the carbon dioxide resulting from rifermentation and characterized all the future production.

 
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