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Blog: Autochthonous grape varieties of Italy 4/4 | Expertise

Why modern vines are not the same as in the past? Of course, today's vines are not the same as in Greek, even Caucasian times. In the 9000 years of their history they have changed a lot. There were spontaneous crossings with wild and other cultivated vines. They mutated as a result of adaptation processes. In order to survive in the face of drought or late frosts, fierce food competition or strong pest pressure, the genetic material had to differentiate. Often, a few decades in a new environment were enough for their genetic code to change. Today, it reflects the conditions under which they had to survive in their second, third or fourth home. In the end, it was man who forced them to undergo these adaptation processes by shipping them to other areas or by cultivating them under unfamiliar conditions. In any case, today's vines have not only one origin, but many origins.

"Even the so-called autochthonous vines have changed genetically over time. They are no longer the same vines as before." - Lorenzo Landi, Tuscan oenologistWhat prospects do autochthonous varieties offer? Italy's diversity of vines should not obscure the fact that the ten most common grape varieties cover 50 percent of the country's vineyard area. Among these top ten, Merlot is the only non-Italian variety. All the other varieties have an Italian identity. They are autochthonous. However, this does not at all mean that these autochthonous vines all produce high quality wines. Many autochthonous varieties are inferior. Experts even claim: most of them. The fact that they are so common in the vineyards of Italy has to do with the past. They are a relic of the mass wine era, when only the quantity and not the quality of the grapes counted. It is not worthwhile to continue cultivating these varieties - unless they have an untapped potential for better qualities. For some autochthonous varieties, known as well as unknown, this might be the case. For example, the Sicilian Cataratto, the most frequently cultivated white wine grape in Italy, which for decades was only good for anonymous blended wines, can now be used to produce superior qualities through quantity reduction and site-specific cultivation.

"Our only real problem is: we still know our vines too little." - Franco Giacosa, oenologist working throughout ItalySome wineries enhance them even further by blending them with Chardonnay. As long as an autochthonous variety has not yet been fully researched and its potential consequently cannot be exploited, international varieties are definitely helpful in enabling quality improvements. The legal regulations of many DOCG, DOC and IGT wines take this into account. Giacomo Tachis, one of Italy's most deserving oenologists and a profound connoisseur of Sicily, says of the future of Italian wine:

"Italy has great potential because of its wealth of old grape varieties. That this potential has not yet been explored saddens me. But that Italy can defy the challenges of the wine industry in the new countries of the New World with these grape varieties, if they are explored, is considered certain. That makes me happy.'

"The autochthonous vines are not a counter-model to the international vines - even if the idea is tempting. They must first be thoroughly researched and evaluated. Then, if they prove to be suitable in practice, perhaps they can replace international grape varieties." - Attilio Scienza, grapevine researcher

We would like to thank Dr. Jens Priewe and the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade for their kind support.- Gerardo

Autochthone Rebsorten Italiens 4/4 Fachwissen

NameAutochthonous Grape Varieties Of Italy 4/4