Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Wines of Italy, 1911

From a major British encyclopedia, 1911 edition.

The vine is cultivated throughout the length and breadth of Italy, but while in some of the districts of the south and centre it occupies from 10 to 20% of the cultivated area, in some of the northern provinces, such as Sondrio, Belluno, Grosseto, &c., the average is only about 1 or 2%. The methods of cultivation are varied; but the planting of the vines by themselves in long rows of insignificant bushes is the exception.

In Lombardy, Emilia, Romagna, Tuscany, the Marches, Umbria and the southern provinces, they are trained to trees which are either left in their natural state or subjected to pruning and pollarding. In Campania the vines are allowed to climb freely to the tops of the poplars. In the rest of Italy the elm and the maple are the trees mainly employed as supports. Artificial props of several kinds—wires, cane work, trellis work, &c.—are also in use in many districts (in the neighbourhood of Rome canes are almost exclusively employed), and in some the plant is permitted to trail along the ground.

The vintage takes place, according to locality and climate, from the beginning of September to the beginning of November. The vine has been attacked by the Oidium Tuckeri, the Phylloxera vastatrix and the Peronospora viticola, which in rapid succession wrought great havoc in Italian vineyards. American vines, are, however, immune and have been largely adopted.

The production of wine in the vintage of 1907, which was extraordinarily abundant all over the country, was estimated at 1232 million gallons (56 million hectolitres), the average for 1901-1903 being some 352 million gallons less; of this the probable home consumption was estimated at rather over half, while a considerable amount remained over from 1906. The exportation in 1902 only reached about 45 million gallons (and even that is double the average), while an equally abundant vintage in France and Spain rendered the exportation of the balance of 1907 impossible, and fiscal regulations rendered the distillation of the superfluous amount difficult.

The quality, too, owing to bad weather at the time of vintage, was not good; Italian wine, indeed, never is sufficiently good to compete with the best wines of other countries, especially France (though there is more opening for Italian wines of the Bordeaux and Burgundy type); nor will many kinds of it stand keeping, partly owing to their natural qualities and partly to the insufficient care devoted to their preparation.

There has been some improvement, however, while some of the heavier white wines, noticeably the Marsala of Sicily, have excellent keeping qualities. The area cultivated as vineyards has increased enormously, from about 4,940,000 acres to 9,880,000 acres, or about 14% of the total area of the country.

Over-production seems thus to be a considerable danger, and improvement of quality is rather to be sought after. This has been encouraged by government prizes since 1904.

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