Silvio reached up and pulled down a curled up leaf from one of his vines. He unfurled the leaf to reveal the larva of a leafroller (Platynota stultana). Pests like this, he explained, could do serious damage to a vineyard. He named off the various fungal diseases he regularly has to combat as the grape growing season progresses. Winegrowing was starting to seem more like chemical warfare than some bucolic agricultural activity. Walking through the steep vineyards of Donnas on a warm June day, I learned a great deal about vineyard management, changing traditions, and one man’s reality as he worked amongst the vines—all things that are difficult to learn from only reading books …
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Some of the most fascinating Italian wines (Carema DOC and Donnas DOC) are made at the base of the Alps. Despite a reputation for producing renowned Nebbiolo wines for the past several centuries, the current culture and economy of wine production in the area face some extreme challenges.
I am in Italy this summer studying grape growing and wine production in the lower Aosta Valley and Carema area of Piedmont. These wine regions have unique challenges such as steep terrain, high production costs and small vineyard parcels. Major changes in the local economy have also played a role in changing viticultural traditions. In the nineteenth century, the economy of this area was mainly based on agricultural–grapes were the most important crop. At the end of that century, heavy industry and manufacturing drew farm labor away from the land. By the middle of the twentieth century the local steel industry was in crisis. Finally at the turn of the last century manufacturing, largely represented by Olivetti, also collapsed. In the past twenty years, there has been a lot of out-migration from this area, and now there are few young people who want to learn about tending vines and making wine. The future of wine in these two towns seems uncertain.
Although Donnas and Carema share many of the same challenges, their traditions and outlook on the future are surprisingly different. My work aims to look at the impact of economic and political changes on local viticultural traditions and the resilience of living cultural heritage in these two towns.