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Bolgheri History (Part 1)

Bolgheri’s surrounding territory holds evidence of anthropic activities that date back to the XII century B.C., principally in the hillsides due to the fact that the flat terrain was swampland for many centuries. Ancient Etruscan civilization influenced the area and had established viticultural practices well before the arrival of the Greeks in Southern Italy and the birth of Rome. This is therefore one of the first areas in Europe where grape vines were cultivated. Bolgheri’s ancient history follows the events of the Italian peninsula, affected by the rise and fall of Roman civilization. After a lengthy period of conflicts that ravaged Italy following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, signs of stability surfaced under the Lombards between the VI and VIII centuries.

Its location on the coast made Bolgheri vulnerable to raids from the sea, so under the reign of Liutprand, the area was fortified to provide protection and defend the territory.

Settlements during this time were positioned on hilltops for two reasons; to avoid unhealthy conditions in the flat swamplands and also for strategic defense. It was during this historical period of Lombard settlements in the area that Walfredo, the forefather of the Della Gherardesca family, was born. The Della Gherardesca family has played a fundamental role in the history of regional development in Bolgheri starting prior to the year 1000 A.D. and continuing up to the present day.

Despite Bolgheri’s ancient origins, its Early Middle Age settlement and fortress that later became the Castle of Bolgheri, the territory where most of today’s vineyards and wineries are located wasn’t developed for many centuries. It wasn’t until the end of the 1600’s that viticulture and land development began to take shape. The Della Gherardesca Counts decided to initiate vast land improvements in the territory including planting the first vineyards in the flat terrain around the San Guido and Belvedere estates. Agricultural practices flourished and more farmland and vineyards were established in the areas of Grattamacco, Lamentano, Sant’Agata, Castellaccio, Casavecchia and Felciaino.

The person who made the greatest contribution to the territory’s agricultural and viticultural history is, without a doubt, Guidalberto Della Gherardesca.

Guidalberto planted the famous Cypress Avenue that connects Bolgheri to San Guido, renovated the older vineyards following the most up-to-date agronomic principles and planted new vines. His work was the first rough outline of what would become the boundaries of the first wineries in Bolgheri.

The Capanne a Castiglioncello estate, founded in 1816, is worthy of attention. In 1833, Guidalberto was recognized for his skills and expertise in viticulture and was appointed as the Principal Steward and Cellar Master of Grand Duke of Tuscany Leopoldo II of Habsburg. Unfortunately, innovations introduced by Guidalberto were abruptly disrupted in the second half of the 1800’s due to vine diseases that came from America; powdery mildew, downy mildew and especially phylloxera.

After two centuries of viticulture and great prospects for the future, at the beginning of the XX century Bolgheri found itself back to square one.


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