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A Model of Modern Winemaking Technology

by Francesca Giommi and Manuel Vaquero Piñeiro

In the decades between the end of the XIX century and the beginning of the XX century, the Italian winemaking was on the way towards modernisation.

Poor Quality Wines

At that time the reviews on Italian wines were unanimously merciless. The methods of manufacture were antiquated and the result, except for rare exceptions, was the prevalence of poor quality wines that spoiled easily.
The main reasons accounting for the lack of quality in wines were the physical and environmental conditions of the facilities, which were described as damp, unhealthy places, full of mould and completely inadequate for the processing of grapes.

Utilità ed eleganza

This negative situation slowly began to change towards the end of the XIX century with the birth of the first industrial factories that set up wine production in a rational way with the systematic recourse to machinery and equipment. Modern wine cellars, in addition to elegance, had to demonstrate they were practical and suitable for the production of good wines. The ideal solution was that which foresaw the existence of three-storey buildings, one of which is below ground level, intended for use in the ageing process and as a storage. The access between the floors is made through openings in the vaults, where tubes carried the must after crushing. This was the start of the rise of installations suited for the needs of science and the best oenological practice in Italy, bringing together a wise fusion of usefulness and elegance.

A Model of Winemaking Technology

The best example of this modern technology is the cellar built by the Roman Prince Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi in Scacciadiavoli (Montefalco), at the end of the XIX century. It was the beginning of spacious facilities being constructed specifically for modern wine production. The winery of the Prince had a production capacity of 2,000-3,500 hectoliters and the management was entrusted to Carlo Toni. The establishment struck a chord as it was a clear example of modern scientific oenology. Toni was joined by his son Giuseppe, who was educated at the Alba and Avellino School of Viticulture, which was also an innovation for the industry. At the end of the century, the father and son ran a shop in Foligno specialized in the sale of «fine red Montefalco table wine» and pure pomace grappa. Carlo Toni was competent: it was demonstrated by the fact that in 1894 he was called to take part of the commission for the study of the phylloxera in the province of Umbria.
Boncompagni vineyards covered an area of over a hundred hectares, with over a million strains; the average yield per hectare was equal to 80 hectolitres. The machines were designed by Carlo Toni. Boncompagni’s wine was sold not only in the main Italian cities but also abroad: in Germany, in the United States and even in Japan.

The Architecture

Deviating from the traditional underground cellar or located in the foundations of some religious building, the cellars of Boncompagni winery had (and have) a slender main façade divided into two areas. The internal set up was to be admired: divided over four floors, one of which was in the basement, with the floor supported by an effective system of columns and beams in cast iron brought from the town of Prato. These columns still bear the initials of the Prince.
In the rear part of the building, nestled against a slightly inclined hill, there is the access to the vat cellar, placed at a higher level than the storage areas. The grapes were brought to the vat cellar using an efficient mechanism of carriages, that flowed on rails up to a bascule used for weighing; the grapes were then sent to crushers placed above the mouths of the vats. After fermentation, which lasted from six to eight days, the must from the vats was lowered to the third floor, reserved for the barrels. An element that imprinted an image of great and efficient modernity on Scacciadiavoli winery was the installation of reinforced concrete tanks covered with glazed tiles. The storage solution -which is still in use today- allowed a considerable save in space, but also had the advantage of ensuring the conservation of the wine, avoiding the need to sell off the product in the case of abundant crops.

In today’s society, struggling with socio-cultural breakdown imposed by the paradigm in the crisis of industrialisation, viticulture has been asked to contribute to the creation and the preservation of the “beautiful landscape”, that has to be associated also with the harmonic layout of the rows of vines along the hilly slopes. This is about the acknowledgement of the role played by viticulture in defining territorial identity –concerning Unesco instrucitions – and a long term operation that must include the ability to pass on a heritage made both by buildings and places of work, in order to attain a status like the one of the winery made by Prince Ugo Boncompagni in Montefalco.


Further readings on the topic:
Vaquero Piñeiro, Storia regionale della vite e del vino in Italia, Umbria, Volumnia, Perugia, 2012

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