Not all vineyards are designed as tidy rows of short, trellised grapevines. Across Italy, survives a millennia-old vine growing tradition involving tall grapevines. These vines are often centenary and ungrafted—intertwining with trees such as field maples or willows. The vines and trees are in a lifelong companionship that sounds as romantic as it is visually attractive. The trellising practice is called vite maritata, or vine married to a tree.
Here’s a look at where this practice originated, why it fell out of favor and how it’s making a comeback.
Vite Maritata’s Origins
It’s believed the practice was developed and popularized by the Etruscans, a pre-Roman, late-Bronze and Iron Age civilization. The Etruscans planted vite maritata vines across their entire territory, ranging from Lombardy down to western Campania.
“They used it to maximize yields and to gain surface space in between rows to plant other cultures,” explains Nicola Numeroso, owner of I Borboni, a pioneer of modern vite maritata vine growing in Campania, an area located between Naples and Caserta. It was still widely practiced in Campania as late as the 1980s. At the time, the practice was also found in other Italian regions, including Veneto, Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Marche and Umbria.
But from the late 19th century onwards, particularly following World War II, winegrowing saw increased industrialization that led to the practice gradually disappearing as a regular feature of the Italian landscape. This left only a few, neglected remnants of this millenary history scattered across the country.
Obstacles for Vite Maritata
Despite the vines withstanding certain environmental changes, others have proved catastrophic.
“We lost two out of six acres of our vite maritata to wind storms,” says Numeroso. “Before climate change, these sorts of tropical storms were unknown here… we also suffer from droughts and the trees need a lot of water.”
On top of unpredictable weather, societal changes mean that recovering lost plants—as well as caring for those that are left—is no easy feat.
“Younger generations don’t want to do these manual jobs anymore, so even here, finding pruners is becoming increasingly difficult,” says Numeroso.
Indeed, while the number of people willing to take on caring for these vines is shrinking, there are still some winemakers willing to champion the practice.
“I thought that only the elderly cared about it, instead there are other younger people like me,” says Numeroso.
Giuseppe Luongo, is a good example of a young winemaker using vite maritata. In 2019, he took over one acre of vite maritata that had catered for his family’s domestic wine needs until the 1980s, when home production ceased. “In the vineyard, I do everything by myself. It’s very labor-intensive, but for me, it’s about valuing a century-old tradition,” he proudly points out.
Finally, the specific equipment required to cater to these plants is in short supply, as pickers need a tailor-made, 50-foot chestnut ladder, which can run upwards of $2,200. These allow for a more efficient grape harvesting process as opposed to standard ladders. In addition to them being costly, the extremely tall chestnut trees required to grow these ladders aren’t as available anymore, Numeroso notes.
Though these vines are slowly making a comeback across Italy, winemakers can only hope that younger generations continue to take on the practice and the technique.
Autore: Jacopo Mazzeo
Leggi l’articolo completo: www.wineenthusiast.com/culture/wine/vite-maritata/