Volcanic Agriculture, The Human Factor

Volcanic Agriculture, The Human Factor

In the previous article (you can read it here) we investigated the richness of volcanic soils in relation to agriculture. We are now dealing with another determining factor when it comes to volcanoes, namely the dynamic interaction with man.

 


THE PROJECT

Volcanic Agriculture of Europe is an international project sponsored by the European Union aimed at promoting the Soave, Soave Superiore, Lessini Durello, Santorini and Monte Veronese PDOs. Protected Designations of Origin supported by the Italian wine Consortium of Soave and Recioto di Soave, the Consortium of Lessini Durello, the Greek Consortium Union of Santorini Cooperatives – Santo Wines and the Consortium for the protection of the Monte Veronese cheese. Volcanic Agriculture of Europe aims to promote, emphasize and make consumers know about the extraordinary characteristics of a form of agriculture and dairy production that differ from the rest thanks to the volcanic origin of the soil. Distinct terroirs that can be separated by thousands of kilometres but that have developed a common predisposition to quality, based on similar pedoclimatic characteristics, geological history, exposure and altimetry. Distinctive traits that can be found in the PDOs of these areas and that are expressed through a natural tendency to have persistent flavours, marked minerality, longevity and incredible complexity of tastes and aromas. 


THE HUMAN FACTOR

 

There is something fascinating about volcanoes: they are moulded by fire. Since the ancient times, they have represented sacred places for man. Places at the borders of the Earth, where the supernatural can be seen. These are the places of the gods, of transcendence and of myths, where legends come to life amidst fire, smoke and sound.

Lands of volcanic origin, which amount approximately to 1% of the Earth’s surface, have always been like mothers and stepmothers. Like a mother, they are very fertile and, oftentimes, these lands have been the cradle of ancient civilizations; but they are also like a stepmother because they can unexpectedly remind us of how small we really are compared to the force of nature.

In the collective imagination, lava has a negative connotation, something that usually leads to natural disasters, as sometimes it has been witnessed. But the wine world offers another point of view, a new way of evaluating lands that have a lot to offer. Volcanic soil is an extraordinary resource that enables the creation of a vineyard with peculiar characteristics and capable of yielding outstanding fruits. From volcanic soils come wines that can often be compared to stallions, tense yet powerful, capable of bringing out unique expressions; wines in which flavour meets marked acidity, but that are particularly suitable to be made into sparkling ones.

Italy, from north to south, is a country of wines and volcanoes. From the ancient and extinct volcanoes in Veneto, to the craters filled with water in Central Italy and the active ones found in the south; a blazing red line connects the Italian peninsula, endowing the wines that come from these soils with a unique character. There are examples of how human intervention has been advantageous, for various reasons, in the Lessini Mountains, as well as on the island of Santorini. Man has played an important role since the ancient times in the area of Verona, where cultivation of these soils has allowed a redistribution of mineral components most useful to plants, and therefore the alteration of these paleosols brought by man has proven to be most appropriate and effective in guaranteeing an ideal nutritional environment. Not only that: it was man who has developed the pergola system, later on named Veronese pergola, to better adapt cultivation to the pedoclimatic characteristics of the territory and its local variety, the Garganega. The Veronese pergola is particularly distinguished by the menatoli, tie rods, often made by hand, utilized to optimize the tension of the steel wires used to support the plants during growth.

On the other hand, the island of Santorini has a rather inhospitable soil and climate for vines. The blustery winds blow large amount of small pumice stones into the vines that damage them and reduce yields. In particular, if this happens during springtime, when the buds break, major damage is caused, resulting in reduced grape production. In order to deal with this situation, winegrowers came up with a solution over the centuries by creating a unique pruning method called “KOULOURA. Every winter and spring, during the pruning season, they select the strongest branches of the vine and they interweave them into a circular shape so that the vine resembles a basket. The plants are kept low and close to the ground, forming a spiral-shaped natural basket that acts as a shield so that the grapes are protected from the strong winds that blow the pumice stones into the vines, but also from the hot sun.  All the work in the vineyard is done by hand, from the pruning to the harvesting. In areas with considerable inclination, winegrowers have built walls with lava stones, creating terraces known as “pezoules”. The ground is shaped into different terraced levels in order to facilitate cultivation and maximize the absorption of rainwater.

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