The positive role of weeds within the vineyard ecosystem…
Ampelography between myth, history and science
From the myth of Dionysus and Ampleo comes the etymology of the discipline that studies, identifies and classifies the varieties of vines. It is said that Dionysus' first love was a charming young man, alas killed too soon by the fury of a bull. The pain of the loss was such that the god, with tears of suffering, watered a small sprout growing near his body, enveloped it and gave the beloved a new identity in the form of a vine plant. Thus it was that Dionysus, when the first grape ripened, made wine and transformed the memory of his love for him into a concentrate of delight and thrill to be given to humans.
From the Greek ἂμπελος (ampelos = vine) and γραφὶα (graphia = writing) derives the term ampelography, that branch of viticulture that deals with analyzing the distinctive characteristics of individual vines in order to describe and identify them. This science has very ancient origins: in fact, in Roman times about forty grape varieties were recognized, divided by productivity, shape and value of the wine produced by them (Lucio Giunio Moderato Columella in De Re Rustica, the major Latin agronomic treatise). The greatest thrust to the development of this discipline comes at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and is due to the phylloxera crisis: scholars and scientists set about the frantic search for vines able to resist the attack of the insect, enormously expanding the baggage of information held up to that point.
The most important organs of the vine from an ampelographic point of view are the buds, leaves and fruits. A Sangiovese plant can be recognized for example by its five-lobed, smooth, flat, hairless leaves on the underside and bright green in color. However, the morphological characteristics alone are not always sufficient for a certain recognition. The environment, nutritional and health status can lead to some changes that would make the plant less identifiable. For this reason, modern ampelography, called molecular, is based on the analysis of particular DNA markers that are able to differentiate the vines with a guarantee of success.
An excellent knowledge of the ampelographic characteristics of one's vines is however necessary for the winemaker, especially during the harvest period in vineyards of a few decades ago, when it was not yet customary to plant single-variety rows but to mix plants of different grapes within the same row. Our "new" vineyard, planted in 1987 before our arrival in Marciano, is just one of these, and only thanks to the watchful eye of Nadia, who recognizes her plants one by one, it is possible to make an accurate harvest of the grapes dividing them by variety.