Historical profile of the Torcolato

Curated by Franca Miotti

The vine in Vicenza seems to originate in the tertiary Era; In particular in the Alto Vicentino were found in Salcedo, along the river Chiavone, finds of the first Vitaceae attributed to the genus of Ampelophyllum (Massalongo, 1851).

The middle of the last century A. B. Massalongo classified the fossil imprint of a grape cluster and a vine leaf. It is therefore probable that these Vinaceae (Ampelophyllum) gave rise, after the glaciations, to spontaneous and wild vines and from these to the Vitis vinifera. Other archaeological discoveries, such as vases, glasses and cups of the Neolithic Age were found at Santorso (Bagolini, 1984).

In the north of Italy, the Vine certainly has a tradition antecedent to the Roman Empire; It is thought that the Venetians, arrived in Italy in the Iron Age (XI-X century B.C.), thanks to the commercial relations established with the Etruscans, they have developed the agricultural economy cultivating vine, wheat, barley, spelt, millet, along the hills placed near the Astico torrent (Lovo and Onorato, 1998). The Celtic invasions break the relationship between the Venetians and the Etruscans, and facilitate the establishment of equally good relations between the Venetians and the Romans.

During the Roman period, the wine produced in Vicenza and Verona is called “Rhomian” due to the name of the large area of production, “Retica”, an area that includes the foothills that go from Vicenza to Como (Buchi, 1987). The Venetians knew how to develop, in those years, a viticulture and oenology certainly appreciable, supplying to the Roman legionaries the necessary supplies for the various war campaigns; Even the restrictive agrarian laws of Domitian do not affect Vicentine oenology, on the contrary the wine is very much demanded.

The dark period following the Roman domination stops with the Ostrogoths of Theodoric who, in 489, succeeds in securing to the region a period of peace for the benefit of agriculture and oenology.

It is Cassiodorus (485-580) who restored prosperity to the area of Vicenza and Verona, by bringing the wines of the two cities in the court of Ravenna.

With the other dominations the Edict of Rotari (643), is not to be forgotten. It enshrines the relationship between the Lombards and the conquered land, protecting the economy of the Place (deacon, 1878); Charlemagne, who in the year 800, emanates the capitular “De Villis”, an ordinance that lists the plants that must be planted and cultivated in the royal dominions.

In it, six articles concern the vine, its cultivation, the grape harvest and the production of the wine.

With the invasions of the Hungarian, the Venetian agriculture is annihilated (Fasoli, 1945) and to defend themselves from their descent they built, everywhere, castles and walls around the city, also fortifying the churches and the abbeys, which become, in different ways and times, the Fulcrum of power.

In the Middle Ages the reprise of viticulture is due, above all, to religious motivations (the Eucharist is celebrated with the administration of bread and wine to the faithful); Documents of Episcopal donations and possessions of monasteries testifying to the existence of vines planted in 923 (Pini, 1989) were also found in Breganze.

In the first centuries after the year One Thousand, we increase the cultivation of the vine: it was often imposed by the owners in the lease agreements, with certain rules. From some documents in the area of Alto Vicenza, dating from 1275-1291, it is noted how the destination of the crops in arboreal and vines is distinguished, and in a contract of 1223 of a locality near Breganze, it is established that within the two plots Vines are planted in promiscuity with olive trees and arable crops (Maroso and Varanini, 1984).

There are many testimonies, that today we have, of the municipal statutes of the province of Berica, which contain provisions aimed at defending and spreading the vine, the problem of transport, the wholesale and retail sale of grapes and wine (Azzolin, 1999). In the citizens ‘ statutes of 1264 and 1311, there are rules on how to acquire vineyards; While in the statutes of Vicenza of 1264, to diminish the opportunities for crime, encroachment or illicit passages, there is the possibility to rectify the boundaries that give reason for contrasts; There is also the possibility of expanding its borders with contiguous fields, if the owner owns a certain and established number of hectares cultivated in the vineyard (Lampertico, 1886).

Of particular interest are the statutes of Bassano del 1295, also called “Vineale” or “Vignale”, as they constitute a clear testimony of the diffusion of viticulture, in the territory of Bassanese, and of the importance that the vine has in Century XIII. The code is the precursor to what could now be called “Production regulations” (Brazzale, 1999). It is composed of 345 articles, many of which concern: the custody of the vineyards from thefts, the penalties in money and prisons for the thieves of grapes and piles from the vines, the grape harvest, the vinification, the denunciation of the grapes and the wine obtained by November the 1st of the Year of Collection, and More (Chiuppari, 1905).

There is also a very rigid protectionism in favour of local wines, with fines charged to those who “go to drink wine beyond the bridge, in the taverns of Angarano” (Brentari, 1980); There are laws to protect the citizen, for the wine in the Bassanese taverns, glasses branded by the municipality must be used, while the Tavernieri must also preserve the wine in containers (Otri) branded officially. It is forbidden, to give wine to beggars for charity. Retail wine retailers must be equipped with a municipal licence (Fasoli, 1940). Special provisions are reserved for white wine, which is subjected to very strict controls and requires a sale authorisation. There are also rules for the “small wine” or “aquatic” or “Graspia”, wine produced by macerating the Marc with water and destined for the sharecroppers and the peasants, who must be denounced within twenty days of its preparation and the latter must be Subsidiary of the “Great admirers” commissioned by the commune.

In 1300 there is a new recovery for the diffusion of viticulture. The vine in the hills is generally cultivated “low” and the wines are predominantly white with high gradation, while in the plain it is cultivated “high” leaning against live or dead supports and the wines are red. An example is a contract of 1385, relative to a large farm of Breganze, where the farmers are obliged to install the contract in the ten years of duration, at least two screws for each field that is not provided (Maroso and Varanini, 1984).

In the first years of the fifteenth century, the Serenissima Republic of Venice conquered the Veneto and with it the Alto Vicentino, modifying the landscape of the mainland where large capitals and human resources are transferred. They eradicated woods, whose timber supplies the Venetian shipbuilding, plant vines and cereals, built the first villas around which an efficient farm is organized. The Vicentino river routes are enhanced to facilitate the arrival of wine in Venice, and the Vicentine landed nobility obtains protection, privileges and duty exemption from the Government of Venice (Gullino, 1994). The Bassanese code remains in force and the prohibition to harvest before the deadline set by the Council (Chiuppani, 1905) is confirmed.

In the sixteenth century wine became a prestigious gift offered to the nobles who stopped in Vicenza: The emperor Charles V, who, returning from Vienna and directed to Bologna, stayed in Sandrigo and received as a gift, a considerable number of carts of wine (Caldogno, 1977). The Vicentini wines are, however, very reputed and exported a bit ‘ everywhere, beyond the Alps and even in Venice that lost their domains in the Aegean, and did not want to give up the vines to which it is accustomed and made them plant even in the lands of their own domain. The diffusion of Malvasie, of the vine of Cyprus, of the same Vespaiolo (Lovo and Onorato, 1998) dates back to that time.

The Vicentina Oenology also enjoys the contribution of the architect Andrea Palladio who dictates technical norms to design and construct the cellars: they must be built underground, far from noises and smells, the opening must be facing north in order to have a Constant temperature environment. The floor must allow the recovery of the leakage of the racking. Above the cellar of refinement there is the wine-making place, so that the spines of racking are higher than the upper hole of the barrels, and thus to converge, with channels of wood, the wines of the vats in the barrels (Palladium, 1570).

The first “tourist guide” of the poet, oenologist, gastronomist Ortesio Lando is born; where we can highlight the curiosity and pleasures of life in an Italy that, for the cuisine and for the wines, is already famous in Europe. He quotes Vicenza for the quality of its wines, better than those of Friuli (Lando, 1553). Later Andrea Scotto in his “itinerary” praises the Vicentina wine production and mentions Breganze “famous for its sweet and savory wines” (Scotto, 1610). This is the first historical quotation that can confirm the presence of a sweet wine, probably the predecessor of today’s Torcolato. It is to be remembered that Venice imported from Istria, Peloponnese, Cyprus and Corfu Sweet wines and Passito for domestic use.

In a letter by Taddeo Gaddi of 1384 there is confirmation that in Venice four or five ships from Candia arrived laden with precious wines (Calò et al., 1996). Thus, in the return from the Voyages and the Crusades, the Venetians who stopped along the coasts of the Ionian Sea, took with them bundles of shoots to make them and to create, in the hinterland, their own vineyards. Then, Venice, after the loss of the Dalmatian islands, the Ionian and the Morrea, increased the cultivation of the vineyards to make sweet and delicate wines (it is likely that some of these vines were already cultivated in the Veneto).

In another interesting publication of 1754, a poetic work that represents a kind of oenological guide of the province of Vicenza, thirty-five wines produced in Vicenza are cited and Breganze appears three times, once noting the “… Sweet Vespaiuolo”. This phrase contains important information, as it unites, for the first time, the sweet term with the Vespaiolo vine. In the note at the end of the page of the same text, the author, Aureliano Acanti (pseudonym of Valerio Canati), refers to the sweet Vespaiolo “excellent liquor that is factory in Breganze” (Acanti, 1754). Here too, some interesting considerations can be made: the word to fabricate is attributed to those wines that have not been made in a natural way, but obtained through the intervention of man. In confirmation of this we find in the same text, “The Roccolo”, which in Salcedo (a town near Breganze) which in the eighteenth century hat wine was common, but which for centuries had made one with Breganze), “the sweetest Paschal” is made because it is done towards Easter, taking up to That moment the grapes set in the air. In addition, the term “liquor” means that the wine has been enriched, sweetened and is “oily” as the liqueurs.

Also in those years, at the urging of the Accademia Dell’agricoltura (born in 1769), a first work was done inherent in Vicentina viticulture and oenology: Count Pajello wrote a memoire on the best way to cultivate vines and to make wine. It classifies the Vicentini wines in dry, liqueur and withers on “Arelle” (Pajello, 1774).

The nineteenth century is the century of radical changes for Vicentina viticulture: Many vines disappear and are replaced by others from France. In 1829, Andrea Alwill makes a study on the main varieties of Vitis vinifera cultivated in the commune of Fara; Subsequently, in 1855 in Vicenza, on the occasion of the first “exhibition of primitive soil Products”, a catalogue is made listing 120 varieties and grapes with red berries and 77 with white berries (Calò et al., 1996).

Of particular interest are the memories of the Pedrazza that writes in detail the techniques adopted by winemakers and oenologists and dictates the first advice on pruning according to the vigor of the Strain (Pedrazza, 1812). The vineyards of Bassano and Schio begin to decay, while the areas of Breganze, the Berici Hills and Gambellara take advantage. From 1851 to 1860 the vines underwent the first attack of the Powdidium and it reveals a black decade for agriculture; In 1854 the wine is almost totally lacking on the local market and it began to import wines from neighboring lands, while for a sort of compensation the production of liqueurs, Rosolios and Passito wines is accentuated in those years (Lovo and Onorato, 1998). The first outbreaks of mildew are also beginning to spread, with implications for the quality of wine; The lack of productions induce, in addition to the imports, to plant the new American hybrids (Clinton, Isabella) resistant to the phytoopathies: these vineyards, while obtaining the favour of the winemakers, do not increase the quality of the product (from Schio, 1905).

The Vicentino farmer of 1890 appears for the first time the name associated with the sweet wine of Breganze, and after a few years, in 1905, the Count Da Schio, owner of a winery, writes a detailed volume on the wine-growing and oenological situation Vicentina, reporting that in Breganze, “… Among the white wines rises the torcolato fruit of all care and sold at high prices,….. only after 5 or 6 years the real torcolato is placed in the bottles, held then in the utmost honor…. the honor, the pride of Breganze and its wine is the Torcolato…”.

In the end it also states the way of preparation that has remained almost the same in time. In 1909, the company Arnaldo Carli presents its torcolato at the “Exposition of Lonigo”, winning the gold medal, and in an advertising poster writes that “it had been recognized genuine by the chemical analysis of the municipality of Padua for its tonic properties and exciting, it succeeds in all cases of weakness of heart, in Dyspepsias, by cloudy gastric function and in the convalescence of acute and final diseases “(Breganze, 1997).

In 1911, on February 24 appears on the “Corrire of the Evening” an article dedicated to the famous priests of Breganze, the Scotton, where the journalist opens the article by writing about Breganze “… its torcolato is famous, a wine that is a liqueur”. Two years later, another Breganzese producer obtained the first prize, gold medal, for the Torcolato at the “Civil tender of hygiene and feeding in Genoa”. Other journalistic articles sing the praises of the torcolato of Breganze, describing several times the withering of the grapes and the recommended refinement of some years (Azzolin, 1999).

In 1914, Breganze and all of Vicenza suffer from the attack of phylloxera, decreasing production rapidly. Fortunately, the reconstruction work on American foot is not delayed and in 1925, under the direction of the experimental station of Conegliano, the first experimental vineyard is established (Calò et al., 1996).

After the Second World War, because of the damage brought back to the vineyards, a second wine phase begins for the Breganze area: The plants are carried out more with the idea of increasing yields than for improving the quality of production.

The first denomination of origin controlled for the province of Vicenza is “Breganze” with the DPR of July 18, 1969 recognizing as DOC wines: “Breganze Red”, “Breganze Cabernet”, “Breganze Pinot Nero”, “White Breganze”, “Breganze Vespaiolo”, “Breganze Pinot White “(Official Journal of 4.9.1969). Following the recognition of the first DOC, three other modifications occurred: In 1978, 1982, 1995. In The latter part is also the DOC Breganze torcolate.

The name Torcolato is thought to derive from the Latin torculum i.e. twist, tighten strong; In many dictionaries is reported as “wine passito that with the crushing gives little must and the juice must be obtained with the press” (Azzolin, 1999). Many attribute the origin of the name from the fact that the grapes to be dried are twisted (intorcolà) by means of a string: With the thread you make a ring and you twist the grapes turning the string between one cluster and the other. This forms a vertical row of clusters called in local dialect “Rosoli”. Each Rosolo is hung on the beams of the attics, warm and ventilated, thanks to the windows at floor level, typical of the farmhouse of the Breganzese.

Many manufacturers still use this system to put the grapes to wilt, even if for 95% of the grapes placed in drying plastic caskets perforated on the five sides are currently used to have better air circulation. This allows to handle less the bunch of grapes, thus avoiding involuntary breakage of the berries, facilitates the control of the state of withering and preservation of the grapes.

At the end of the process you get a sweet wine, for the end of meals, also called by “meditation” or better by “conversation”. It combines well with almond cakes, dry pastries, seasoned and blue cheeses, crustaceans and dishes based on goose liver pate.

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