C’era una volta (once upon a time) is a phrase that reminds me of stories from childhood certainly but also of how people lived at a certain period of time.
I am in Italy for work and have had the pleasure to spend the day with a number of producers of the Colli Aretini, part of the Chianti DOCG wine denomination. The Colli Aretini is one of the seven sub-zones of Chianti. It is not one of the most well-known and now that I have tried a number of them, I think that is truly a shame.
I’m going to write more about the wineries that I have visited thanks to the incredible organization that they have in that area, the Strade del Vino Terre di Arezzo but tonight I wanted to write about something that is related to today’s wine industry in Central Italy..
Today I learned a new piece of the puzzle about life in the Tuscany countryside – the institution of the “mezzadria” and how it influenced this part of Central Italy until the early 1970s. I had heard of the system of mezzadria but I had never met anyone who has lived this experience and I didn’t understand the importance that it had on the central Tuscan countryside.
Mezzadria was a system in which an important owner (padrone) of a agricultural farm had numerous families (mezzadri) who worked his land and kept half of the produce which fed their families. These families made wine, olive oil, grew vegetables, wheat, raised animals, often had cows for milk and cheese, chickens for eggs and other animals for food.
This system, I was told today, is responsible for the extreme and exception agricultural development of central Italy. When you drive through this area, every inch is farmed. Speaking with producers today, we discussed how this all changed in the 1960s and the 1970s when this system fell apart. The mezzadri started to look for work in cities as Italy became a more industrial society and the owners of these great farms were no longer able to maintain their land.
According to my hosts today, this led to a sad period in Italian viticulture because many of the farmers (contadini) left these farms and took with them all of their agricultural knowledge, leaving the countryside in the hands of few and inexperienced people.
Central Italy, specifically, the area near Arezzo was devastated because of this lack of agricultural workers. This period lasted until the 1980s when a new generation of producers began to rediscover their land. I will write more about this new generation in the next few days.