The Valpolicella DOC and DOCG wine production area includes the piedmont strip of the Verona province and encompasses 19 municipalities – 5 in the Classica area and 14 in the DOC one. Its territory borders Lake Garda to the west, while to the east and north it is protected by the Lessini Mountains.
The production regulations divide the Valpolicella into three distinct zones:
- The Classica, formed by five distinct geographic areas including Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella and San Pietro in Cariano, and valleys of Fumane, Marano and Negrar di Valpolicella.
- The Valpantena, which includes the valley of the same name.
- The Valpolicella DOC with the districts of the municipality of Verona and the valleys of Illasi, Tramigna and Mezzane.
The Valpolicella landscape is extremely rich thanks to the great differences in the morphology of the land. In terms of structure, the territory may be divided into three macro areas: the mountainous limestone areas formed by the Lessini Mountains; the hilly area where most of the vines are planted; the valley floor.
The Valpolicella is composed of valleys developing in a north-south direction and can be described as a fan-shaped territory of valleys separating from Verona. The countryside of the Valpolicella is mainly hilly with gentle slopes and watersheds at low altitudes and is dominated almost everywhere by vineyards, but also olive and cherry trees. The geological and climatic characteristics of this region, unique and extremely diverse, are the basis of the great originality and typicity of the wines.
HISTORY OF VALPOLICELLA VITICULTURE
Some of the most suggestive historical moments
The origins of viticulture in Valpolicella.The presence of vines in the Veronese area dates back to the Middle Eocene (40 million years ago) as demonstrated by the findings of fossilized Ampelophyllum noeticum discovered in the 19th century in the "Pesciara" of Bolca. In the Iron Age appeared also Vitis vinifera sativa, probably moved here in the VII-V centuries B.C. by Etruscans together with the techniques of wine production. The grape seeds of Vitis vinifera (5th century B.C.) were found near Castelrotto together with some situlae and simpulum (ladles) linked to the domestic consumption of wine.
The “Arusnati”The name of this ancient population came to us from some inscriptions found in Fumane and San Giorgio di Valpolicella. The Arusnati, considered by many scholars a people of Rhaeto-Etruscan origin, lived in an organized manner. The territory of the Arusnati was organized on the basis of pagus: an area with its borders, within which the individual agglomerates could take the characteristics and the name “vici”, meaning villages.
The Rhaetian wineThe first written testimony comes from Marcus Porcius Cato, also known as Cato the Censor (234-149 B.C.), who described it as a very appreciated wine. The Greek geographer Strabone (64-63 B.C. - ca. 21 A.D.) declared that "Rhaetian wine came from the first slopes of the mountains occupied by the Rhaetians overlooking the borders of Italy between Como and Verona". Even the poet Virgil (70-19 B.C.) praised the goodness of "Rhaetian wine".
Rhaetian wine in vogueHistory identifies the Augustan age (23 B.C.-14 A.D.) as the period of maximum splendour. Later, in his naturalistic treatise "Naturalis Historia", Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) defined it as panacea veronensis, that cures all disease.
The Acinatico of CassiodorusUnder Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths (489-526 A.D.), the Valpolicella was reported for its fertility, especially for the wine that was already produced there from dried grapes, documented and described in detail under the name of Acinatico by the minister Cassiodorus. He described it as “royal by colour ... Dense and meaty [...] drinkable purple of incredible sweetness" obtained through a special grape drying technique, for which it has been deemed as identifiable as the ancestor of the “Recioto”.
The Edict of Rotari and the ValpolicellaeIt seems that the Edict of Rothari was formulated at Castelrotto in 643 A.D. This indicated the appropriate requirements for the cultivation of the vine and protects viticulture with strict rules against damage and theft of grapes. In 1177 the name “Valpolicellae” was official used by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.
The first regulations with the Della Scala familyIn 1276, there were statutes written by Alberto I della Scala, which regulated not just the trade but also the transportation of grapes and wine in the city. The harvest period was fixed by mutual agreement and it was forbidden for anyone to begin to harvest before the appointed time. Another rule was reported in these statutes prohibiting grapes to be stored at home after harvest: a provision that was not accepted by winegrowers and winemakers at the time, but which confirms that the practice of drying grapes was already common. From 1311, after being separated from the town of Verona, the Valpolicella became an estate granted by the emperor Henry VII to Federico della Scala.
The system of the vicariateOnce the Scaligera family had fallen, Verona and its surrounding territory have been under the power of the Visconti. In 1405 the long rule of the Venetian Republic began and lasted until the second half of the eighteenth century. It established the system of the vicariate, an administrative and judicial entity that benefits from some particular rights, such as the privilege to appoint its own Vicar.
From Valpolicella up to the Grand CanalThe trade of Veronese wines intensified along the Adige river up to the Grand Canal, moreover, the different activities developed so much that, when towards the end of the sixteenth century the new administrative entity of "Veronese Territory" was formed, the Valpolicella represented the most important Vicariate for extension and wealth. Vine cultivation continues to be one of the main and most profitable activities in Valpolicella: the richest centre was Negrar, followed by Marano and Fumane. The areas of Sant'Ambrogio and Pescantina were instead known for other commercial activities: marble and timber, respectively.
The “Valley of the Poets”Thanks to the vines and the wine, the valley began to show signs of cultural progress. From the fourteenth century construction of patrician villas became gatherings of humanists and scholars, poets and learned men. The beauty and the hospitality of the noble families that inhabited these villas led the region to become known as Aleardo Aleardi wrote centuries later, the "Valley of the Poets". The praise for the fine wines of the Valpolicella appeared in the verses and writings of various authors. In the eighteenth century, references to the wine produced in Valpolicella appeared in "Verona illustrated" by Scipione Maffei, where it is described as "wine of a particular grace." Maffei used the term "bitter" for a type of wine produced in this region. In 1768 the Academy of Agriculture was established.
Where does the name "Recioto" come from?The origin is probably connected to dialect term "recia", i.e. the ear, because only the highest, most exposed part of the bunch, therefore the most prized part, was subjected to the drying process. The first document in which the term "Recioto" is mentioned is dated back to 1888.
The birth of AmaroneThe birth of the name and the myth dates back to 1936. Until that moment sweet wines were considered as the most precious products. In post-World War II the arele or taoloni, previously used for the breeding of silkworms, were destined to the grapes drying.
Valpolicella DOC and the success of AmaroneIn 1968 the Valpolicella DOC was born, with the delineation of the boundaries of the production area, currently in use, and the drafting of the first regulations. At that time there were only Valpolicella and Recioto della Valpolicella, whereas Amarone was mentioned only as a "dry" version of Recioto. The "Great Red" however continued to increase its success, so much that in 1990 it was finally decided to dedicate it its regulations of production. At the end of the '90s, the production of Amarone had a huge increase.
The wine that has seduced a worldwide audience: the Valpolicella RipassoThe Valpolicella Ripasso was born thanks to the mastery of Valpolicella winemakers, who over the years have been able to improve their technique, both in the cellar and in the vineyard. This wine is characterized by a greater structure and longevity than the basic Valpolicella, by higher alcohol content, lower acidity and greater roundness, and a higher value in extracts and phenolic substances. Ruby in colour with garnet hues, it offers an ethereal perfume of red fruit with hints of vanilla, a refined flavour, harmonious, dry and velvety. For its pleasant characteristics, it immediately conquers palates and cuisines all over the world.
The DOCG recognition and the new production regulationsIn 2010 Amarone della Valpolicella becomes DOCG. The new regulations give great importance to the indigenous grape varieties and establish greater control over the entire production chain. In 2019, the four regulations of production of Valpolicella wines, after a process of many years, were updated and implemented in several important aspects.