Articolo disponibile anche in: Italian
According to the elderly of the 1900’s, when the Chianti railroad was built at the end of the 1800’s, a small revolution was born because the train system interfered with the “barrocciai” and “vetturini” system (the use of carriages, coachmen and horses) which had been used since time remembered.
The new system created a false fear, because in those years small white tufts bloomed on the unripe grapes, and the smoke from the “Caffettiera” was blamed.
Instead, it was caused by “Oidio”, a powdery mildew fungus which, together with the insect “Fillossera” (Phylloxera), destroyed the Chianti vineyards over a period of 20 years.
When my father, a young man in 1899, returned after ﬁghting in WWI, he found a disaster… the vineyards were dying because Phylloxera ate their roods and the oidio damaged the grapes that remained on the surviving wines.
The local population said that the new plague was planted on purpose by nations which were in competition with their grapes and that they werent informed about the new methods for cultivation used in France.
In those years, the vines were replanted, not with the old method of using cuttings of domestic vines (vulnerable to Phylloxera), but trying for a new one: using a rootstock with American vines. They were called ”American” because that wild variety came from the “new world” and were immune to attacks by Phylloxera, endemic to thoses places and transported to Europe with the importation of cuttings. Many studies about the quality of the clones to be used were made.
Not all were compatible with the Italian vines. Some varieties were left with a small stem from the graft, others didn’t help the bunches of grapes mature. Researchers of the time studied hard, and ﬁnally found the correct clones for our territory. At this point, grafting was necessary, and through courses of the “Cattedre Ambulanti di Agricoltura” (itinerant professorships of agriculture), the proper grafts were found and in a few years the vines of Chianti and beyond were brought back to life.
My father was one of these, who, at the end of the 1900’s, continued the grafting technique “a Occhio dormiente”. This consisted in removing a bud from the mature branch at the end of August, and inserting it, with a small joint, in the rootstock planted the previous year. or a split in the branch with one or two buds, in the following spring when the “eye” failed.
Now all has changed. Grafting is done in the lab, and the vines are planted already grafted, with the hope that the quality of the fruit meets our standards. Sometimes, it comes out completely wrong, and a new grafting intervention is required. The Oidio is treated with sulfur and other agents, and the Phylloxera seems to have adapted to our environment. Although the grafts tolerate it, it still can cause damage.