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Grapes of the past for wines of the future: recovering lost grape varieties is up to Graspo

Created among Colli Euganei and Colli Berici with support from Crea in Conegliano it seeks custodians for ampelographic richness and future challenges

Brepona, Vulpea, Moschina, or Uva Gatta: what are we drinking tonight? This could be a question we will find in the future of Italian wines. These are just some of the varieties at the center of the work of the association Graspo - Gruppo di Ricerca Ampelografica per la Salvaguardia e la Preservazione dell’Originalità e biodiversità viticola, founded by Aldo Lorenzoni (former director of the Consorzio del Soave, ed.), together with oenologists Giuseppe Carcereri and Luigino Bertolazzi, with a passion for active research on the front of recovery of ancient abandoned vines in the belief that biodiversity can be an important resource for the future of viticulture, both in terms of climate change and better diversification of wines also in a purely commercial projection. And with the collaboration of several universities, the Viticulture Research Center - Crea in Conegliano, the National Research Council - CNR of the Ministry of University and Research, and the support of the Berici Hills and Euganean Hills Consortia - they seek to bring them back to light with a view to their eventual entry into the market.
While the institutions in charge and the Research Centers are currently very busy on the front of resistant vines, the association is verifying with field surveys and micro vinifications the peculiar characteristics of the vines considered lost in order to verify their potential, both in purity and as a support to historical vines. The work has included timely bibliographic research, validation first ampelographic and then also genetic validation of the varieties, study of the territory on which they were found, identification of the custodian producers, constant and punctual phenological monitoring, a concise ampelographic description and following all the operations of harvesting, winemaking, analysis and bottling. For the most interesting varieties, scions were also taken to analyze, in the near future, their behavior in the different areas.
The result, after traveling 50,000 kilometers along the peninsula, and 150 total DNA analyses from as many vineyards, is that Graspo has identified 10 unknown grape varieties (promising if vinified)-and 62 micro-vinifications from seriously endangered grape varieties, from which surprisingly good wines have been produced. Long work that now seeks custodians, that is, producers who will adopt it and get involved, making themselves available to plant these varieties and experiment in the winery.
“Are we so sure that what we are losing doesn’t have value and may prove useful in the future, even in relation to climate change?” asks Lorenzoni, recounting the birth of the association. “These are vines that were once considered too acidic or tannic, which today can give pleasant wines, exactly in the place where we already grow vines, without necessarily having to go and plant the vines in areas that are, for example, higher or colder”. We are talking about an operation that takes from the “mare magnum” of old-growth varieties, which populate in abundance the Italian wine region, where the Veneto, evidently, represents an important basin. But to believe that this is a wine-only research project limited to regional borders would be misleading: the truth, in fact, is that this is a third-sector cultural project that is also based on solidarity and has already involved actors at the national and international level.
“For example, the Tuscan company Sassotondo will invest in Etna, producing a wine whose sale will fund research into the volcano’s lost vines. In Cape Verde”, Lorenzoni further explains, “we will help Father Ottavio Fasano manage 23 hectares of vineyard also planted with forgotten vines. In Magré, South Tyrol, there is Robert Cassar who guards perhaps the only certified 423-year-old vineyard in the world planted with Hoertroete, an ancient Austrian vine of which we do not know if other specimens exist: the 43 kilograms of grapes produced were vinified into 35 unique bottles”. The association has, in addition, submitted some dossiers for the registration of the most interesting grape varieties to the Ministry’s Vine Variety Register. All this articulated activity is now witnessed in a new publication entitled: Viticultural Biodiversity, the Keepers, the Grape Varieties, the Wines. A publication that summarizes the work done to date and becomes the ideal tool to accompany the tastings of these highly original wines.
Crea in Conegliano has decided to support the Graspo project because the idea is to extend the research to the whole country. It is interesting “the possibility of being able to recover the genetic heritage, the biodiversity of the vine and have it, both in collections but also as a possible progenitor of future crosses”, says Riccardo Velasco, director of the Crea, “considering that this genetic material contains resiliences to those climatic difficulties we are facing today. These are ancient vines with important merits that can help us in genetic improvement”.
In Lessinia they found in an old vineyard, at 700 meters, the Gouais Blanc, the father of Chardonnay, Gamay and Riesling, and of 80 of the modern grape varieties, almost all of the important white grape varieties. “With great acidity and freshness”, says oenologist Luigino Bertolazzi, “it was also present in Champagne, later replaced by Chardonnay. After a very hot period, in 250 AD, which lasted over 200 years in Europe, Gouais Blanc was planted in Germany and the Balkans, even reaching Scotland, because from a raw and unripe variety it finally managed to ripen well”. Vines disappeared in abandoned vineyards, both at high altitudes and on the plains. “The plains brought us luck”, Bertolazzi continues, “with a 200-year-old Bianchetta trevigiana plant: a vine married to Salice, it betrays its hilly origin because it is the daughter of Brambana and Durella. Also in the plains, we found a particular variety we called Leonicena”. It is not among the permitted grape varieties, but 30 years ago it was grown on 30-40 hectares in Lonigo. It resisted the 1985 frost and tolerates Flavescenza Dorata well. This is why talking about “vines of the past for wines of the future” makes sense.

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