“To find out more about the origins of Rossese Bianco, together with other lesser known Italian grape varieties, we need more funds for DNA research”. This is the latest of a series of appeals from Anna Schneider, made during the “Conoscere e valorizzare i vitigni del territorio” (Getting to know and promoting the country’s grape varieties) conference organised on 13th May this year by AIS Piedmont to celebrate the 7th National Wine and Oil Culture Day at Castello Cavour di Santena, in Turin province.
Anna Schneider is an authority in Italian and international ampelography: researcher at CNR, Institute for Sustainable Plant Protection, and responsible for the Ampelography course at the Department of Agricultural, Forestry and Food Sciences of Turin University.
The rarest grape varieties in Piedmont were illustrated at the conference, including Rossese Bianco, grown especially in the Monforte d’Alba area, from which the Amalia Cascina in Langa estate makes a Langhe Rossese Bianco DOC wine.
“One way available to us to link up the grape varieties grown today with those grown in the past, with the help of other historic, scientific and DNA analysis methods, consists in examining the images available in the ampelographical literature”, says Anna Schneider.
“Those doing genetic and ampelographical research must work with historians, comparing a range of sources, to identify the characteristics of the grape varieties examined in an unequivocal way. From the 18th century, and most frequently from the mid-19th century onwards, many grape varieties and leaves were painted very accurately, and these are still today indispensable to the identification of the ampelographical origins of vines”, continued Schneider.
In particular for Rossese grapes, scholars have an illustration in Pomona Italiana Ossia Trattato degli Alberi Fruttiferi* by botanist (and much more*) Giorgio Gallesio available to them, with the latter undertaking a fundamentally important catalogue of fruit trees from 1817 to 1839, using the pictorial contribution of a number of esteemed artists of the day.
Comparing Gallesio’s Rossese grape with the morphology of the many Rossese Bianco grapes we have today, Dr. Schneider and her assistants have concluded that the Rossese grape variety described by Gallesio has nothing to do with the Alta Langa Rossese grape (thus defined by Schneider) but resembles the San Biagio della Cima’s Rossese Bianco grape from the Imperia province border with Liguria.
“For the purposes of defining grape varieties’ genetic, and thus geographical, origin”, concludes Schneider, “we have a powerful means of analysis available to us – DNA analysis – which is unfortunately a method which requires considerable investment and involves wide ranging enquiry. The ancient vines that enable us to define their genealogy, as well as reliable historic-artistic sources, are not always still present. For this reason, the origin of many – still too many – Italian grape varieties is still uncertain and not unambiguously determined”.
*For more information on Giorgio Gallesio and Pomona Italiana, the whole sheet by Enrico Baldini in http://www.librit.unibo.it is set out below.
“Pomona italiana ossia trattato degli alberi fruttiferi / by Giorgio Gallesio. Pisa, co’ caratteri de’ FF. Amoretti, presso Niccolò Capurro, 1817-1939, ill. color.; 50 cm.
Farmer, magistrate, member of Parliament, public official, diplomat and also devoted and enlightened plant world scholar, Count Giorgio Gallesio (Finale Ligure, 1772 – Florence, 1839) retired to a private life at the age of 45 to devote his energies exclusively to a challenging and unprecedented publishing enterprise in Italian terms: compiling and publishing a monumental pomological work designed to describe and illustrate “the most delicious fruit tree varieties grown in Italy”. The printing of this work began in 1817 at Niccolò Capurro’s printing house in Pisa and continued until 1839, when it was broken off by the death of the author. It was printed in just over 170 copies.
The forty-one volumes which make up Pomona Italiana contain 146 pomological sheets (‘articles’) without a pre-established order which are, in turn, made up of mezzotint copper engraved plates coloured in by hand and a detailed description of each corresponding variety, written by Gallesio himself on the basis of recurrent and original taxonomic observations.
The iconographical work (160 wonderful folio plates) was the work of a great many both professional and amateur painters such as Antonio Basoli, Carolina and Isabella Bozzolini, Rachele Cioni, Domenico Del Pino, Bianca Mojon and Antonio Serantoni and a group of talented engravers including Paolo Fumagalli, Bernardino Rosaspina, Giuseppe Pera and Carlo Lasinio, co-ordinated meticulously by Gallesio himself.
The texts and illustrations in Pomona Italiana provide a thoroughgoing overview of the early 19th century Italian fruit germplasm and are thus of undoubted documentary importance for the history of ‘fruit science’, but they are also of equally certain importance as a fundamental reference point for all pomology lovers focusing on the varieties of yesteryear, with the intention of preserving them from genetic erosion and recovering them for future farming use”.