Wine and Italy’s Unification
Italian Unification was the sociopolitical movement from 1848-1871 that brought the various states of the Italian peninsula together. During the process, Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) led the republican push for unification in the southern Italian region. At the same time, Camillo Benso, count di Cavour (1810-1861), led the royalist drive in the north.
The First King of Unified Italy
Victor Emmanuel II (1820-1878), a Piedmont king, was the first king of the unified Kingdom of Italy. His descendants reigned Italy until 1946, after which Italy became a republic following World War II. The fall of the Papal States coincided with the Unification of Italy and negatively impacted their vineyards and wine production.
Later, Rome became the Italian capital. Many scholars think that the unification process began with the end of Napoleonic authority and the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Some believe it concluded with the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. However, the final città irredente, Trento and Triest, did not join Italy until after World War I.
Victor Emmanuel reviews the troops for the Crimean War Tancredi Scarpelli – Illustration for Storia d’Italia by Paolo Giudici (Nerbini, 1929-32)
Wine Industry Rules
When Italy was unified in 1861, the wine industry rules were far from standard. Transforming from large duchies and kingdoms to a single nation, wine became “Italian wine” during the Unification of Italy. This was despite the lack of a link with a single location, and notably with its founding territory.
The newly formed Kingdom of Italy encompassed many former wine-producing regions with their own distinct styles and traditions. These wines were not yet “Italian” in the eyes of the international market.
The Unification process brought with it changes to the map of Italy, as well as new challenges for the wine industry. One such challenge was the creation of a single, unified set of wine laws. This was no easy task given the vast number of regions and wine styles that now fell under the banner of “Italian wine.”
A further challenge for the industry was to create a national identity for Italian wine. This was done in part by promoting the wines of certain regions, such as Tuscany and Piedmont, as being representative of the whole country.
The quality of Italian wine was also an important factor in its international success. The Unification of Italy coincided with a period of great technological advancement, which led to improvements in viticulture and winemaking. This, combined with the natural resources of the country’s diverse landscapes, resulted in a wine industry that was well-positioned to compete on the global stage.
The international success of Italian wine is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the country’s wine producers. The Unification of Italy created a wine industry that was far from unified but has gone on to achieve great things.
Before Unification, Piedmont —a northwestern Italian region—had a long history as a good wine region, with Nebbiolo becoming Italy’s first single varietal wine. In addition, Piedmont’s involvement in the Unification of Italy was related to the region’s ascension to international recognition as the producer of Italy’s most outstanding wine.
During the years leading up to and following the 1848 insurgencies of the unification process, Piedmont was involved in several initiatives that resulted in economic success. Moreover, it helped strengthen linkages between Italy’s progress and Piedmont’s objectives.
However, Piedmont’s primary economic and political objectives were similar to those of most other Italian regions. Due to Piedmont’s dominance and participation in the Unification of Italy, Barolo maintained its position among the aristocratic elites of Italy and beyond. It became renowned as the country’s premier wine-producing region. Since then, Barolo has maintained its popularity and reputation for high-quality wine.
During unification, vineyards were dispersed over the country, with a concentration in southern Piedmont, Tuscany, and Sicily. Despite varying production trends (Federico and Martinelli 2018; ISTAT, Istituto Nazionale di Statistica 1976), the Italian wine-growing geography remained relatively unchanged until WWII. Production was primarily based on non-specialized intercropped vineyards and mainly intended for self-consumption. There was only a very tiny share of “quality wine” production.
Vineyards in Piemonte Megan Mallen, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Tuscany is one of Italy’s most important wine regions and is home to some of the country’s most iconic wines. It was during the time of unification that Tuscany’s wines gained international recognition. The most famous wine region of Tuscany is Chianti. This region gained famed during unification and has kept this fame into modern times.
Governments in the newly established unified Italian nation were only concerned with validating the authenticity of wine. For instance, they would overlook the necessary actions and solutions aimed to protect the quality and provenance of these wine products, such as the concept of a bond with a specific region.
Italian wine has a long and rich history, dating back to the days of the Roman Empire. Today, Italian wine is enjoyed worldwide and is some of the best in the world. Thanks to the country’s wine producers, Italy has become a major player on the global wine stage.
Vineyards in Chianti Country via Wikimedia Commons
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