This period starts at 1900 and end at the millennium turn. One very first question is where the grapes were cultivated at that time. The campagna romana was a deadly miasma (malaria) borderland between Rome and the Alban Hills. References are made that disease free were hill areas higher than 200 m above sea level. Furthermore at that times the only reliable transport mean were donkeys or walking. The areas around Frascati were still surrounded by vineyards and olive trees, as they were almost two thousands years before at the turn of the century. And the wine produced was serving the Rome market, using donkeys for the transportation. It is interesting to remember that there was a speed limit for these wine carts. They were forced to proceed slowly, as speed higher than few km per hour would have damaged the wine!
Frascati aerial view, surrounded by vineyards and olive trees in 1925. Except for the urban area, on the middle-left there is the cemetery (built in 19th century), and few villas or rural buildings for the cultivated fields.
Repairing a donkey wine cart in Frascati
Transporting wine from Frascati to Rome
The phylloxera infection arrived in Frascati at the beginning of the century. Very quickly the vineyards were completely destroyed by this root-attacking insect, who really appreciated the best Frascati vineyards. The remedy was to plant a resistant North American variety and to graft cuttings of the "nostrane", the old varieties. Many were advocating however the superiority of planting native grape varieties without the American rootstock, and the more risky taking ones, have tried in part to cultivate as in the old days to preserve the quality.
Vineyards planted near the cemetery of Frascati still survive in 2012. Note the Frascati buildings immediately at the left hand side of the cemetery.
Harvesting at the Frascati Eremo Tuscolano monastery, in a photo beginning 1900. Grapes harvested in the vineyards downhill were transported with an ox cart to the monastery for pressing and fermentation. Note the monks actively working.
Another vineyard in Frascati suburban area of Cocciano, quite close to the buildings with an old osteria in the background. This vineyard was removed in 2010 to make place for the Cocciano archeological park
Cantina Pugliesi, Piazza Romana, Frascati
Cantina Carletti, Via Cavour, Frascati. Note the large amount of "damigiane", a very popular glass container of about 25 liters, crowding in the street outside the cellar.
Osteria Metemagno, Via Cairoli, Frascati, with a last century toast!
Particular of a cellar door enlarged to allow the transit of botti. They were moved out in September for cleaning and restoration activities, and brought inside in October just before the harvesting. Note also the iron opening on top of the door, necessary to have a good aeration in the cellar.
World War I was another tragic event. Many people from Frascati, if not their lives, have lost their best young years combatting an endless war. My Grandfather spent seven years of his life in northern Italy. When the war ended, in 1919 the Italian governament, as a gift for the lost years and also to push for the growth after the recessive war period, gave free one "quarta" of terrain (4500 square meters) to each soldier. Frascati gave uncultivated and abandoned fields in the areas of Passo Lombardo, Spino Retico, and others. The experiment did work out. Some people sold soon their "quarta", some others planted vines or olive trees, few ones consolidated theirs by purchasing adjacent ones and made their vineyards and properties larger and larger.
Between old and new techniques. Testing a new machine in Vigna Ferri, Frascati
Before the advent of tractors and machines, the tradition of grape growing and wine making was virtually unchanged from the beginning of our story. The fields was manually cultivated. The first work to do was a "scasso" which consisted into digging the ground for 1.5 meters, to make room for the deep vine roots. Then the implanting of the tutors and the planting of the grape cuttings. Manually the grass was removed and the terrain aerated with tools. Manually some "ramato" was given to prevent the peronospera disease. Manually the vines were trimmed during the growing period and fixed to their supports. Then came the harvesting, again manually done. And the grapes were transported with donkeys to the wineries in Frascati, where they were pressed and fermented. Since Cato, not much really had changed. The wine was stored in cellar at a cool and constant temperature and when drinked there, the taste was unsurpassed. And served in osterie which abunded in Frascati at that times.
Osterias of yesterday
Osterias of today
Bigoncio or Bigonzo, containing up to 100 Kg of grapes.
Caratello, a small barrel containing 200 liters of wine.
Botte or wine barrel, containing 1000 liters of wine.
An unusual usage of Bigonzi to support the bronze adornments found in the Roman ships in Nemi's Lake. Note that these bigonci were completely made of woods, including the three rings, which were substituted with metal ones later on.
An enlarged cellar entrance to allow the transit of wine barrels. Here the aeration is by openings on the door itself.
Grape Harvesting with donkeys. On the steep and slippery Frascati streets, the local municipality was, at harvest time, sheding soil or sand to prevent donkeys from slipping.
This period of wealth, unfortunately, had another stop with the World War II. The beauty of Frascati was also the primary reason of its drama. The Germans commanders preferred to make their headquarters the beautiful Frascati Villas, and the allies on September 8th 1943, in search of the place where commander Kesserling was staying, bombed the town of Frascati. Thousands of people died and 80% of the buildings were completely or partly destroyed. Fortunately the wine, again, came to some rescue. Many survivors during the bombing were either at the vineyards around the city, or found repair in the wine caves and cellars under the buildings.
Bombing of Piazza San Pietro, Frascati September 8th 1943. People from Frascati reconstructed too quickly their town, which nows has side by side, historical buildings and modern ones build after the war, in an mixed style.
After the phyllossera, another pest came from the globalization. The industrialization process and the consolidation into few large wineries. From small high quality growers who were producing according to the tradition, to large mass production of grapes and wine. Having few subjects purchasing the grapes, led quickly to agreements between them to minimize the price paid to local growers. Some of them reacted to this, started overproducing with new growing vineyard implanting techniques, some were watering in summer, over fertilizing, even hormon treatments to promote maximum production, as the grapes were paid by the wineries by the quintal. This had a bad effect on the Frascati brand which started being perceived as a low quality wine. Everybody was misusing the well known Frascati brand, in Italy and abroad, but these "fake" Frascati had nothing to do with the real thing.
How far Frascati went from the times where horse transported in wooden barrels the precious quality wine!
The first anti fraud act of Denominazione di Origine Controllata DOC came in 1966, to fight the misuse of Frascati name in Italy and abroad. In this period there were three major wineries, the F.lli A. De Sanctis e figli, the Fontana Candida and the Valle Vermiglia, plus a coop of the local producers, Cantina Produttori. Some of these closed, others passed in the hands of foreign multinational, the Frascati wine was at very low point and almost dead as a quality product.
Labels of real Frascati, De Sanctis
Frascati brand, Valle Vermiglia
Labels of real Frascati, Villa Simone
Labels of Frascati not originating from the DOC territories. Note the improbable Colosseum brands, and that the labels were for 1.5 liters family containers!
Old Frascati Label
Using the Frascati name for a wine from Latium
Another pest, bad politics, took back from the farmers the land which were donated to the soldiers who turned them into fruitful and producing vineyards, to build the campus of the second Rome University, Tor Vergata. Starting in 1965, after legal opposition by the local producers, the year 1978 marked the take back from the Governament of the donated lands, after they had made it productive, ruining many families of honest workers. And on some of these lands which produced Frascati wine, today there is still nothing built, only empty grass fields, a cross placed by Johanness Paul II and an unfinished swimming stadion, colosseum style! Furthermore, the Frascati municipality sold their land to research institutions and to the Bank of Italy, transforming quickly the territory from rural to urbanized. The ridiculous price paid to grapes and to wine, which at some points in time was less than soft drinks price, and the bad politics contributed to this all-times low point of Frascati.
Cantina De Sanctis with Australian customers in 1973
De Sanctis Luigi Ottavio(15.02.1892 - 09.10.1982) wine grower and Cavaliere del Lavoro
Finally, the awareness that this millennium-old tradition had to be preserved, promoted by the end of last century a new generation of growers with quality products. Conte Zandotti, Casale Marchese, Pietra Porzia and the traditional small growers that did not want to give up.