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Ampelography (from the Greek àmpelos, meaning vine, branch) is the science responsible for the identification, denomination and classification of the numerous Wine varieties via the description of the peculiar characteristics of the plant, its morphology and the different stages of its development.
The number of wine varieties in cultivation, most of which belong to the species Vitis vinifera and generally to the genus Vitis of the family Vitaceae, is enormous.
The history behind this science has ancient roots. The Latin scientist Columella had already proposed a subdivision of the wine varieties based on utilisation criteria and their positive traits and included information on the dimensions and appearance of the grape bunches, type and colour of the berries, agricultural and oenological characteristics.
At the beginning of the year 1300, Pietro de Crescenzi, from Bologna, completed a work that rightly is considered to be of fundamental importance in this field. Other scientists, from the Renaissance onwards, followed suite, giving new contributions to the development of Ampelography and in the 1700’s abbot François Rozier, not only set up the first collection vineyard for the study of the wine varieties, but also gathered material for the compilation of a first catalogue of wine varieties, included in the first volume of the Traité théorique et pratique sur la culture de la vigne.
Ampelographic studies and especially studies relating to genetic improvement acquired renewed vigour during the second half of the 1800’s simultaneously with the invasion of wine phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae), a phytophagous insect originating in the New World, which destroyed an enormous number of European vineyards. The problem was overcome with the introduction of grafting of vine varieties from the old world onto an American rootstock, and the planting of vineyards post-phylloxera, resulted in an increased diversity of vine varieties.
An important step forward in the study of ampelography is attributed to Giuseppe dei Conti di Rovasenda, from the Piedmont region, who in 1877 published the Saggio di una ampelografia universale in which he lists around 5,000 entries relating to wine varieties and their synonyms. Like other works published in Europe towards the end of the 1800’s, this work was a reference point for the ampelographers of the time, among whom were the collaborators of Pierre Viala and Victor Vermorel, editors of the work that represents the starting point in this editorial project.
Published in seven volumes between 1901 and 1910, the work entitled Ampélographie – Traité général de viticulture is recognised as a milestone in the study of vine varieties and their characteristics. A total of 3,200 pages present several hundreds of vine varieties for which geographical, agricultural, oenological, morphological and linguistic references are given.
Victor Viala was supported by 85 collaborators in the feat of compiling a catalogue of vine varieties originating in numerous countries: France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Algeria, Tunisia, Russia, Greece, Portugal, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Israel, the United States and Chile.
Thanks to Senator Victor Vermorel who generously funded the initiative, a total of 497 full-page chromolithographs were inserted.
These images have made Ampélographie not only a scientific text but also a true expression of editorial craftsmanship.
Artistica Editrice recovered these plates in all their beauty but also wanted these images to be accompanied by summaries in Italian, true to the original texts, prepared by Anna Schneider, Giusi Mainardi and Stefano Raimondi, well-known experts in the sector of Viticulture and its history.
In order for a large part of this work to be dedicated specifically to Italian vine varieties, the Publisher also included other two collections of lithographic plates taken from two national works: the Pomona Italiana of Giorgio Gallesio (published between 1817 and 1839), which describes 26 Italian wine cultivars, and the Ampelografia Italiana, which describes 28 national wine varieties, published by the Ministry for Agriculture starting from 1879.