A natural pulsating amphitheatre of vines and olive trees, the Lucca hills watch over the great sprawling plains below them, immutable from a distance.
There are numerous roads that lead from the base of the hills up to this enchanted place where the human hand, so able in modeling terraces and walls for olive groves and vineyards, has been halted by forests of chestnut, oak and acacia that cover a large part of the landscape.
The road seems to be never-ending, passing through the middle of the mountain’s flank, defining the edges of fields and farms. This artful segmentation begins on the other side of the Serchio river, or more precisely from La Cappella, Mutigliano and Monte San Quirico which are the first or last villages (depending on which direction you take) of the DOC denomination. The Serchio river divides this area from the next that leads from Ponte a Moriano towards Matraia, Valgiano, Tofori and Gragnano and from there the Via Pesciatina separates the last (or first) part, the high hill of Porcari that faces the soulmate of Lucca’s winegrowing hills: Montecarlo, where our winemaking history began.
Lucca was first settled by the Etruscans but the most extensive documentation of its ancient past belongs to its Roman construction, traces of which are still clearly evident today, from the Cardo-Decumano street plan to the amphitheatre and the internal Roman vaults of its fortified walls.
The real vocation of the Lucchesi has always been one of commerce and travel. The city’s enormous wealth was built on a booming silk trade that shaped it between the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries, a flow of money that built churches, monuments, country villas, sprawling estates and gave birth to family dynasties that lasted hundreds of years.
The villas that dot the Lucca hills guide a visitor’s gaze, splendid examples of architecture that were also at one time the fulcra of immense agricultural estates where the relationship between the farmer and the padrone was regulated by the feudal mezzadria system. The mezzadri were contract farmers, living and farming the land in return for half of the produce that was turned over to the landlord. With the abolition of this atavistic contract and its regulation of men and things towards the middle of last century, the story of Lucca’s contemporary viticulture began.
Montecarlo is a small jewel of late medieval architecture whose fortifications were constructed by Emperor Charles IV. It presided over a territory that in the fourteenth century was the theatre of fierce and bloody battles between Lucca, Pisa and Florence.
Despite a history that has often been soaked in blood and struggle, the perfectly preserved walls of the city and the slopes of green fields and vines that descend towards the plains are considered above all the cradle of viticulture in the Lucchesia.
It was here, around the year 1200, that the Benedictine monks from the monastery of San Martino in Colle perfected the technique of cultivating the vine. The followers of San Benedetto from Norcia were scrupulous breeders of vines and varieties. Their knowledge was based not only on experimentation but also on the presence of the vine in this region since time immemorial, knowledge that has placed Montecarlo on the map of the world’s great winemaking locations.
It was not by accident that the ancient name of Montecarlo was Vivinaia, or the way of the wine. This road was of great importance in ancient times, threading its way through thriving centers of commerce and exchange.
The roads towards Florence or in the direction of Pisa were battered smooth by carts laden with sealed casks of Trebbiano from the hills of Montecarlo, the quality of which was well-known and easy to sell for a good price to the cities’ merchants.
Garfagnana is a territory situated between the Serchio river valley, the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, the Apuan Alps and the valley of the Lima river. In ancient times it was inhabited by the Ligures, a very old, mysterious tribe, just like the region which was formerly almost completely covered by thick pine, chestnut, oak, beech and pinewood forests. It gave shelter not only to game but also to thieves, fugitive and other suspicious characters in search for a safe place to hide. Over the centuries Garfagnana was conquered first by the Romans, then the Barbarians invaded. Next the Lombards and the Franks, then the emperor Frederick Redbeard, the State of the Church and the commune of Lucca, which took possession of the territory from the middle of the XIII century. Being briefly under the domain of Florence, Garfagnana was definitively divided in 1429 between the Estensi family, seignories of Ferrara and Lucca.
Through the eighteenth and first part of the nineteenth century, life for the “garfagnini”, the inhabitants of the region, was very hard. There was little cultivatable land and the cold winters with heavy snowfalls were never-ending. For these reasons they were forced to leave their homeland and emigrate towards America and other countries, above all Germany, France, Belgium and Great Britain, to search for work and a better life. For decades, entire regions and villages were abandoned and only after 1960 a very slow but continuous revival started along with the rediscovery of positive characteristics of the land and its special resources, above all in the food sector.
Today, Garfagnana can be proud of it's unique products, most of which sport the DOP label, (“protected designation of origin”), such as olive oil, chestnut flour, grain, meat, sausages, cheese, wild fruit & berries and honey.