29 June 2016
Prosecco in Valdobbiadene, the Veneto, shares its history with silk production. Its heritage is brought to life with the ancient, now renovated silk mill, the Antica Filanda of Bortolomiol Winery
In the early 1900s in the hills of Veneto, a change was taking place in the area’s traditional landscape. As Elvira of Bortolomiol Winery recounts, acres of vineyards that today produce one of Italy’s most prestigious sparkling wines, the Prosecco in Valdobbiadene certified as DOCG Superiore, were being replaced with mulberry trees. On these trees, the Bombyx mori grew in healthy numbers.
Few people know that the Bombyx mori, or silkworm, thrives in the same environment that so well supports glera, the main grape variety that goes into making the brilliant bubbles of Prosecco. Since the 17th century in this area, sericulture was a cottage industry alongside viticulture; it wasn’t until the 1800s that production began to pick up pace, becoming a silk industry that provided for national demand.
Sericulture and Prosecco in Valdobbiadene
The Prosecco DOC production zone is quite ample, stretching between two regions of Italy, Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia; whereas the production area for Prosecco’s highest quality certification, Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore, encompasses just 15 townships in a steeply terraced, aesthetically beautiful territory. The seat of Bortolomiol Winery, founded in 1949 by Giuliano Bortolomiol (whose ancestor Bartolomeo was already making wine here in the 1700s), is located in the town of Valdobbiadene itself. This zone was especially active in silkworm production in the early 1900s; here, four silkworm mills, or filanda, were in operation.
Women at work in a silk mill - © Courtesy of Bortolomiol Winery
Husbands and fathers worked in the surrounding vineyards, while the women worked in sericulture, turning this once-domestic activity into a substantial share of the family’s income. “They would work night and day, and often slept at the filanda, because they came on foot from their villages,” says Elvira.
This joint viticulture-sericulture production created a synergy of earnings and economic activity for roughly 40,000 families by the 1930s. After a long, unproductive winter, the women began their work according to the silkworms’ development when they started feeding on mulberry leaves in April and May, and growing. The women provided the main part of family income in the spring, according to the Silkworm Museum in Vittorio Veneto, during a time when the grapevines were only beginning to bud.
The ladies of Bortolomiol - © Courtesy of Bortolomiol Winery
Silk production eventually died out around the late 1970s as a result of foreign competition. When the father of Elvira and her three sisters Maria Elena, Luisa, and Giuliana bought a defunct silkworm factory about 15 years ago, he named it the Antica Filanda. “We began to uncover the history of our territory, and wanted to delve deeper,” says Elvira. “Our father was quite visionary when he bought the property, because now it has become an asset to incoming tourists and wine lovers.” Not only that, but it keeps alive what once was so important in the local culture and economy.
In addition to their range of wines that includes numerous Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, Prosecco DOC, and still wines, Bortolomiol crafts a sparkling wine dedicated to these strong, hardworking women of the past: Filanda Rosé, a Brut Millesimato rosé made from 100% Pinot Nero from the Oltrepò Pavese hills. It presents a wonderfully fruity aroma, hints of pepper and cinnamon, and a complex palate with a bright freshness and good body. It’s a lovely, pink bubbly that celebrates the past, “a homage from women to women.”