April 17, 2006

Italy owes wine legacy to Celts, history buffs say

By Svetlana Kovalyova

ROBBIO, Italy (Reuters) - Wine conjures up the image of
cultured drinkers sipping their way delicately through a
full-bodied vintage.

But for two history buffs with a passion for the tipple,
northern Italy has the barbarians to thank for its long
wine-making tradition.

Luca Sormani, from Como, and Fulvio Pescarolo, from the
tiny town of Robbio near Milan, have traced the region's wine
culture all the way back to its Celtic roots and have started
making it according to ancient methods.

Celtic tribes from farther north -- known to the Romans as
"Barbari" -- conquered northern parts of Italy about 2,500
years ago, settled there and started draining marshes,
cultivating land and growing vines.

"There is a bit of the barbarian in us," said Pescarolo,
51, who is the ninth generation of farmers from the
rice-growing western part of Lombardy. "We feel we are part of
this nature."

Interest in all things Celtic -- from music to mystical
rites -- took off in northern Italy in the mid 1990s, fanned by
the Northern League party which rose to prominence with demands
for independence for the north.

Sormani and Pescarolo said their interest in Celtic culture
had nothing to with politics and that, instead of the symbols
and rites, they studied what was close to their hearts -- a
blend of agriculture and wine-growing.


"It's not that we want to put on helmets with horns. It's
not about mythology or cults," said Sormani, 40, who has a
doctorate in agriculture.

"We feel we are part of a tradition which dates back to the
times of Celts."

Standing in a vineyard on a man-made hill in the middle of
table-flat rice fields in western Lombardy, Sormani recalled
how he spent years studying the history of the area, which led
him to the idea of recreating a Celtic farm.

"In (the northern towns of) Vigevano and Mortara we live as
if we had no history, as if one day we found ourselves here and
going to work in Milan. I did not like it. I wanted to find out
where we came from, who we were," said Sormani.

"And not being a philosopher or poet or a writer, being an
agronomist, I started my research from agriculture."

His project took off in 2000 after he met Pescarolo. They
used their own savings to build a replica of a Celtic farm,
based on ancient manuscripts.

They wanted to relive the history of the Celts by
discovering their habits and tastes and, in a typical Italian
way, the pleasures that Celts found in food and wine.

Six years later, the pair can enjoy the most treasured
fruit of their labors: Celtic wine, produced according to
ancient recipes from grapes grown using Celtic methods.


The dark ruby wine has a rich taste with a strong herbal
note and an unusual sandy after-taste.

"This wine gives you a sense of belonging to this land, to
your history. It tells the story of people who lived here, of
our ancestors," said Sormani.

Sormani and Pescarolo presented their first wine from the
2004 harvest at an international wine fair in the northern
Italian city of Verona and said it had positive reviews from
wine critics.

They plan to sell 300 liters of the 2004 vintage this year
and 500 liters of the 2005 production next year. It will be
bottled in ceramic vases of an ancient Celtic design.

They hope to sell the wine to restaurants, bars and auction
houses and find wine connoisseurs and fans of Celtic culture
willing to pay 140-160 euros ($170-$195) for an 80-centilitre
vase of wine.

The proceeds will help them set up a Celtic cultural

"Those who buy such a vase and bring it home will have a
chance to travel in time by means of taste," Sormani said.