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Italian scientists have located and replanted Leonardo da Vinci's more than 500-year-old vineyard on its original site in Milan. COURTESY MUSEO DI VIGNA LEONARDO
Italian scientists have located and replanted Leonardo da Vinci’s more than 500-year-old vineyard on its original site in Milan. COURTESY MUSEO DI VIGNA LEONARDO

I’ve added a new destination to my Bucket List: Leonardo da Vinci’s long-lost and now revived vineyard in Milan.

Yes, the 16th-century genius in art and science was also a vintner. He loved wine and, ever the visionary, wrote about its health benefits as the “divine juice of the grape.” In 1495, the Duke of Milan bequeathed a small plot of land to Leonardo to grow grapes. And in between painting masterpieces and inventing revolutionary machines, the maestro made wine until a few years before his death on May 2, 1519.

In recent years, as the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death neared, Italian scientists launched a project to locate the vineyard site and reconstruct it. They did. But that’s not the fascinating part. Using DNA technology, scientists combed through decades of soil debris to identify the native grape planted by Leonardo. In 2015, they planted vines and, a year ago, conducted the first harvest for the production of Leonardo’s white wine.

The genius of Leonard da Vinci carried over to his love of wine. This year marks the 500th anniversary of his death on May 2, 1519. COURTESY MUSEO VIGNA DI LEONARDO

I first read this interesting story in Wine Spectator magazine’s online edition (July 9, “Renaissance Man’s Wine Reborn: Inside Leonardo da Vinci’s Vineyard”). In the article, Jacopo Ghilardotti, historian at Museo Vigna di Leonardo in Milan, details the project and its success. According to Ghilardotti, the museum will hold an auction in September of the first 330 bottles produced from the vineyard.

No doubt the still-unnamed bottles will fetch a premium price for a 21st-century taste of Leonardo’s wine.

At this point, you probably want to know the grape’s name. Please bear with me a moment longer.

Leonardo planted his vineyard on land situated behind an elegant Renaissance mansion, the Atellani House. He did not own the property. After the maestro’s death in France — he moved there in 1515 at the king’s invitation — the vines grew untended through the centuries. During WWII, the Atellani House, including all surrounding land, was pulverized to ashes in an Allied bombing raid. While the glorious house was later rebuilt, the vineyard was seemingly lost to history.

Enter Italian scientists intrigued by the prospect of reviving Leonardo’s vineyard. According to Wine Spectator, they relied on photographs from the 1920s that showed the vines. They mapped the vineyard’s borders and began sifting soil and analyzing it with DNA-gathering technology. What came next was a revelation. Scientists found that layers of ash from the fiery bombing raid had preserved nucleoid matter of the original vine plantings. The grape was confirmed as Malvasia di Candia Aromatica, which is widely grown in the Italian province of Emilia Romagna. Milan is in nearby Lombardy.

Four years ago, scientists replanted Leonardo’s vineyard and, in 2018, produced its first vintage. The project is recounted in Ghilardotti’s book, “The Atellani House and Leonardo’s Vineyard,” which, unfortunately, is only published in Italian.

However, for a $15 entry ticket to Museo di Vigna Leonardo, you can learn the history of the Atellani House, walk through its grand rooms and gardens, and tour Leonardo’s vineyard. The only thing missing is a sip of the precious wine.

Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece “The Last Supper” COURTESY MUSEO VIGNA DI LEONARDO

If it’s any consolation, the Atellani House is located across the street from the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie where “The Last Supper” — Leonardo’s 15th-century masterpiece — is on display with plenty of wine pictured on the table.

So what is Malvasia di Candia Aromatica?

The white grape excels in the hillside vineyards of Piacenza and Parma in Emilia. As its name suggests, the grape produces slightly weightier wines — straw yellow in color — that are fresh, floral and perfumed. Wines can be made still, off-dry, sparkling and sweet (passito-style). Most likely, Leonardo da Vinci created a sweet white in line with the tastes of Renaissance-era drinkers.

Today, Malvasia di Candia Aromatica is used in the production of Italy’s best passitos.


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