History of the Area
It is hard to imagine that the upper Valdarno (the valley of the River Arno) was once a lake, but that is what it was, a large and marshy lake, until it was supposedly drained by the Romans at a place a few kilometres to the west bearing the descriptive name Incisa or ‘Cut’. The area is rich in fossils of dinosaurs, mammoths and other animals and plants, as a visit to the Museo Paleontologico, recently renovated, in Montevarchi will attest.
Montegonzi is a small village in the comune (municipality) of Cavriglia in the province of Arezzo and is situated on an eastern spur of the Chianti Hills in the upper valley of the Arno. The ‘Gonzi’ part of the name is derived from a family name of Longobard or Frankish origin (and not connected with gonzo meaning ‘fool’ or ‘sucker’ in Italian). Although it occupies a strategic position on one of the old roads that crosses the Chianti Hills, the village is not really old by local standards (there are Roman and Etruscan ruins in the area), dating from the 11th century CE when it provided a fortified outpost on the border of the territories of Florence and Siena.
Flora and Fauna
It may come as a surprise to learn that Tuscany is the Italian region with the greatest forest cover, and our farm is literally surrounded by woods. Most of the land is sloping or steep hillside covered with oak, chestnut and the pseudoacacia (arbinia robusta) known as black locust, typical of the region. In former (but not so distant) times these woods would have provided many of the basic necessities of remote country life, in addition to providing foraging space for pigs which helped to clear the undergrowth.
Now the woods are home to many varieties of mammals (boar, foxes, badgers, porcupines, pine martens, roe deer, red deer, even a few wolves) and of birds and mushrooms.
The graceful and delicate roe deer are also considered a pest by vineyard owners as they eat the young buds on the vines. They can also do some damage on tress, especially young ones, but they are a delight to watch. It always amazes me to think that we didn’t see any deer in these parts until about 15 years ago, but apparently deer in general are on the increase in Europe.
There are at least two small populations of red deer in our woods, migrants from the Chianti area. We find their large hoof prints and scats in the olive grove, and occasionally we see one of these majestic animals in the early morning or in the evening.
Over the last 20 years the number of wolves in the area has been on the increase, and they are the only natural large predator in this area. We rarely see them but know that they are around from the carcasses of roe deer that we find in the fields..