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

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.

Today the village is still dominated by the small castle that was built to defend the road and has remained remarkably unspoilt. This area has been declared a zone of particular beauty and interest for tourism, and many of the farms in the area offer what is called agriturismo, a catch-all phrase covering all kinds of rural vacationing. The permanent population in the winter is less than 200, but this number quadruples during the summer when former residents and their families return for their vacations. Most residents work either in the towns in the valley (Montevarchi and San Giovanni) or in Florence or Arezzo.
In the past Montegonzi was noted for its white wine made from the malvasia grape. Unfortunately, very few of the local farmers now cultivate this variety, preferring to follow Tuscan tradition and concentrate on making red wine. By contrast, olive growing has never faltered, and the hills are dotted with patches, large and small, of olive groves. The area has enjoyed a high reputation over the centuries for the quality of the extra virgin oil produced from its olives, and this oil is still prized today.

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.

As in other parts of Europe, wild boar have become something of a pest. They eat grapes and other kinds of fruit as well as nuts and do not hesitate to barge against the tree to dislodge the fruit. Their digging and scampering up and down the terrace banks causes a lot of erosion, and they can be quite aggressive when defending their young.

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..

 

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