Italian Wine – The Hidden Passion of Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci is a man who needs no introduction.

Surely the most famous of the Renaissance-era artists, his paintings have made him a true legend in the eyes of many. And he was a genius. Beyond his penchant for painting, he was also a prolific inventor whose mind seemed to send out a fountain of new ideas on a daily basis.

Plus, he was immortalised as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Surely, there’s no higher honour than that.

Joking aside, da Vinci was the true definition of the Renaissance Man. He seemed to excel at everything that he put his hand to and he was both adored and respected in his own time for his brilliance.

That adoration and respect has only grown in the centuries since his passing.

That’s the side of da Vinci that everybody already knows.

But what you may not know is that the great man could add Italian wine to his enormous list of passions. And he wasn’t just a fan of drinking the stuff. Da Vinci became so enamoured with wine that he actually created his own vineyard just so that he could create some.

The Story of the Leonardo’s Vineyard

It all started in the 1480s.

That’s when da Vinci made the decision to move to Milan. After slowly building his reputation up among the best and brightest of the city, he was commissioned to create one of his most famous paintings, The Last Supper

We’re sure that almost everybody reading this has seen it as it’s one of the world’s most famous paintings.

That commission came from the Duke of Milan in 1495. It took da Vinci about two years to finish the job. And the duke was so impressed that he gifted da Vinci and entire vineyard, apparently as part of the payment that he made to the great artist.

It’s difficult to know the exact size of that vineyard as it was measured in perch. This is an ancient form of land measuring that comes from the Roman era and its exact relation to modern measurements isn’t known. But some estimates place it as between two and three acres.

What we do know is that da Vinci fell in love with the vineyard. He wrote detailed notes about it in his many notebooks and once estimated its worth at a little over 1,900 ducats. For reference, that’s over six times the annual pay of a government employee of the time.

The Importance Beyond Wine

16th-century maps suggest that da Vinci’s vineyard had a large tree in the centre, with the rest of the vineyard basically extending out from it. The artist also had his own property on the land, where he likely spent quite a lot of his time.

May speculate about the wines that da Vinci must have made using the grapes grown on his vineyard. But there’s another reason why it was so important to him.

At the time, Milan had a rule that only landowners could be true citizens of the city. By gifting him a vineyard, the duke had essentially bestowed citizenship of the city unto da Vinci. His ownership of the vineyard made him one of the more important figures in Italian high society for several years.

Unfortunately, that all changed in 1499. The French invasion of Milan ended up deposing the duke. After several years’ worth of wrangling, the French decided that they wanted the land that da Vinci owned. His response was to immediately up sticks and move to Venice.

This was an enormous blow to Milan’s reputation in the art world. So much so, in fact, that the French chose to gift da Vinci’s vineyard back to him in 1507. And it seems that their sole motive was to get the great man to return to the city that he’d called home for so many years.

What Happened Next

Da Vinci accepted the gift and the records we have suggest that he lived in Milan for several years after 1507.

However, he made the decision to permanently move to France in 1513. It was here, six years later, that he passed away. 

In his will, da Vinci left equal shares of his vineyard to both Giovanbattista Villani and Gian Giacomo Caprotti. The former was a servant who had worked for the artist for many years. The latter was his final apprentice and, according to rumour, da Vinci’s secret lover.

Unfortunately, the tides of time took their toll on the vineyard. Over the next few centuries, the house attached to the vineyard fell into ruin, with the land itself going untended. It was not until 1920 that new owners began the unenviable task of restoring da Vinci’s vineyard back to its former glory and perhaps emulating the wines that he would have created.

However, their ambitions went unrealised. Over the next couple of decades, a combination of increasing urbanisation, bombing during World War II, and a fire destroyed what was left of da Vinci’s vineyard.

It disappeared, apparently confined to the annals of history.

The Rejuvenation

That was until just a few years ago.

The rediscovery happened when grape scientist Serena Imazio stumbled upon a sign saying that the site used to house da Vinci’s vineyard. Startled that nobody seemed to understand the significance of this, she knocked on a nearby door and questioned the sign’s validity.

Sure enough, the owners confirmed what nobody in the wine community knew.

Of course, Imazio couldn’t just take their word for it. She helped to create the Leonardo project, which involved excavation of the site in the hope of discovering it was real and, if it was, which native grape varieties da Vinci grew on it.

They discovered that the site was indeed home to a vineyard. And the records showed that da Vinci had indeed owned it.

They opened the site to the public in 2015. Now, you’re able to visit da Vinci’s own vineyard and explore the land as the great man must have done 500 years ago upon first receiving it. And you can even enjoy some wines that the great man himself may have made hundreds of years ago


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