In the course of researching the origins of the place name Gaiole in Chianti this week (more on that later), I came across a wonderful 1833 survey of the village in the Dizionario Geografico, Fisico, Storico della Toscana (Geographic, Physical, and Historical Dictionary of Tuscany) by Emanuele Repetti, one of the most renowned Tuscan historians of his era.
At the time, nearly 4,400 persons lived there, including a “doctor and a surgeon.”
The vibrant community, writes Repetti, was centered around an important market.
Already by that time, its hills also produced “exquisite wines and brilliant silk,” he writes.
But the most interesting I discovered in his entry on Gaiole was his description of the subsoils:
“The dominant feature of these hills consists in the Apennine limestone [known as] alberese, which is often completely covered by a schist known in Tuscany under the name of galestro and is found in and around Gaiole…”
“This type of soil is ideal for olive trees and vines as well as larger fruit trees. This is the reason that Gaiole produces such exquisite wines and brilliant silks…”
In the photo above, you can see a piece of alberese, which is so hard that it rarely breaks into pieces smaller than the one in the image.
In the photo below, you can see the crumbly galestro.
Because of the presence of these types of rocks, the subsoil in Gaiole is nutrient poor, which makes it ideal for the cultivation of grapes for fine wine (because the vines must work harder to produce their berries and as a result, the fruit is richer).
They also create natural drainage in the soil, which forces the vines to work harder to find the water table (again, producing richer fruit).