GREVE IN CHIANTI - WINE, COCKERELS AND AMERICAHub of the renowned Gallo Nero or euroBlack Cockereleuro vineyards, Greve in Chianti (grey-vey in kin-tee) boasts of a native son who could have changed world history profoundly but didneurot: Giovanni da Verrazzano, a scion of the lesser nobility born in his familyeuros manse a little ways out of town, the discoverer, whilst sailing under the lily flag of Franois I of France in 1524, of the bay of what was to become Nieuw Amsterdam a century later and New York in 1664. He sailed up the Hudson for about half the length of Manhattan, found flowing sweet-water and not the hoped-for North-West Passage to the Orient . . . and left without staking a claim for France, to the kingeuros subsequent understandable ire. Visitors may admire Messer Giovannieuros colourful effigy in bronze erected in 1913 in the middle of the piazza. New York commemorates him with the superb 1909 monument re-erected in Manhattaneuros Battery Park in 1951, and of course with the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge that has been connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island since 1963.What is called the Chianti is today a legally defined and strictly controlled wine-growing region that conforms roughly to the area of the mediaeval Chianti League. By Tuscan standards Greve is not old, nor was it ever of any political or military significance and hence never walled nor fortified (but Montefioralle was see next page), nor even paved until modern times. Nothing dramatic ever happened there. Between about 1100 and 1700 there was hardly more than a triangular tamped-earth market place with a rude stone church at the apex, wooden poles all around for affixing the weekly counters and stalls, and a few peasant huts and hovels beyond the triangle and yet, as we know from contemporary sources, by 1350 the quality of the best wines produced by the vast feudal Chianti castle-estates all around Greve had drawn the praise of serious connoisseurs in palaces as far away as Florence, Pisa, Venice and the exiled papal court in Avignon. And though the village remained paltry for five centuries (ninety-two euroinhabitantseuro in 1551, a mere 703 in 1833), the yearly wine market there was a linchpin of Tuscan vintnery word of it even reached Queen Elizabeth: she ordered euroan hogshead of ye best tuscain rougeeuro in 1583.Citizens of Greve will tell you how it is that they live in the province of Florence rather than Siena. Tradition says that in the autumn of 1353 the division of the Chianti between the warring Republics of Florence and Siena was to be determined in a serious, statesman-like manner: at the cockeuros first crow, witnessed by a bishop, a Florentine knight was to set out from Florence and a Sienese one from Siena, and were to ride towards each other as fast as they might over fifty-odd arduous miles of mountain and valley. Their meeting point would mark the border forever. The evening before the event the crafty Sienese fed their bird very little so that, hungry, he would crow at the very first, faint paling of night, and off would go their man; and so it happened. But the craftier Florentines fed nothing at all to theirs, a magnificent all-black chanticleer, a champion of champions famous for his imperious demeanour and crotchety temper, so that he would raise an infernal ruckus long before any hint of day; and so he did. With that head-start the Florentine met his counterpart two thirds of the way toward Siena, far beyond Greve. And hence Greve is in the province of Florence. Hmm. Yes, well. But now you understand the symbol. Greveeuros consolidation into stable houses on all sides of the triangle dates to the end of the eighteenth century and to Napoleoneuros Kingdom of Etruria which, although it lasted only from 1801 to 1807, sent irrevocable shock-waves of reform throughout all central Italy. The region bloomed under the progressive, strongly anti-clerical French government, and for Greve and environs the impetus proved durable: the piazza arcades date to then, the dreary neo-classical church to 1833, a flag-paved triangle, now gone, to 1842. World War Two brought an infamous Nazi-Fascist torture and death centre, and as a response much cruel, bloody anti-Nazi, anti-Fascist partisan warfare. The Anglo-Americans arrived in August of 1944, met by jubilant song, dance and, need we say it, rivers of wine.Todayeuros population of the expanded township numbers about eleven thousand. Greveeuros position as the centre of Chianti wine production is unchallenged.MONTEFIORALLESteeply uphill and north-west of the town is the erstwhile roccaforte, or stronghold, of Montefioralle (mntay-fioh-rllay), originally a twelfth-century walled and fortified outpost with a church of the anti-Florentine Lega del Chianti, or Chianti League, headed by the gran signore or chief war-lord Castruccio Castracane (literally: The Little Castrated Dog-Castrator) of Lucca. It housed some hundred men-at-arms and their women and children. After about 1450 the hewn stones and ashlars of the by-then obsolete walls and crenellations gradually drifted off into the construction of new villas, peasantseuro houses, barns, walls and pigsties all around, and Montefrioralleeuros military aspect was lost. Nevertheless, the surviving colourful circular high street and the arched alleys, cobbled courts, crooked niches and wobbly stone steps are well worth a leisurely walk. The general character has changed little in five centuries.Here too there is a possible link to America, but it has never been and probably never will be documented. Oral tradition going back to the sixteenth century and printed by 1647 would have it that here was born Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512), the explorer and navigator who first intuited that what Columbus had discovered was a new continent, not Asia, and in whose honour the Swiss cartographer Martin Waldeseemller gave it the name euroAmericaeuro in 1507. There were in fact Vespuccis in Montefioralle for many centuries, but this is not a rare name in Tuscany. Some not altogether negligible evidence suggests that Amerigoeuros family did own a house and some land here in the 1400s, but there is nothing to contradict his accepted birth in Florence.
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