Anyone who has ever ventured south to the Italian town of Lecce will know they have landed in a place that marks time far differently from our accustomed Western Urban approach. The region has a long history, many conquests, empires and epochs.
Along the way, a grape rooted itself into the history of the region of Puglia. The grape we call Primitivo has almost as many legends about it as Alexander has. This version lays out the relationship between a certain prince and his bride to be. The prince came from a family of landowners and wine growers, the Falconieri’s. The bride to be hailed from a family of whose holding in olive groves rivaled the wealth of the prince. One family was royalty, the other was wealthy beyond anyone in the land. It seems a wedding was being planned.
Because of the immense stakes the two families had in this union and because this would affect the economic future of the region for many generations, delicate talks were held. The issue was centered around the business model of the newly merged families. Would it be wine or would it be olive oil?
Much in the same way art historians research the work of an artist like a Caravaggio, this new dynasty had many hidden factors. There isn’t room to go into all of it here.
In short, a compromise was struck, with a sort of a contest that would last for many more generations than they had thought. They would keep on growing grapes and making the wine ( or sending in north) and they would not abandon the olive trees. This would prove to be a win-win decision for the family.
The grape that became important in this case was the Primitivo grape, which had been brought by the Prince’s Dalmatian relatives, the Hapsburgs. From it came a rich, rustic and hearty wine that gave strength to the people in the winter and quenched their thirst in the broiling summer sun. Primitivo might have come from another area and it might even be related to modern day Zinfandel. But it has gained fame from the marriage of the vine to the soil and the union has been long and prosperous
The olive wove itself into the royal family as well as the local economy and one cannot imagine Puglia today without the olive and the extra-virgin.