In the garden of the Casa degli Atellani, in Milan
To the long list of dazzling cultural treasures that Leonardo da Vinci bequeathed to humanity can now be added another marvel – wine.
He may be best known as the Renaissance polymath who gave the world The Mona Lisa, The Vitruvian Man and blueprints for war machines, parachutes and helicopters, but Leonardo was also passionate about wine, which he described as “the divine liquor of the grape.”
Five centuries on, a team of experts has resurrected a vineyard that he once owned in the middle of Milan, from which they have produced the first, rarefied batch of a white wine that would have been familiar to Leonardo.
The vineyard was given to him by Lodovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, as payment for The Last Supper, which he painted on the walls of the refectory of the nearby Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie between 1495 and 1497.
The little vineyard survived for centuries but was all but obliterated by an incendiary bomb dropped by the Allies in 1943.
It has been reborn by a team of scientists and wine enthusiasts who dug beneath the rubble and, amazingly, found the remains of the original vines.
They subjected the remnant vines to DNA testing and found that they were from a variety of grape called Malvasia di Candia Aromatica.
It is originally from Crete – the island was known as Candia under centuries of Venetian rule – and was brought by merchants to Venice, from there spreading to other parts of Italy.
The variety is still grown in Italy today and vines were brought from the hills around Piacenza, in the Emilia-Romagna region south of Milan.
The first grapes were harvested last year and the wine, called simply La Vigna di Milano, or The Vineyard of Milan, is now ready and bottled.
But British wine buffs hoping it might turn up on the shelves of their local Sainsbury’s or Waitrose will be disappointed.
Only a tiny quantity has been produced – just 330 bottles – and they are to be sold next month at auction, although the date and location are, for now, under wraps.
“It’s dry, aromatic and very particular,” said Giovannella Fugazza, who produced the wine at the estate she owns south of Milan, the Castello di Luzzano.
“We made it using the techniques of the past, including terracotta amphorae. It is exactly the wine that Leonardo would have known 500 years ago.”
The wine has been produced in the year in which Italy and France have been commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Renaissance genius’ death in 1519.
The quest to resurrect the vineyard took years. It started more than a decade ago when Luca Maroni, a renowned oenologist and editor of wine guides, began to wonder if any of the roots had survived after so many centuries.
“I thought to myself, how is it possible that this vineyard existed in the centre of Milan, yet no one knows anything about it?” said Mr Maroni.
“The vineyard had been covered in rubble from the Second World War but when we dug down we found the remains of the vines. We analysed them with DNA testing and were able to identify the exact same variety. Malvasia di Candia is very aromatic, with the fragrance of fruits and flowers.”
Leonardo was a passionate wine-lover. “He was born in the village of Vinci in Tuscany, where wine was made, and his father had 20 hectares of vines,” said Mr Maroni.
The first vines were planted in 2015. The vineyard is located inside a walled garden attached to a palazzo, the Casa degli Atellani.
The scientific aspect of the project was led by Professor Attilio Scienza, an Italian expert on the DNA of vines.
“We had to dig deep down beneath the rubble and then the soil to find the stumps of the original vines,” said Prof Scienza, from the Università degli Studi in Milan. “They had been preserved by the ash and rubble. We’ve managed to exactly recreate the vineyard from maps that Leonardo drew. It’s been an extraordinary experience.”
For those lucky enough to get hold of a case or two, there will be the chance to taste the “divine liquor” that gave inspiration to one of the world’s most remarkable minds.