Wine meets architecture – as the Venerable Factory of the Duomo of Milan and the Veronese winery La Collina dei Ciliegi partner up to offer wine and history enthusiasts an opportunity to contribute to the renovations of Milan’s Duomo through the sale of wine. As singular as the idea might seem at first, in reality, the notion of using wine as a means to fund the construction of this world-renowned cathedral is anything but new.
The building of the Duomo in Milan was an epic undertaking that took more than 500 years to complete. In historical documents dating back to the Duomo’s origins, the city’s ruler, the Duke of Milan Gian Galeazzo Visconti, noted that it should be a temple capable of reflecting a national aspiration to greatness, but above all, it should exude a sense of both human and spiritual peace.
Legend has it that the devil appeared to the duke in a strange dream telling him to build a giant cathedral in the center of the city or risk having his soul taken away forever. Keen to save his soul, the Duke began plans for the construction – making sure to include around 100 gargoyles to scare away any evil spirits. In 1386 building began under the direction of Visconti and the Bishop of Milan Antonio da Saluzzo.
Oversight for its construction and maintenance was granted by Visconti to a group officially called the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano, known in English as the Venerable Factory – an ecclesiastical body established in 1387 to coordinate the design, construction, and future preservation of Milan’s new cathedral.
Great canals were dug and an entire system of interlocking waterways was created to bring the marble from the quarries of Candoglia near Lake Maggiore to the Duomo’s construction site – creating a district known as Navigli, an area that today attracts crowds of locals and tourists to its trendy bars, restaurants, and art galleries. As work began in the late 1380s thousands of specialized laborers, sculptors, architects, and artists flowed in from all over Europe to work on the project.
Funds for this awe-inspiring building, which to this day remains the fifth largest Christian church in the world, were mostly taken care of by the inhabitants of Milan. When construction began in the 14th century, locals provided money, as well as food and drink for the workers. The Veneranda Fabbrica possessed vineyards outside of the city and sold the wine it produced for profits put toward the construction.
Also eager to lend a hand, residents of the area would deliver brente of wine (a unit of measure used in Milan at that time, equal to about 75.55 liters) to the Veneranda Fabbrica. This wine was sold and the proceeds were used to help cover the costs of construction – and so the idea of selling wine to help with the cathedral’s building was born.
Almost six centuries later, the Duomo of Milan has become the symbol of the city. Its crown of pink-hued, white marble spires reaching up to the sky – with its elaborate façade grand and breathtaking in the vast piazza of the city, constantly abuzz with tourists gathering at its feet.
“A very world of solid weight,” remarked Mark Twain in his 1869 chronicle of his trip to Europe entitled The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrim’s Progress, “and yet it seems… a delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath!” A real possibility considering the age and delicacy of the structure. Today the behemoth cathedral is undergoing extensive restoration. And once again, wine will help to sustain some of the expenses.
This year, the Veneranda Fabbrica – which still exists composed of seven members who oversee the buildings daily business, tourist operations, maintenance, and its current restoration – has paired up with Veronese wine producer La Collina dei Ciliegi to create a wine, Vino del Duomo, that will give anyone who wants, a chance to contribute to the restoration of the Duomo through the purchase of a bottle.
“The history of the Duomo is of surprising interlacements between food, gastronomy, and art. After all, on its scaffolds people lived and spent a lot of time,” commented Fedele Confalonieri, president of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo. “The products of the land, at times, represented not only nourishment for the workers who labored there, but also a precious source of income to contribute to the construction of the Cathedral. This is the case of wine: not everybody knows that, for example, the Veneranda Fabbrica owned some vineyards since the fifteenth century in Volpedo, whose grapes were sold and the related proceeds were used to finance the building site. Recovering this ancient tradition, we found in La Collina dei Ciliegi a generous and responsive collaborator.”
The wine, an IGT Verona red produced in the Valpantena, is a pure Corvina – a regional black grape harvested late in September after selective hand-gathering. It’s ruby red with violet hues, has flavors of fresh cherries with notes of violet, and a distinctive savory finish that pairs well with Italian starters, soups, pasta dishes, and even fish. The elegant bottle also displays a label designed by the world’s top wine designer Mario di Paolo.
“There is a common thread that connects the city of Milan to Verona,” added President and CEO of La Collina dei Ciliegi Massimo Gianolli, “built thanks to the dialogue between Verona and Milanese structural engineers who worked together, at the time of the design of the Duomo, to solve the technical problems regarding the stability of the internal pillars. This is the same bond that unites my family and our wines to these places since 1925 in an eternal journey of love and undertaking between Milan and Verona.”
The three-year collaboration will soon include a bubbly as well. Il Brut, a refreshing sparkling wine produced using the Charmat Method, is a blend of Chardonnay and the local Garganega grape. Pale lemon in color with fine bubbles, Il Brut will make an ideal pairing with seafood or served as an aperitif.
The bottles can be bought at the Cathedral shops and La Rinascente in Milan, and are currently being featured as the wine of the month at the Maio Restaurant located on the terrace of La Rinascente, as well as at the Sheraton Milan Malpensa Airport Hotel. They are also available online for both domestic and international shipping via the e-shops of duomoshop.com and lacollinadeiciliegi.it.
Written by Liana Bicchieri