One of the earliest mention of Primitivo dates back to 1799 when the head of a local church in Gioia del Colle (province of Bari), Francesco Filippo Indellicati, noticed among the varieties grown in his vineyard one grape ripening earlier than the others, very juicy and sweet, and characterized by very dark berries.
The early ripener
After enjoying a long success as a highly prized blending partner, this juicy grape is now enjoying the spotlight as a single varietal producing rich and opulent wines in Southern Italy.
Alongside Negroamaro and Nero di Troia, it is among the most famous Apulian autochthonous grape varieties. It is assumed to be very ancient, probably brought to Apulia from Illyria (modern day Dalmatian coast) before the Greek colonization of Southern Italy (7th century BC).
One of the earliest mention of Primitivo dates back to 1799 when the head of a local church in Gioia del Colle (province of Bari), Francesco Filippo Indellicati, noticed among the varieties grown in his vineyard one grape ripening earlier than the others, very juicy and sweet, and characterized by very dark berries. Its fruit would be ready for harvest already in August.
Museo Nazionale Collezione Salce
Veduta di Castel del Monte con le campagne antistanti, un pastore con due capre ed un ramo con fiori di pesco in primo piano
This variety was known before as “Zagarese”, but it was renamed by the priest “Primativo”, from the Latin “primativus”, which means “precocious”.
Francesco Filippo Indellicati contributed to spreading this varietal by planting cuttings in a hamlet near Gioia del Colle. From here, with the help of local growers, this clone further spread across Apulia, until it reached the town of Manduria, thanks to a wedding of a local noblewoman who brought some cuttings of Primitivo from her hometown as a gift to her husband. Here Primitivo found a perfect terroir that would enhance, or even improve, its organoleptic characteristics.
It is genetically identical to the Croatian Crljenak Kaštelanski and Tribidrag, which comes as no surprise considering Primitivo’s Dalmatian origins. In 1967 a plant pathologist from the USA travelled to Bari and was struck by the similarity in taste profile and plant morphology between Primitivo and Zinfandel, so he sent cuttings to the US for further investigation. The identity between the two grapes was confirmed later in 1994 by means of modern DNA profiling.
The confirmation that Zinfandel was Primitivo led to a revival of the latter, which in the 90s had fallen victim of a EU vine pull scheme. In 1999 the European Union granted Italian exporters the right to use the name Zinfandel on their labels, a decision, though, that led to a disagreement not yet settled with Californian producers, who saw this as an appropriation of their heritage. Despite this controversy (or thanks to?), Primitivo is enjoying a worldwide growing success due to its very international style and to the work of quality-minded producers who sacrifice yields and focus on low yield bush vines producing outstanding wines.
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