History and Tradition
First inhabited by Gallic tribes, what is today Lombardy was conquered by the Romans in the 3rd century B.C. and become part of the Cisalpine Gaul, which in Latin means "Gaul on this side the Alps". As with much of modern Italy, the region was theater to many invasions and occupations by Nordic and Eastern tribes generically referred to as barbarians. In A.D. 569 the area become the center of the kingdom of the Lombards, an ancient German group that gave the region its current name.
After becoming part of the Charlemagne Empire in 774 and undergoing a period of conflict and upheaval, wars and foreign invasions, the power base gradually switched from feudal lords to independent towns and communities. A widespread economic revival took place, largely thanks to the commercial river trade routes between Europe and the Mediterranean port towns centered on the Po River.
After many more centuries of unrest and changing leadership, the region was under the rule of Austria as a part of the Lombardo-Venetian kingdom from 1815 until 1859, when they once rejoined Italy as a part of the united Italian Kingdom under the rule of the House of Savoy. At the end of WWII, the Savoy family was expelled from Italy and the Italian Republic was born. In 2003 the provision exiling the former royals was revised to allow the members of the Savoy family free entry onto Italian soil as private citizens.
Today, Lombardy is considered the industrial and commercial capital of Italy and the gateway to Europe. However, valuing the region’s unique past, committed local communities of independent craftsmen and women have kept alive traditional artisan skills and trades that might have otherwise disappeared in today’s mass-marketed machine made world. In recent decades there has been a resurgence — especially in the largest centers — in the appreciation and celebration of craftsmen’s hand-worked pieces and artisans skills.
The numerous traditional festivals that are still celebrated in this region refute the widespread belief that the conservation of folkloric heritage is strictly linked to lack of economic wealth and socio-cultural immobility.
Although most agricultural areas in Lombardy focus on food production rather than grape growing, and its grapes and wines have a difficult time when compared to the surrounding regions of Piedmont, Veneto, and Trentino, Lombardy is a respectable wine producing area.
That said, one could find very good local wine production, centered specifically on six main noble grape variety zones.
The Oltrepò Pavese, which means beyond the Po River and translates into an area roughly corresponding to the Pavia province, has a long tradition of excellent wine. Only recently has its wines acquired a well-deserved recognition that goes beyond the national borders. The tradition of selling these modestly priced wines locally in the countryside’s osterie, or taverns, lined along the banks of the Ticino and Po rivers, has led to the lingering false impression that the local production was of lesser quality than wines produced in the neighboring regions.
The Valtellina DOC zone, centered around the province of Sondrio, produces some of the most appreciated regional wines based largely on the local version of Nebbiolo, the Piedmont noble grape known here as Chiavannesca. The Valtellina SuperioreDOCs, which are usually differentiated by the area where the grape was grown, are especially good.
The province of Brescia, which includes the Franciacorta zone with its rich reds, excellent whites, and outstanding sparkling wines, is the third major wine producing area. There are about 70 wineries within the Franciacorta zone, and some of them, such as the Berlucchi, producers of arguably the best Italian sparkling wines, and the Ca del Bosco, are recognized national leaders in quality and prestige. In addition, there are two more DOC zones, the Cellatica and Botticino, that are closer to the city of Brescia, and other notable wines, such as the Trebbiano di Lugana, are produced on the Brescian shores of the Garda Lake.
The three other main producing areas, though less noteworthy, create some respectable wines such as the Valcalepio DOC in the province of Bergamo, the Lambrusco Mantovano, produced around Mantova near the border with Emilia-Romagna and the tiny zone of San Colombano al Lambro, in the province of Milan.