Leonardo da Vinci and wine

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Leonardo da Vinci and wine


Probably not everyone knows that Leonardo da Vinci, the internationally renowned personality, rightly entered into history thanks to his unique talent as a scientist and artist, had a great passion for wine and its world. This article intends to provide valuable information about this passion, teasing the reader’s curiosity and inviting him to deepen the subject, a goal that could be better achieved by consulting the book from which the article itself is taken: ‘Leonardo da Vinci and wine’, written by Luca Maroni, esteemed enologist and great expert in the Tuscan genius.

Leonardo da Vinci and wine (img-01)

Wine: a family passion.

One of the main reasons for the interest of Leonardo toward wine was the place of origin of his family: Vinci, a small village in the marvelous Tuscan countryside. Vinci (crt-01) Located on the slopes of Montalbano, at an altitude between 100 and 200 meters above sea level, this village is surrounded by a hilly landscape, characterized by gentle slopes and very good exposure to the sun: the ideal place for the cultivation of vines and olive trees.
Therefore, it’s no coincidence that Leonardo’s father invested a good amount of money (*1) in the purchase of agricultural plots around Vinci. Moreover, many members of his family were involved in wine-making activities, as his uncle Francesco and his grandfather Antonio, who did not disdain to work the vineyards ‘by their own hands’.

*1: Money he earned as a notary in Florence.

Grapes and wine in a letter from Leonardo.

There is a letter from Leonardo, published for the first time in the book ‘The Life of Leonardo da Vinci’ by John William Brown (1828), in which the Tuscan genius shows all his expertise as an agronomist. Here follows a brief excerpt:

Leonardo da Vinci (crt-01)

“Sapete che dissi etiamdio che sarebbe a cuncimare la corda quando posa in el macignio con la maceria di calcina di fabriche o muralie dimoliti, et questa assiuga la radicha, e lo stelto, e le folie dall’aria attranno le substantie conveniente alla perfetione del grapolo. Poi pessimamente alli dì nostri facemo il vino in vasi discuoperti, et così per l’aria fuggi l’exentia in el bullimento, et altro non rimane che un umido insipiente culorato dalle bucice et dalla pulpa; indi non si muta come fare si debbe di vaso in vaso, et perloché viene il vino inturbidato et pesante nei visceri.”.

“You know that I also said that you should fertilize the rope when it is inserted in the ground with the rubble of works or of demolished walls, and this dries the root, the stem, and so the leaves from the air attract the substances suitable for the perfection of the bunch. Then pessimally for our days we made wine in open tanks, and so the essence of the fruit in the boiling has escaped through the air, and there is nothing left but a moist and faded colored of the skins and of the pulp; then the wine is not moved from one tank to another how it should be done, and for this reason the wine is made turbid and heavy for the bowels.”.

‘The Life of Leonardo da Vinci’ (crt-01)

This writing is de facto a small treatise on viticulture and enology, describing the method to optimize the quality of the grapes and the technique to transform them into a wine of excellence, as underlined by the author himself in the final part: “Conciosiacosache si voi et altri faciesti senno di tale ragioni, berremmo vino excellente” (“… this means that if you will follow my recommendations, you will drink an excellent wine”).
Leonardo desires above all to preserve the original essence of the fruit, at the same time preventing the wine to become unpleasant to the senses and heavy for the stomach: for this reason:
1) It should ferment in closed barrels to avoid the oxidation-evaporation of the original taste and the irreversible loss of the intrinsic aroma;
2) It should be decanted frequently and carefully to keep it as clean as possible, removing all the fermentation residues (the ‘dregs’).


The taste of food and the charm of culture.

Leonardo, Romagna and wine.

Leonardo, bunch of grapes (crt-01)

During the year 1502, Leonardo spent much time in Romagna (*1), since he had been invited by Duke Valentino (*2) to supervise the building of some military and civil structures. This stay gave him the opportunity to learn more about viticulture and enology. His attention focused in particular on a hanging system that allows the drying of grapes. Malatesta Library, Cesena (crt-01) On this occasion, the scientist depicted some bunches in one of its drawings: today this drawing is particularly precious because it’s the only one of this type that has come down to us.
It should be noted that, during the same stay in Romagna, Leonardo visited the ancient Malatesta Library in Cesena, where he consulted the rare fourteenth-century Codex ‘De Ruralibus Commodis’ by Pier de ‘Crescenzi (1233-1320) (*3): this gave a noticeable boost to his knowledge of vine cultivation and winemaking.

*1: Romagna is an Italian Region.
*2: Cesare Borgia.
*3: Pier de ‘Crescenzi composed this treatise using ancient sources and drawing on his personal experience.

Vineyards of the Romagna hills (crt-01)

Leonardo examines vines.

Leonardo, vine shoot (crt-01)

There are no doubts that Leonardo himself pruned vines and saw people carefully prune them: this way he could describe with great precision the effect of the cut on the sap circulation of the plant. In this regard, he wrote:

“L’acqua è quella che per vitale omore di questa arida terra è dedicata… E come dalla inferiore parte della vite l’acqua è sospinta a’ suo’ tagliati rami e che po’ ricada sulle sua radice, quelle penetra e di novo resurge, così da l’infima profondità del mare, l’acqua si leva alle sommità de’ monti e per le rotte vene al basso cade e ritorna al mare e di novo resurgie…”.

“Through water the ground gets its vital strength … as water flows from the roots of the vine to its branches and falls from their cuts only to be absorbed once again by the roots, the same way, from the lowest depth of the sea it reaches the top of the mountains only to go back to the sea through the rivers …”

Penetration, absorption, effusion, resurrection: to work properly, the lung of nature needs the plants and their strength. Keeping this in mind, among all vegetables Leonardo elects the vine as the archetype for universal sap circulation.

Fiesole, la macchina volante e il vino.

Leonardo, flying machine, 1488 ca. (img-02)

Leonardo used part of the money he earned in Romagna, at the service of Cesare Borgia, and in Milan, at the service of the Sforza, to buy of a small plot near Fiesole, in Tuscany (*1). This land, located on the slopes of Monte Ceceri, in 1506, became the test site for the flying machine of his invention. It’s interesting to find out that the same place is mentioned in a letter sent by Leonardo to his farmer, in which he regrets the poor taste of the wine produced, thus suggesting improvements for the cultivation of the vine.

*1: They were actually two adjoining plots.
*2: The test was successful thanks to courage of Tommaso Masini, also known ‘Zoroastro da Peretola’: It was the first human flight in history.

‘Grande Nibbio’, Leonardo's flying machine (cc-01)

I pregi ed i rischi del vino.

Leonardo, Battaglia di Anghiari, detail (img-03)

“Già il vino entrato nello stomaco comincia a bollire e sconfiare; già l’anima di quello comincia (a) abbandonare il corpo; già si volta inverso il cielo, trova il celabro, cagione della divisione dal suo corpo; già lo comincia a contaminare e farlo furiare a modo di matto; già fa inriparabili errori, ammazzando i sua amici.”

“As soon as the wine enters the stomach starts to boil inflating it and the soul leaves the body; the brain sometimes is turned to the sky, sometimes is tainted, going crazy and provoking irreparable errors.”

Keeping this in mind, Leonardo recommended some rules to drink wine the right way:

“E’l vin sia temperato, poco e spesso. Non fuor di pasto, né a stomaco voto.”

“Wine should never be too strong: it should be drunk little and often. Not outside the meal nor on an empty stomach.”

Just a few, simple suggestions, to keep drinking only a pleasure.
It’s also important to remember that a small addition of water was often used to moderate the intensity and thus the perception of the flaws caused by the primitive winemaking techniques used at the time.

Man is what he eats ( … and drinks).

Leonardo was fully aware of the fundamental role of food in human existence. If I eat good food and drink good wine in the right amount and in the right way, I’ll be fine. If I eat bad food and drink bad wine without limits and in the wrong way, I’ll feel bad. We are not just what we eat, but also what we digest or not.

“Tale è la cosa nutrita, qual è il suo nutrimento”

“Such is the nourishment, such is the nourished”

The scientist deeply believed that people should take responsibility for their own health, starting with their behaviour at the table table.

Leonardo’s vineyard.

Luca Maroni, author of ‘Leonardo and wine’, the book that inspired this article, in 2015 re-planted the ancient vineyard, located in the heart of the city of Milan, that once belonged to Leonardo da Vinci. A very difficult task, that succeeded also thanks to the lucky recovery of some original plants during the excavations carried out in 2008 in collaboration with the Faculty of Viticulture of the University of Milan. This recovery and the replanting are described in two works by Maroni himself: ‘Milan is Leonardo’s vineyard’ and ‘Leonardo da Vinci: the rediscovered vineyard’.

Luca Maroni, cenni biografici.

Luca Maroni (crt-01)

Luca Maroni, the author of the book that inspired this article, was born in Rome in 1961. Between 1987 and 1989, after classical studies, he graduated in Economics and worked with Luigi Veronelli to the wine tasting magazine ‘Ex Vinis’. In 1993 he completed the first edition of the ‘Yearbook of the best Italian wines’. In 1995 he compiled the entry ‘Wine Tasting’ of the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia and in 2000 he founded the ‘wine portal’ www.lucamaroni.com. It’s important to remember that, since 1988, Luca Maroni has written more than 80 books about the topic: it’s therefore not surprising that in 2012 he was awarded the Honoris Causa Ph.D. in Enogastronomic Sciences by the University of Messina.

Leonardo, Vitruvian Man (img-04)

Vinci, the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci.

The birthplace of Leonardo was Vinci, a small village not very distant from the Italian city of Florence.

The life of Leonardo da Vinci.

Leonardo was born in Vinci on 15 April 1452. He spent a great part of his childhood in the countryside surrounding this village and Bacchereto, another village located on the eastern slope of the mount ‘Montalbano’. In Florence he became a pupil of Andrea del Verrocchio, attending his workshop. He left it in 1478, when he was 25 years old, and began a brilliant career, expressing his genius as a scientist and artist at the service of some of the most powerful people of the time, such as Ludovico Sforza (in Milan) and Cesare Borgia (in Cesena). His creativity knew no bounds, providing his clients with sculptures, paintings, architectural projects, engineering studies and, more in general, masterworks that still today have no equal. In 1515 he moved to France, employed by King Francis I. He died at Clos Lucé on May 2, 1519, at the age of 67.

Wine is good, that’s why water is left over ... (Leonardo da Vinci) (crt-01)

(Leonardo da Vinci)

Music for Leonardo.

A brief selection of Renaissance music to accompany this article.

Nota: join Spotify and listen to the full song.

Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings paid … with wine.

It’s interesting to find out that a genius like Leonardo received wine as payment for one of his works. This exactly what happened on September 1481, when he received “uno barile di vino vermiglio” (“a barrel of vermillion wine”) for his painting ‘Adoration of the Magi’, originally intended for the altar of the Convent of San Donato.

Leonardo and food.

Leonardo’s diet during his childhood and adolescence was based on the typical products of the countryside around Vinci and Montalbano: bread, oil, salad, vegetables, cheeses, cold cuts, meat, eggs and fruit. The same types of food were part of his shopping list when he lived in Milan. There is no evidence that he was a vegetarian, contrary to what is sometimes claimed.

Leonardo da Vinci inventions: the barrique.

In the Codex Atlanticus by Leonardo there is a sketch representing a small barrel: it’s perhaps the first barrique in history.

Leonardo’s grapes.

In his writings, Leonardo explicitly mentions only 3 types of Italian grapes: Passerina, Malvagia (Malvasia) and Moscado. They are cultivated still today.

Leonardo and Luca Maroni.

As already mentioned, this article is intended as an introduction to the writings by Luca Maroni in which he explains the connection between Leonardo da Vinci and the world of wine. Here follow the links to purchase his books.


Click here.

The following images are public domain:

img-01 (*) – Leonardo da Vinci, self-portrait, 1510/1515 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-02 (*) – Leonardo da Vinci, the flying machine, 1488ca (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-03 (*) – Battle of Anghiari, detain, Leonardo da Vinci, 1504/1505 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-04 (*) – Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci, 1492 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-05 (*) – Portrait of Leonardo, Francesco Melzi, 1515/1517 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-06 (*) – ‘Adoration of the Magi’, Leonardo da Vinci, 1480/1482 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}

cc-01 – Leonardo da Vinci Great Kite. Image owner: Edoardo Zanon (Wikipedia Link)

The following images are published courtesy of:

crt-01 – Images tfrom the book ‘Leonardo da Vinci and wine’ by Luca Maroni and published courtesy of the author.

Header images:

(*) – The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}

(*) The copyright of this image has expired.
(**) Image released in public domain by its author.
NOTE: This article is an introduction to the book ‘Leonardo da Vinci and wine’ by Luca Maroni. Some of the texts are taken from the book itself, with the authorisation of the author.