Set inside the Zeni Winery, the Wine Museum is located in the panoramic Costabella area in Bardolino, on the slopes of the hill that stretches out toward the homonymous town overlooking Lake Garda. Since 1991 the museum, conceived and realized by the owner Gaetano Zeni, was meant to offer evidence of the ancient winemaking culture the Zeni family is committed to for generations. The museum also aims to take visitors on a fascinating journey around the world of wine while learning about its history. The museum is divided into thematic areas, each dedicated to a different stage of the long and complex wine production process, from the growing of the vine to the harvest, from the grape processing to the bottling phase.
This first area is dedicated to the growing of the vine, or viticulture. On the walls are displayed the many systems for training vines, namely the double-arched cane, the spur-pruned, the arbor, the double guyot and the simple guyot systems. Although these grape training systems are widely used still today, the last few years have seen a general tendency toward the abandoning of the arbor system in favour of the guyot.
This area displays examples of pumps and spraying devices for sulphur- and copper-based products traditionally used for the treatment of the vine plants. The exposition also includes examples of ploughs, among the most important tools of all time that have most impacted human civilization: by using the plough farmers first started to till the soil to a certain depth, thus obtaining more abundant harvests.
Those on display in this area are animal traction ploughs. A demonstrative panel shows old and new vine grafting systems on American “hybrid” rootstocks. The European vine belongs, in fact, to the species vitis vinifera, the most important one among all the world vine varieties.
In the late nineteenth century most of European vineyards were wiped out by phylloxera, an aphid attacking the roots of the grape vine. Phylloxera was eventually eradicated by grafting vitis vinifera vines to resistant native American rootstocks.
The second sector of the museum is dedicated to the operations concerning the processing of grapes into wine. Among all the fundamental tools for grape processing there is a weighing device used until the last century for the manual weighing of the baskets of harvested grapes.
This area houses also two typologies of old grape presses: a mechanical press of the early ‘900 and a classic manual press of the middle age. This latter type is made up of a so-called mostarola, a press tray where the harvested grape bunches were conveyed to before being crushed with bare feet, as according to the old tradition. On display are also two old carts used for transporting the grape and a rudimental device for grape raisining, locally named peagnà, on which were laid out the grapes selected for undergoing the drying process that precedes the making of the renowned Amarone and Recioto della Valpolicella wines.
Displayed along the museum route are also some ancient winemaker’s tools: wooden funnels, wooden buckets of different sizes and panniers for transporting both must and wine. All these tools are identified in the vernacular speech of the Bardolino peasants with names that remind one of an ancient rite: èl foladòr, èl sganfiò, la tramòsa, la lèca, èl brèntel.
The processing of grape, from harvest to crushing, anticipates the range of cellaring operations that end with the making of wine as finished product.
In this area are displayed examples of winery equipment used during the cellaring operations. The first part of this sector houses an old winepress and a few carts once used for transporting wine by means of barrels.
The following section of this area houses some examples of oenological pumps, some dating back to the early ‘900 together with other more recent ones, originally used for racking wine from one barrel to the other in order to improve the wine’s limpidity.
Also on display, as symbol of the final stage of the winemaking operations, are fine examples of corking machines, some dating back to the Middle Age and fully made of wood, the others, the more recent ones, having also iron components.
By keeping on walking along the museum route visitors enter an area completely dedicated to the cooper's tools. A cooper is a skilled artisan who makes wooden containers of different dimensions, among which barrels.
Cooperage, once a widely diffused job, is considered today an art very few people devote themselves to. The making of a barrel requires the use of metal hoops of decreasing diameter and wooden staves (that are slightly) wider in the middle and narrower near their ends.
The staves, assembled inside a metal hoop that creates a solid hold, are gradually curved by placing the partially constructed barrel over a small wood fire. Once given the shape to the body of the barrel, the staves are compressed together by iron hoops.
The barrel is completed by assembling the barrel heads. The ancient cooper's tools are on display on a seventeenth century worktable. The exposition includes iron hatchets and ripsaws for listing (roughly shaping) the staves, jointer planes, augers of different sizes, marking gauges for marking the staves' grooves, hand drills for cutting grooves in the barrel, a mallet for putting in place the metal hoops and a special tool (resinatore) used for shaping the head of the barrels so that they could fit into a groove cut into the inside edge of the staves.
The fifth area of the museum houses an exposition of tools and objects that remind us of the origins of the ancient art of winemaking.
On display in the foreground is a wine press unit that dates back to the XV century. Wine pressing is the stage that follows grape crushing, the operation of breaking the grape skins. In the past this operation was performed as follows: the winepress was filled with the skins removed from the fermentation vat. The skins were then pressed until reaching 1/3 of their initial volume.
The skins could be pressed several times, thus determining a wine of lower quality, yet agreeable enough for domestic consumption. The one on display in this area is a vertical screw press made up of a wooden cylindrical basket containing the skins just removed from the vat.