Today, as in the past, the economy of Valpolicella is essentially based on primary production, especially wine. Until about 30 to 40 years ago, agriculture was regarded a subsistence level, with mixed cultivation of a range of crops required to feed the family (corn and even fruit trees were planted between rows of vines). Today viticulture dominates; though in some areas olives are being replanted.
The tradition of wine in Valpolicella is very old, but in 1968 regulations set out the boundaries of production and these did not coincide with historical geography: the production area of Valpolicella DOC wines included the towns of historic Valpolicella (with the exception St. Anne d'Alfaedo, Pescantina Parona and Volargne) as well as those of Valpantena of Illasi Valley, Valley Mezzane and Valtramigna. The term "Classico" identified the historic area rather than the extended zone.
This is an extensive area with varied characters that, along with local grapes and winemaking traditions, makes Valpolicella’s wines truly unique.
The oldest records of grape growing in Valpolicella date from the fifth century BC, as evidenced by remnants of both wild and vinifera grapevines found during archaeological excavations at Archi di Castelrotto, near San Pietro in Cariano. Recent studies have also shown that the family of grapevines including Dindarella, Pelara, Quaiara, Rondinella and Oseleta most likely arose from direct domestication of wild vines.
One of the most important characteristics of Veronese winemaking is in fact the role of indigenous grape varieties, something already mentioned by Pliny. In Roman times the climate and soils of Valpolicella were not very different from today and suited the cultivation of vines, olives, fruit trees and some cereals. There was clear evidence for the existence of significant vineyards, sufficient to support favorable export opportunities in Rome and the Alpine countries especially during the transition from republican times to the imperial rule. The tradition of Veronese wine continued, with evidence in a speech by San Zeno (bishop of Verona in the second half of the fourth century AD), but the most notable testimony is that of Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator and the Praetorian Prefect of the court of Theodoric (king of Italy from 493 to 526), who in a letter called for Acinaticium wine (or Acinaticum) to be selected for the royal stores. The author praises not only color, purity and sweetness, but also describes the method of production which, in essence, is the same used to make Recioto today.
With the dissolution of the Roman Empire, barbarian invasions followed, creating barren wastelands. In the Middle Ages, monasteries became the keepers of ancient farming techniques and thanks to them, marshes were drained, land ploughed and vine growing was reintroduced. In Verona’s archives there are documents proving the existence of vine cultivation in Valpolicella since the eighth century but for Negrar, most important is the "stone inscription" of 1166, a long inscription in Latin, carved on the facade of the south tower of the church of San Martino, and showing a series of deeds entered into between the archpriest of the parish and the heirs of a vassal of the bishop's church canons.
During the Venetian rule (from 1400 to 1700) villas multiplied in Valpolicella, whose presence changed the structure of agricultural land, expanding the market for local wines well beyond the confines of Verona.
In several studies concerning Veronese wines, most notably by Scipione Maffei with his treatise “ Verona Illustrata” (1732), which details the reputation of the” Vite Retiche” enjoyed by the Romans; he also was the first to translate from Latin the letter from Cassiodorus. He was known to strongly criticize the prevailing fashion to serve sweet wines during meals.
The 1800s represented the greatest century of development for the agricultural sciences; and in this Verona had a leading role: milestones were achieved in applied chemistry and soil science, which stressed the importance of the link between plant and soil in determining the quality of production. Despite the warnings of experts, the peasants continued to follow their fathers’ ideas leaving the agricultural landscape stuck in tradition with shoots trained from parent vines and multiple varieties cultivated without any selection. Examples did exist of the opposite approach where wines made with due care were considered luxury items and enjoyed exclusive niche markets.
However the problem remained in the preservation of wine, being the main obstacle toward the conquest of new markets overseas. Most of the wines were sold in central and northern Italy, especially in Lombardy, where “Recioto” was much appreciated ', having appeared for the first time in 1888.
The 1900s opened with the terrible Phylloxera infestation that spread throughout almost all the vineyards of Valpolicella, reaching its peak in the 1930s. Once past this crisis, there was a moderate development of "fine wines", due to improved winemaking techniques and the development of wineries, including the Cantina Sociale di Negrar.
Since then, Valpolicella has seen the birth and development of the world famous Amarone, followed by Ripasso. Finally: four new sets of strict regulations dealing with production of wines from the Valpolicella Region, shows the intention of both protecting and enhancing the quality of every bottle destined for markets around the world.