Snapshot Of Northern Italian History

Let me start with “before” and “after” shots from the Prosecco production area of northern Italy, to provide a little context for the commercial transition between silk worms (”before”) and Prosecco (”after”) in this particular part of the Veneto region.

There were in fact four silk worm factories in Valdobbiadene at the time. In the early twentieth century, silk production was an important driver of the economy and of a shift toward less-traditional gender roles: women, as we’ll see in a moment, were the primary workers in the factory and, sometimes for the first time in their lives, they earned a salary and spent time outside of the home.

The smallest of those silk (”spinning mill”) factories was located in the Parco della Filandetta, owned today by the Bortolomiol family of Prosecco producers within the high-quality Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG. Bortolomiol renovated the Filandetta property significantly, and prepared it for an influx of wine tourists inspired by the area’s über-popular sparkling wine. The image below shows the “after” photo of the Nuova Sala in 2020.

Bortolomiol uses the enticing term “industrial archaeology” to describe the restoration of the historic silk mill, and it’s easy to see how the narrative of that evolution is a unique entry point that engages visitors and tasters at the property.

There’s one other image, however, that drew my attention and my fingers to the “zoom in” function on my computer. Consider this historic photograph inside the walls, so to speak, of the factory at Parco della Filandetta.

Notice the patterns and repetitions, from the light fixtures hanging from the ceiling to the spinning machines on the tables, from the horizontal mullions on the windows to the horizontal rails on the workers’ chairs, from the women’s long dark hair pulled back into a bun to the smock or apron that many of the women wear. Notice also that most of the workers are young. Though they aren’t pictured here, some girls as young as nine years old were employed and valued for the dexterity and size of their little hands.

“Reeling” is considered to be one of the most important operations in silk spinning. It consists of pulling a continuous thread of a silk from the worms’ cocoons; workers maintained a consistent thickness by combining several filaments (or very delicate threads) that are not strong enough to be used individually. A single cocoon can produce up to 1500 meters of thread. Reeling was an artisanal practice until it was mechanized, and the demand for manual labor of this sort became obsolete.

Which brings us closer to today, or the “after” use of this compelling piece of northern Italian commercial history and industrial archaeology.

It isn’t a great leap of the imagination — with the help of these photographs and some further context — to see yourself in the same room as those women working on the factory floor. For in-person visitors, and also for guests far away who open Bortolomiol Prosecco bottles, it’s an enticing narrative thread that weaves together “before” and “after” at many different levels.