Laurel Hanson ’23: Book VIII, Chapter XXIV (Of the wild vines on this island of Hispaniola, and other islands and the Mainland)

Book VIII, Chapter XXIV

Of the wild vines on this island of Hispaniola, and other islands and the Mainland.

Translated by Laurel Hanson ’23

Where the trees and plants that were brought from Spain were discussed, I said that there were many vines in this city of Santo Domingo and that they bore good grapes; and this is true, as they are found on the estates and in the many regions and towns of this island, the shoots of which were brought from Castile. Furthermore, I tell you, on this and other islands in this gulf, as well as on the Mainland, there are many wild vines, from which I have eaten many times, that bear good red grapes (that is, good for being wild grapes). It is common to see these vines in the Indies, and so I believe that all grapes originated from such vines, wherever they may grow, and that they are a common plant around the world, and this should not be doubted. Nature provided this plant to this place, so it is to be believed that the ground is suitable for them and that they would be very good if the expertise of men helped them along and if our farmers understood what was needed to cultivate them according to the climates and regions that are found here.Here, they do not take root like they do in Castile, in the kingdom of Toledo, but rather cling to the trees and climb up high, and I think they would be very well suited to the way in which, in the country estates of Italy, in the kingdom of Naples, they attach Greek vines and their arbors to willows and other trees. I have seen these vine arbors or vineyards on groves even in Barcelona and Catalonia. And in Campania (which is now considered arable land, in the kingdom of Naples), there are very good vines and grapes of these type of vine arbors near that city, like those of Aversa, Capua, Sorrento, Somma, and many other parts of that kingdom, and in Lombardy and other parts of Italy. I mean to say that these raised vineyards would do well here with the native plants or vines, provided they are tended by people well-versed in their production, because here in the Indies I have seen the trunk of one of these vines be as thick or thicker than the arm of a sturdy man, and I have no doubt, nor do I cease to believe, that where nature, through its craft, has produced these similar things, that they could be made better with the help of man, through irrigation and other feats that men achieve using the secrets of agriculture, such as grafting, pruning, manuring, digging and watering at the right times, and many other things than could be said, in accordance with the doctrine of Crescentino[1] and Columella[2], who discussed this topic at length, as well as Theophrastus in his Enquiry into Plants,[3] and even Virgil in his Georgics[4] and Pliny in his Natural History,[5] and many other serious authors. And without a doubt the blame for there not being any good vineyards here lies not in the plant, nor in the ground, but in the human labor, and the laziness of man, for we saw on this island of Hispaniola that the admiral Don Diego Columbus had a vineyard, from which baskets or bushels of grapes were produced, and he was well-set-up with earnings, but when he went to Spain, either by the neglect of his servants, or because the owner was not there, it was lost. And before the admiral (on the island of Jamaica), there was another vineyard owned by a nobleman named Antonio de Burguillos, and he went to such great lengths with it that it yielded two or three barrels of good wine every year or two. The farmer became tired and the vineyard too, and they both were lost: he by neglecting other more certain and fortunate earnings in order to tend to this one, and the vineyard because it was not tended to. A short time ago, in the market of this city, many pounds of exceedingly good grapes were sold, for two silver reales (which is eighty-eight maravedís) per pound. And I say many because it was something new, and in an hour or two they made nine or ten gold pesos from the price of these grapes, and they would have sold many more, if there had been more. These were ingeniously brought from Nigua, from the secretary Diego Caballero de la Rosa, whose labor has been deployed to build a large and pleasant vineyard on his estate, and there is hope that this will be tended to better each day. And, in truth, the secretary and all those who work on these things, are laudable and worthy of royal favor, as well as good settlers. It would be no small benefit to this city and this whole island for that estate to flourish and persist because one of the things that is most needed here (and that is a continuous expense) is wine, and it is a miracle if the cost of an arroba is below a gold peso, which is four hundred and fifty maravedís. We will move onto other matters and leave the wine to these innkeepers, who earn more through it than the Florentine merchants with their brocades or golden fabrics.

[1] Crescentino, Book IV.

[2] Columella, Book III, Chapter 2.

[3] Theophrastus, Book II.

[4] Georg, Book II

[5] Pliny, Book XVII.

Image retrieved from John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.