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Hordes of Feral Hogs Are Tearing Up Italy's Most Prized Vineyards

Wild pigs are gluttons for Italy's grapes and sprouts, and so are deer. The two species are doing between US$11 million and $16 million in damage every year in Italy’s iconic Chianti region.

by Wyatt Marshall
Mar 9 2016, 4:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Adrian Korte

The Tuscan hills roll easily, with vineyards and estates dotting a golden landscape that emulates a pastoral vision of heaven. But there's trouble brewing in the scenic European region: Wild hogs are tearing shit up in Chianti, and Italians are up in arms about how to deal with them.

Wild boars and deer are sweeping across Tuscany in an invasion the likes of which the land of Romulus and Remus hasn't seen since Hannibal led his Carthaginian hordes over the Alps on the backs of his fearsome war elephants. While the pigs couldn't care much about the Tuscan view, according to the New York Times they're there for one of the other reasons foreigners flock en masse to Northern Italy. No, they haven't seen Under the Tuscan Sun—these feral hogs are there for the vineyards.

The wild pigs are gluttons for grapes and vine sprouts, as are local deer. Between what they both consume, and the pigs' rutting around, the two species are doing between US$11 million and $16 million in damage every year in Italy's iconic Chianti region. (They're also causing hundreds of car accidents.)

Vineyards are putting up fences to keep the pigs out, which is proving to be controversial since they mar the view that so many tourists flock to see. Paolo De Marchi, a vineyard owner who makes the revered Chianti Classico Isole e Olena, told the Times that he spent $110,000 to hide his fences behind fancy laurus and evergreen bushes.

And while expensive and perhaps ugly fences are effective, those who would leave their land unprotected do so at their own peril. Francesco Ricasoli, owner of the Barone Ricasoli vineyard and descendant of an Italian prime minister who invented the modern Chianti-making process, has fenced in his vines. But as for his fields, they "are prey to recurrent incursions [by wild boars and roe deer] and have holes that look like Ho Chi Minh trails."

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Tuscany has enacted a law to cut the wild boar and deer population from 400,000 animals to 150,000 in the next three years (which means hunters will be eating a lot of wild pig and venison in the years to come).

But in classic Italian fashion, the hunting laws, which require hunters to shoot only animals of a certain gender and specific age and to follow other regulations, have proven controversial. Hunters have found those aspects of the laws a burden, and some claim that hunters have been putting food out for the boars and deer to draw them into the open fields and away from the forests where they rest. To do so is illegal, and has ticked off people in the wine business. In another twist, as reported by the Guardian, hunters were against the law in the first place, as they didn't want any reduction in the currently robust population levels.

Vineyards, meanwhile, are turning to novel methods to keep the invaders at bay and the landscape intact. Some have installed machines that make high-frequency noises (inaudible to the human ear) to scare the animals away, and others have set up gas-powered cannons.

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Hopefully, the Tuscans will figure it all out soon, because there are legions of The English Patient fans out there who wouldn't be pleased by a feral hog disrupting their aperitivo. But it should all work out—Chianti goes pretty well with cinghiale and venison.

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