The vineyards standing below the bastions
In Exilles, grape vine growing has typical mountain viticulture characteristics. Based on the data collected(*1) the lowest vineyards are at an altitude of 720 m above sea level while the highest grow just below 1200m. (1180 m); in the past numerous vineyards grew above 1000m. Despite the unfavourable climate conditions, Exilles vineyards satisfied the wine requirement of the village and its surroundings, and there was even some excess production being sold. One of the most important destinations for the wine was the Fort with its garrisons and workers occupied in the long construction works lasting for years and years and then in the reconstruction works.
Exilles is of Celtic origin and its geographic location has always been considered of strategic importance from a military point of view. The initial fortification dates back to 1155 when the conti d’Albon (Earls of Albon) had control over the road to Monginevro. The Fort was totally destroyed at the hands of the French, following the Treaty of Paris in 1796. It was then reconstructed between 1818 and 1829 in its present architecture, similar to that of the 18th century but with 19th century military technology.
The Fort maintained a sizeable population even after the acquisition by the Savoy family, since it hosted the military warehouses and the Exilles battalion, 3rd Alpine Regiment. In the second half of the 19th century there were four wineries, and authors refer of trading with the Fort, and not only that. In a number of spots there was what one may call “mountaineering” viticulture, with terraces derived out of steep, stony, rocky slopes, supported by high dry stone walls with a single row of grapevines leaning onto the stone wall above, or plants growing on small ledges. Here is a quotation from Casalis:
<<In the lower sites one finds chestnut trees, walnut trees and apple trees. The sides of the mountain are covered with neatly aligned grapevines planted on man-made terraces supported by stones placed one on top of the other without any cement.[…] In 1526 the inhabitants of Gels resorted to the help […] in order to collect the waters flowing from the glaciers in the Savoy mountains to allow these wretched inhabitants of the Alps to water their crops. >>.(*2)
(*¹) “M. Di Maio “Avënā, Biquèt, Nibiò, Müscat… Vigne, vendemmie e vini nell’Alta Valle della Dora Riparia” Valados Usitanos(*²) “Dizionario geografico storico-statistico-commerciale degli Stati di S.M. il Re di Sardegna compiled by Professor Goffredo Casalis” Volume 6