This is turning into the vendemmia from hell for many of our neighbours. For starters, the grapes are not great: they are a bit unripe & the rain in August has given a good dose of mold! But that is nothing in comparison to the raids that are currently taking place in vineyards all over Friuli. Traditionally, the harvest sees lots of students & pensioners helping out. Some are paid, some, especially the pensioners, just help out for the pleasure. But Italian law doesn’t allow anyone to harvest who does not have a contract of employment registered with the department of labour (because this puts an obligation on the farmer - employer - to pay the tax & social security contributions). Currently - as in right now during these days - the vineyards around us are being raided by teams of Labour Department Inspectors, Carabinieri & Guardie di Finanza (yes, them again!). In some places helicopters are being used.
Many harvesters without contracts have been apprehended & the farmer given 24 hours to employ the person or face an instant fine of €3,000.00 per person. But those pensioners who aren’t paid - & who don’t want to be employed - are landing the famer with a €3,000 fine - one of our neighbours has been fined €30,000 (yes, thirty thousand Euros) & he is only a small family operation little bigger than us!
This evening it started raining so it’ll be a few days before we start harvesting again - I’ll let you know how our raid goes!
This is waiting time. We have decided to begin harvesting the Chardonnay & Sauvignon grapes on Friday & have notified the people who help us harvest (surprisingly enough, the same people that help with the kitchen - Rina - do the cleaning - Maritza - cut the lawns - Luca’s nephew Maxi) & Luca’s mum who will do the harvesters lunch (well worth experiencing!). The weather is pretty crap. Emilio our enologist wants to keep the grapes on the vines as long as possible to give them a chance to ripen more. We, of course are afraid that the weather will move against us & we will lose the grapes.
Anyway, to fill in time, today I gave our Arga (actually it’s not an Arga but it’s more or less the italian equivalent) a strip-down & clean & cleaned the tubes & chimney. If the weather gets too cold we could find problems getting the wine to begin fermenting so we use the stove to heat the radiators in the canteen plus the hot water that we drip over the stainless steel vats if the grapes have arived from the vineyard properly chilled. Soot goes everywhere so cleaning the chimney & stove takes only half the time - cleaning behind the chimney & the kitchen takes the rest!
We are in a bit of a quandry with this year’s harvest. In a perfect year the grapes mature steadily, the evenings are cool, the days progressively warmer until in August & early September the peak of the summer heat brings them to the maximum of maturity & ready to be harvested. But this year it was extremely hot in June & early-mid July - too hot too early - & then the temperatures dropped-off in late July / August with an increase in humidity that did the grapes no good at all. Normally we begin harvesting the white grapes on the 15th September, like clockwork, but here we are, 20 September, & so far only the Chardonnay & Sauvignon are mature enough to harvest. The rest of the grape varieties are not ready which would not be a problem if we foresaw a warm, sunny & dry autumn but so far the weather is changeable & cool.
The quandry is this: pick the grapes when they are still raw & you will at least have wine but of an unimpressive quality. Wait for the grapes to mature & they may not mature because the weather turns in which case you won’t have wine, mature or not, because the grapes will have rotted. Alternatively wait for the grapes to mature & be lucky enough that some of them mature (but others which go rotten will need to be thrown away) in which case, if you are very lucky, you will have some wine of a reasonable quality.
The joys of living subject to nature, as it was once upon a time!
What a great Sunday .... no breakfasts to prepare .... went for my morning coffee & croisant in a local bar, at 11.00 a.m. went to Udine where, as a part of Friuli DOC, our architects, Maria Grazia & Paola were presenting a book they had prepared on the Agriturismi & Malghe in Carnia (Carnia is the mountainous part of Friuli which is largely uninhabited & which, as the remaining agriculture disappears, is reverting to an almost savage state / Malghe are the high altitude stalls where the mountain farmers would take their cows in the summer to graze. There, they would make cheese from the cows’ milk. The regional government is trying, with some success, to keep the tradition alive even though Mountain Agriculture is completely & utterly uneconomic). After the presentation at which every person possibly involved in the preparation of the book made a speech we were off to Luca’s parents to celebrate his mum’s 70th birthday. It was a great lunch, good food, nice company. As was usual one upon a time, Luca’s mum prepared a great feast which was enjoyed with fine wine. I think that we are very lucky to experience this kind of event because it is dying out now in Italy - it is more common for people in the towns to go to a restaurant to celebrate birthdays & special occasions. I’m not even sure how many city dwellers under 45 would know how to cook traditional Italian food as does Luca’s mum.
Another day preparing the canteen for the wine-making, washing & sterilising the equipment. Such a heavy job & I must be careful not to do my back in.
Today has turned out quite sad. It started out well enough. I had to take Luca’s parents dog - the sister of Barty & Spotty, "daughter" of Minnie - to the vet as she had lost weight & seemed to have laboured breathing. So I got up early, stopped off at a local bar for cuppucino & croisant, got to Lucas’ parents, had another coffee, read the paper, loaded the dog in the van & with Luca’s father went to the veterinary practice. I generally go along because the dog - Daisy - has not been so well trained & tends to be a bit ferocious at the vets. The examination seemd to go well enough - lots of questions, blood test, temperature taken etc but nothing to particularly indicate something serious was wrong. Finally, Daisy was x-rayed. Then x-rayed again because the vet said that the image had been distorted by her forced breathing. I waited with luca’s father & the dog for a couple of minutes. Suddenly the vet appeared at a doorway accross the hall with a serious face. "Can you please come here" he said. "It’s very serious" We lifted the dog down from the table of the x-ray machine & followed the vet into the consulting room. The x-ray was clipped to a light box on the wall. "I’m afraid that there is nothing that we can do" he said. "She can die at any moment". I looked at the x-ray. The first time in my life that I had seen a real x-ray apart from those that the dentist used to do of my teeth when I was a kid. But TV prepares us for these things & so I studdied the picture. "Look here" said the vet indicating the thorax. "This whole area is opaque because blood is seeping out into the cavity between the heart & the tissue that contains it. There is probably a tumour at the base of the heart that we cannot see". And it was true. The thorax of poor Daisy was just x-ray fog, the blood absorbing the rays.
It was strange. On the one hand you find yourself in a scene you have seen on TV or perhaps immagine in your worst nightmares - being told that a disease is terminal & death is inevitable & near. That is pretty bad & so you are extremely sad, extremely sad that this dog you love is at the end. On the other hand, some little part of you is relieved that the scene is playing out over a dog & not a person!
Luca’s father was pretty shocked. Daisy is his constant companion when he is working in the garden or taking the sun outside. When we left I saw that the vet had tears in his eyes & it touched me that he could feel so even though he must have seen this a thousand times.
Today was an ordinary working day on the farm - it’s only that we haven’t had one of these since the season started for the Agriturismo! I worked all day preparing & cleaning the canteen in immediate anticipation of the harvest. The painters had been in over the summer painting the room for barrique-ing the wine & the bottling room. It was a dusty job putting things to rights & I guess that it will take a couple more days before the canteen can be used to make wine.
It was amazing to finish work at 6.00 p.m. & come in to prepare dinner for the two of us to find the kitchen empty, all shining stainless steel & everything in its place. During the summer I spent so many hours in there - cooking dinner was the key element of my day - that to find it so still & unused was uncanny. Uncanny but not unnerving. It is wonderful to have La Faula so peaceful & have it as our home again. There are, of course, guests in the apartments but they seem more like jolly neighbours who we greet occasionally during the day as we all go about our business.
Just as that long awaited day - end of term - arrives for the student so it is that the last evening meal of the season arrives, is served & cleaned away. That's it for this year!