The photo below is of the steering committee of the Picolit producers of Povoletto. To the far left, of course, is me. Next is Mauro, a businessman who keeps a very large vineyard on the hill next to us & who is currently constructing a very large wine-canteen. Then there is Giorgio, our neighbour who has the other Agriturismo in the village. He is followed by Massimo the local Marquess & Marco, a real down-to-earth wine producer who has no truck with "initiatives" & such-like!
The background is that Picolit is a sweet grape variety that produces desert wine. It is found only in the very small corner of the world around Ravosa having emerged in the distant past from some other local grape variety. Soon, the wine will be covered by the Italian DOCG - Dominazione di Origine Controllata e Guarantita - effectively a guarantee that the wine is that of the grape of the specified locality & made according to certain parameters. I should say at this point that we removed all our Picolit, being convinced that sweet wines containing both alcohol & elevated sugar levels are inimical to good health & are not something that we should be producing. I am on the steering committee because we have a web-site that our neighbours like & so (in theory at least) I am able to give some technical advice.
The DOCG guarantee, which is something decreed into law by the government (obviously, this being Italy), comes at a time when the wine industry in Italy is being pushed into crisis by increasing costs, overwhelmingly costly regulation & brutal competition, especially from the New World (being from New Zealand I’m cheering for the New World team - but don’t tell anyone!). The local Picolit producers wanted to undertake an initiative to assist market - & more importantly sell - the picolit at a price that will give a return of the investment. (to be continued)
The work to remake the old vineyard started on Wednesday. Today, we already had a visit from the Vineyards Inspector working for the Regional Authority to check that we had removed all of the old plants. He is an amiable chap but an Inspector's job is to inspect so you can immagine his horror when he found around 400 plants that instead of being immediately ripped out by the roots had been decapitated (the productive head of the vine plant is where all the gape production originates). We had effectively destroyed the plants doing this with the intention of removing them a bit later when the proper machinery was mounted on the tractor. But the plants - or at least their trunks - were still there in plain view. We were in breach of our obligation to extirpate the old plants! But he was nice to us. If we get rid of those plants straight away & call him, he'll come back & our little illegality will be overlooked.
What a mad-house this country is!
I haven’t written much in the diary recently partley because a picture is worth a thousand words, so "they" say, so I leave it to the "Photo of the Day" to speak for La Faula & partly because there isn’t much to report; our winter days are serene & without incident as we work away in the vineyard.
Today, However, something happened which really gave me food for thought. This morning we received a call from some-one we know who asked if we could go to their offices in the afternoon for a meeting. As is common in Italy, nothing is mentioned over the telephone because by now it is widely assumed that no telephone calls are secure or private (just ask Fazio, the now ex-governor of the bank of Italy). Somewhat mystified we arrived at the rather nice modern office of the small professional firm & were taken into the meeting room. There we had it explained to us that last year this firm was subject to a review by the Guardia di Finanza (the Revenue Police) who, on the basis of the size & style of the office, the number of computers, type of coffee machine etc., assessed the real income of the practice as considerably higher than that in the tax accounts & delivered a swinging tax bill. We were too polite to enquire if there was also a fine. The problem was that the economic down-turn had left the practice with much less work & the tax accounts reflected the true position of the company. There were no "black" profits to cover the tax bill & the practice went further into debt to pay-up. This year the economy really seems to be sinking into the swamp & the partners were thinking of anything they could do to assist, even save, themselves, so they made us a proposal involving a rather specialised tourist offering.
I don’t want to write about the tourist offering but it is striking that a firm of able & intelligent professionals should find themselves in such desperate straights due to, what is effectively, extortion by the State authorities. I need to mention here that this situation is becoming very common. The tax authorities are applying what is called "Sector Studies". In the case of our plumber they looked at his three employees, the size of his workshop, the size of his house & his yacht & assessed his income as significantly more than his tax accounts indicated. One of our neighbours had his income calculated on the basis of the number of wood-cutting saws & chain saws the Guardia found - he had to borrow from the bank to pay the tax. The guy who is re-making a bathroom in the house seeing that his income was going to be below the minimum specfied by the Sector Studies, one year wound-up his firm before the end of the year & the following year took advantage of a tax amnesty to declare & pay tax on income he never earned. And so the list goes on. Effectively, all small businesses in Italy are deemed not only to make a profit but they are all deemed to make at least the same minimum profit. This is of course absurd, especially in a declining economy. The top effective marginal rate of tax under this system must sometimes be more than 100%!
Apart from the fact the these events are distressing for those involved, the amazing thing is that the Government is destroying the Italian economy. There is currenty occuring a massive transfer of value from the private sector (especially the small sector) to the State sector. A State sector that is notoriously inefficient & corrupt. This is pretty much the same as what communism did in Russia - it destroyed value & the Italian government is destroying the value produced by small Italian firms.
Of course, this cannot last. I just cannot help but believe that something incredibly bad is in store for Italy.
Today, the excavator arrived to begin remaking a Vineyard of Figars on the hill behind the house. The vineyard was called "figars" which means "of the fig trees" because of the fig trees which we planted on the ends of the lines of vine plants. In between thre vine plants we planted apple trees. This vineyard was planted around the turn of the last century by the original sharecroppers who lived at La Faula & the vineyard with its grapes & figs & apples must have been a wonderful bounty in times when food was generally short & hunger common.
Keeping the vineyard had become untenable because it was not terraced & so had to be maintained wholly by hand as the slope was to steep to permit entry by the tractor. Plus over the years, as the original vine plants had died they had been replaced by every other conceivable white grape variety, often with different maturations so harvesting was a logistical nightmare. The old sharecroppers had, however, chosen well & as it is probably the best location in La Faula for a vineyard we decided to remake it in it’s original location but this time with terraces. We would prefer not to have to undertake this work immediately, but under EU rules we have a limited period of time to replant a vineyard that has been taken out of production or we lose the right to replant it (vineyards are under quota in the EU). That time runs out during this year.
I think sometimes, that you really have to be mad to set-up your own small business! Doing everything for the first time - & hoping to prevail, even succeed in your activity - is heroism of the first degree. In the spring when the canteen - & the wine in it - warm up to 20°C we will bottle our wine for the first time. What a nightmare to get the right equipment, make sure it is appropriate & works together, recover when some peices get taken back to the supplier but then their is no record!!!!
After this we have a small piece of new vineyard to create on the hill (in place of the original vineyard from the 1920's which was not terraced & therefore unable to be managed by machine) & the swimming pool & - if we survive all that - that will be it - absolutley & utterly enough. I've only just turned 46 & I'm already looking forward to retiring!
Tonight I went to a meeting at the other Agriturismo in the village. It belongs to Giorgio Clocchiati & his wife Miriam & we were there to discuss the idea of setting up a Club for connoisseurs for Piccolit, a wine made from a variety of grape found only in the hills of Ravosa & the neighbouring village of Savorgnano. Luca & I have removed all of our piccolit plants as we had too few to have an economically viable amount of wine plus we weren’t convinced about the staying power of sweet wines (too many health draw-backs, diabetes & all that). So I was there to talk about our experience of using a web-site to give our activity visibility.
As this was a kind of steering meeting there we only two others apart from Giorgio & myself. There was the local Marquess who lives in a real dinkum villa as from an Italian film. As we were talking I watched his hands & I realised, with a start, that he had the broad, strong, worn & callussed hands of a farmer. I realised that although he lives in a grand villa he must be out their keeping the lands together by working them! There was another person who I took to be a professional of some kind who, I assumed, must have some vineyard locally, probably inherited from his father. As we left, I saw his Mercedes S-class coupé so I snuck back in & asked Giorgio who this character was. It turned out that he is the owner of an enormous holding on the hill next to us. His vineyard is currently in a phase of strong expansion & he is building a mega wine-canteen. So there we were, the market the great leveler of us all. The marquess who works his own lands (although, obviously not alone, who seems happy for it), the industrialist who is plowing money into his vineyard (I did tell him about the up-coming competition from New Zealand!), Giorgio & myself (two small producers with nothing remarkable of note).
Tonight at 7.00 p.m. there was still that faint glow in the west permitted by a clear night after sunset. The days are lengthening quickly - winter will soon be over!
Some-one wrote to ask if it snows frequently at La Faula. The answer is no. These days are more typical - cold & clear with warm periods.
During these winter months the Agriturismo is effectively closed & we work in the canteen & outside in the vineyard & more generally on the farm. When the high pressure weather system settles over us, the days are most wonderful & one feels blessed to be out & free to enjoy them. During the summer I rarely get up to the hill on the farm so I enjoy every moment when I am pruning the vines up on the high terraces. Un fortunately (well, fortunately really) since Yetmir went we have decided to invest in machinery instead of people. A pair of mechanical pruning shears powered by a lithium-ion battery left me only one and a half day on the hill before the work was done!