Luca and I wish you all A Very Merry Christmas!!
Today we finished the IP camera set-up. For a couple of years, I’ve thought that it would be good to have a live image on our website to bring La Faula to the net in real time. Until recently there were two problems with this idea. One is that we don’t have an ADSL connection and until last August were wholly reliant on a dial-up line. The other was, somewhat surprisingly, that until recently, all IP cameras were designed for surveillance and security whereas I was looking for a wide-angle fixed-lens camera capable of delivering a close to HD colour image. Two things changed all this - one was the siting of an hsdpa mobile broadband antenna by H3G in povoletto so that for the first time we had some kind of always-on moderately broadband connection. The other was that Mobotix introduced the M22 camera which is what is producing the images on our website.
It all works better than I had dared to hope. Our internet connection won’t support video streaming so we must content ourselves with a regularly up-dated image. Not so much exciting happens in the field and hill in front of the house that streaming is required and 1-3 minute updates seem more than adequate. Now we have the system set-up so that when something is worth recording and saving - a beautiful sunset, La Faula under the snow, a shocking tempest - we will record it and produce a time-lapse video of the event.
It all seems so obvious really, but the development of the web and what you can do with a website is so speedy it is easy not to notice the significance of the changes as they happen. Last year in November I loaded the first videos to YouTube. HD wasn’t yet available. Now videos on our site seem normal and the minimum is HD. When I first started loading the daily photos in 2005 it was a really big development to be loading content as a user. Up until then websites were made by people with technical knowhow and were static and unchanging. Now we are all up-loading stuff everywhere. In 1997 there was only one Agriturismo in Italy with a website.
Now it seems obvious that people should be able to see what La Faula is REALLY like. Photos are selective and can be improved with Photoshop whereas a n IP camera is live and shows what it shows as it is.
It’s hard to know what will come next but my guess is that more and more of La Faula - the place and its owners and workers - will be projected out onto the web creating a kind of a window on the place and our life here without guests. It seems clear that potential guests will need to imagine themselves at La Faula and decide if it is what they would like for a holiday. Friends, on the other hand, will want to keep up with the place even when absent.
Every time Luca glances at the Home Page of our website and sees that there are still more wedding photos, he makes a cutting sign with his fingers and says ’time to move on’. But, I want to load the whole sequence of the wedding photos from the breakfast in the morning until the dancing in the evening because we will probably never again have a wedding at La Faula. During the last 12 years we have given-over La Faula for four weddings. Each time we resisted but on each occasion at the end it was a favour that morally we just couldn’t resist.
But having a wedding at La Faula is tempting fate. I guess that there must be small weddings but everyone we know has large one’s. Maybe it’s an Italian thing. And, of course, who wouldn’t want but to have their wedding under the wonderful La Faula pergola where there is easily room for hundreds? The problem is that if it rains there is no room for anyone. The catering occupies the kitchen and uses the dining room as a logistics base. Not to mention that the maximum number of people who can be seated in an ’empty dining room is only thirty!
So every time we say yes to a wedding, disclaiming all responsibility if the weather should turn and the whole thing should be a washout, we nonetheless sweat right-up until the day after, fearful that the couples best day might turn-out to be one of their worst!
This wedding for which I am loading the photos was of the daughter of our neighbour. Our neighbour - Angelo and his wife Marisa - have been so warm and friendly and, well, neighbourly, since we came here in 1995, that they really had the right to La Faula as if it was a part of the local common heritage. It was from the start to the finish a wonderful wedding but we won’t do another one. For that reason, I am loading so many photos of the special day!
Today La Faula got its first webcam and as I write this at 21.23 the blackness of this night is for all to see on our Home Page. Its unbelievable how fast technological change is occurring and how it impacts on our business. Only in June 2008 did Hutchinson 3 upgrade the nearest mast to La Faula to carry fast data traffic. After a significant dip in speed as everyone within the mast's radius needing broadband climbed on-board (in our area there is no fixed-line broadband/ADSL and no other cell-phone fast data service) recent months have seen a steady improvement in upload and download speed such that having a high-definition webcam became possible. Streaming remains problematic but refreshing the image every minute is good enough for now.
Before Facebook was even invented we decided to create a message system within our website as we were finding e-mail far too unreliable (and it still can be). At the time, it was common to write a message on a website form but then the reply arrived by e-mail. I wanted, however, the reply to remain in an individual's 'message area' within our site because this was secure and we could remedy and problems that arose. In the first two years using this system we took a real hit in bookings because I reasoned that it would be disastrous to try to run two parallel systems - e-mail and Faula messaging - and we effectively switched-off e-mail trying to convince people to register with our site and communicate through it. This was not a problem for the adventurous, for those who enjoyed the way the internet was developing and were keen to try it and for those nice people who were amenable to assist us. For a lot, however, it was just out and out impertinence to insist that communications went via our site - sometimes we were told so and often the contact just disappeared.
The Faula message system involved creating a database and integrating database software into the site. Obviously a small site like ours uses open source software and at the beginning it was really unstable. Mostly the problems were not obvious to the users but the instability of the software running the database at the beginning gave us real headaches.
But, in the end it has proven to be a really good thing. E-mail remains problematic. Luca and I have our computers in rooms next to each other. I cannot send him an e-mail because my mail goes out 'enveloped' by Hutchinson 3 and this is not recognised as a valid send for some anti-spam systems including the one our webhost uses. Over time, the open-source database management software has got really good and for years we haven't had problems. Having database experience enables us to manage large numbers of photos and to add new functionality to the site with little difficulty.
After all that I just wrote ... I was just checking the text on the Home Page - once every minute the text suddenly moved up - then moved down again!! This occurs every time the webcam photo reloads ... something to look at tomorrow!
Historically (i.e. before last week), there were a whole stack of projects concerning the Faula website that were waiting to be activated and realised. For all the years since we have had the site it has seemed that there were always more ideas than could be realised in the time available and consequently some ideas got pushed to the back and languished there, even for years.
But now, it has to be said, I'm running out of ideas. Next week we will add a webcam image of the Faula hill and that's really it. I can't really think of anything else to do (any suggestions?)
Today, one of the last projects that has been hanging around for a couple of years was realised. This was to create an anonymous rating and feedback system to let us know what people are really thinking about La Faula. Maybe it took so long to implement because we were afraid of what we might hear and other projects seemed so much more interesting. But this was the last project devised so today we activated the e-mail with the link and the web-page where people can leave their comments.
This afternoon we generated a mass e-mailing of people who stayed at La Faula during the year inviting their feedback and valuations. We did this manually but next year it will be completely automated.
Of course, we know that all feedback is helpful and that negative feedback is the most helpful of the lot for the long term development of a business. But, nonetheless, as we wait for the responses to come in we feel a little bit like we are waiting for the results of an exam!
Today I pressed the last wine for this year. So that’s it for the wine-making for 2009. We started the whole process in the first week of September with some white varieties. It was still summer and the agriturismo was full of guests. Since then a month has passed. Summer has turned into autumn, guests have come and gone, we have had a couple of weddings here but now the agriturismo is closed, the wine is made and the second half of our yearly life at La Faula begins.
First, the house is now ours. It’s nice to share but it’s also nice to come in in the evening and have dinner together, just the two of us, in the kitchen. We have, of course, a wonderful and bountiful choice of rooms to take but we choose always room 9 for reasons that we don’t really know. The dogs are bored witless without any guests and so every move we make is tracked and shadowed by five border collies. I am most afraid of running them over at this time because when one returns home they escort the van rather like the US secret service with the presidential limousine only that they are not more than half a meter high and difficult to see.
It is also a good time for catching up with friends and going out for a beer in the evenings. It’s amazing to be able to go out in the evening! I don’t cook, ever, until the agriturismo reopens. We have had a bit of rain in the last weeks and the vegetable garden has leapt back into life. As we tend not to fry the zucchini flowers just for the two of us we are over-dosing on zucchini flower pasta. Peppers we have in abundance and the very last tomatoes are now ripening. In the field in front of the house field mushrooms sprung up over the last weeks and I have been out there many mornings before the golfers arrive harvesting that days lunch.
It has also been a great time for jam-making. When Ruth was here she made jars of fig and plum jam from fruit found on and around the farm. A friend of ours in the village has such a generous fig tree that I am still making fig jam this time mixed with our apples which are now ripe.
It has been a wonderful autumn, warm and sunny, the vegetation still green and lush.
The grape harvest is over, the wine largely made - we’ll be pressing the last of the red wines on Monday - and I’ve got time to turn my attention to all those things that escapes me in the summer. Of course, I start with the interesting things first like sorting out what kind of webcam we can mount to get nice pictures of the hill of La Faula, getting (and getting going) an internet radio (not as easy as it might be thought when you have a 3G rather than an ADSL connection) but most of all I’m gorging myself on English language films. In Friuli there are no original language films and I gave up watching films dubbed into Italian years ago when I realised just how sloppy and manipulatively untrue the dubbing was. Effectively all characters in foreign films become Italians thereby reinforcing the Italian belief that we are all the same and the whole world is a village.
In the summer I started doing films under the pergola. I kind of made it up as I went along not really knowing much about Home Theatre except that we couldn’t afford the kind of branded packages you can buy. Also, the system had to be reliable, mobile and very quick to set-up and put away. The internet let me identify a really good projector and blu-ray player. Unfortunately, the projector developed a mother-board fault almost instantly and so sometimes the films shown would have stripes. If you didn’t know about the stripes then generally you couldn’t see them. But I did and it was extremely irritating. As soon as the Agriturismo closed I sent the projector off for repair and its working just fine.
I wanted to avoid getting an AV receiver (it’s only just occurred to me that AV might stand for audio visual?) because I thought that this would impose a layer of complexity. I went instead with wireless jbl speakers with a built-in (rather limited amp). This system worked very well until I got to some remastered films transferred to blu-ray with very low soundtracks. At this point I realised that sound is too important a part of the experience to compromise on so I got an Onkyo AV receiver. I connected it to the old stereo speakers and well .....
Almost every night I’m up in the house watching a film. Right now I’m proceeding through the Band of Brothers. Before that Milk. It is so wonderful to go to the cinema again ... and to live in a place with a nice climate, good food .... and a hugely entertaining Prime Minister?
It’s now 21st September and our time has been full, very full, since I last wrote. The last week of August was fully occupied hosting, as usual, a volley-ball training camp for two girls teams from the south of Udine. As the girls spilled out of the mini-buses in the car park, the last holiday guests hastily finished their breakfasts under the pergola, raced to their rooms and, bags in hand, bid speedy goodbyes in an effort to be away before the worst of the onslaught was upon them. Suddenly the peace and tranquillity that had prevailed until just seconds before was broken as the place filled-up with giggling, talking and shouting teen-age girls (and their parents)!
Poor Maritza, the cleaner, and Luca’s mum valiantly pushed-on cleaning the rooms instantly vacated and preparing them for their new adolescent occupants.
The week went well. Many of the girls had been to previous camps and we all settled into an easy routine. We had Johanna from Germany volunteering the whole week and towards the end two Swedish ladies, one of them a proper Chef, came to volunteer as well so the kitchen side of things was well covered.
During this last week of August it dawned upon me that we would probably begin the grape harvest in the following week. A week when La Faula would return to its normal role of hosting summer holiday-makers. The idea really didn’t appeal much. The grape-harvest and wine-making require a fair amount of dedication and to have to run the Agriturismo as well, especially the catering side, seemed rather daunting! In fact, we were saved by the Swedish ladies who took the kitchen in hand and served delicious meal after delicious meal. The best part was that we would sit under the pergola ourselves, guests for a moment. It was a very nice experience.
It requires a very small increase in a year’s average temperature to bring forward significantly the maturation of the grapes. The tendency now for a number of years has been for the grape-harvest to occur always earlier than it had historically. This is going to require some rethinking and reorganisation on our part. The plus side is that the harvest is mostly over before you even get midway through October. Already the white wines are made and in the winery. We will begin the harvest of the Merlot on Wednesday and maybe by the end of next week the grape harvest will be over.
It is now the last week of August and the grape harvest and wine-making beckon. The Agriturismo doesn’t close this year until Sunday 14 September but the summer has been hot and the grapes matured early so we will begin harvesting probably late during the first week of September.
All winter we look forward to the coming season of the Agriturismo/Farm-Stay (also with some trepidation) that it seems amazing to be already almost at the end. This last week of August the house is occupied by a Girls Volleyball training camp. It constitutes a clear break between the summer season in the Agriturismo full of movement and kids and the quieter end-of-season in September with guests choosing to holiday when things are calmer and quieter.
These last two weeks have seen a kind of film blow-out under the pergola - I think that if I want to sleep at night we’ll have to adopt a less-hectic schedule. But it works well. The projector really offers wonderful reproduction and the wireless speakers (not quite as wireless as they appear on the internet and on the box!) have exceeded expectations. Up until now I’ve been using an old dvd player that we put away because it has the defect that the drawer into which you insert the dvd doesn’t stay open to allow you to insert the disc. Instead it opens and closes instantly and I keep finding my fingers being dragged into the innards of the player. Today I ordered over the internet a Sony Blu-Ray player. It should be fine but Luca will kill me when it arrives! Technically we have a no spending-no investment year this year (crisis and all that) but I must say that the films under the pergola thing is just so good that it really merited a Blu-Ray player to top-it-off (the Blu-Ray players also play dvd’s only better - at least this one does according to the reviews)!
For a couple of years I have had in mind to do outside cinema some evenings after dinner. I have watched the price of video projectors come down in inverse relationship to the quality. Wireless speakers seemed to have become a reality and so, one-month ago, I ordered the various pieces that I would need to make outdoor film screenings a reality. My great fear was that I would put it all-together, we’d all be sitting outside under a white moon waiting in anticipation and .... there would be screen but no sound ... or sound but no screen .... or the projector lamp would pop on the first turning-on ...
So there we were a few nights ago, all sitting on blankets under the stars, all the components were connected ..... and it worked - it was really just like going to the movies in the bayou - the frogs croaked, the moon rose over a starry sky, we drank prosecco and enjoyed the Blues Brothers!
The season is now proceeding apace. The typical rhythm of summer has begun with my life dominated by breakfasts, pool maintenance and dinners. Blocked drains, re-adjusting the water pressure system, sending a bullock off to the butchers, making minor repairs, get fitted-in as best they can. The Agriturismo has a nice feeling. Friendly guests, stoic even in the face of changeable weather. Little rain but striking contrasts of hot, sunny then thunderstormy followed by clear then overcast. Each cycle so short that you can have 10 day's weather in one day! The sooner that famous high pressure area settles over the Azores bringing mediterranean weather to the Mediterranean the better.
Ruth the Austrian girl doing work experience is wonderful. Efficient and fast. Liked by the guests, Friendly, Couldn't be better. Too many nice evenings spent with guests under the pergola and too little sleep (but then there's always winter!)
Well that went OK. The Site was down for roughly one day while we transferred it over to a new server. Apart from being fundamental to our business our site is our window on the world. To have it disappear for a day was quite strange. It's hard to believe that there was a time - including the time when we started this business - when there were no web-sites. I remember doing my first Yahoo search on the work 'agriturismo'. There was only one in the whole of Italy. Even before that when I worked for a telecommunications company. Maybe it was 1992-93, I remember participating in a presentation on the Internet. On a tiny monitor I remember seeing the web using one of the first Netscape browsers. It was all so under-whelming it seemed very hard to believe that there was much future in it!!!
But now the web and our web-site is so convenient that I am (only-half) seriously considering removing our telephone numbers from the site and the guides. Communication using the web-site is so convenient for us. When I reply to messages I have the room's lay-out and availability at hand. I can calculate the prices accurately. When, however, I am called I am generally in the vineyard, or winery or cooking dinner and our booking situation is far from mind. For me the telephone seems like such an old-fashioned kind of thing. I wonder if it is necessary any more?
Returning to the transfer of the Site to a new server, this has liberated us from a limit on storage capacity that constrained us previously. In the next couple of days I will be loading a photo gallery for each room/apartment in the house. This should be a big time saver because a picture is worth a thousand words etc. Plus, it should give people thinking of coming to La Faula a more realistic idea of the accommodation.
Since I last wrote a lot has happened at La Faula. The days are hectic and the luxury of retiring to the computer in the evening and giving time to the web-site will have to await the proximate winter! But as I know by looking at the statistics that these musings do get read it is also a pleasure to find a moment to up-date on our lives and happenings!
We had some heartening and positive news on the wine front. If you read these entries around the end of last year you will recall that we rather suddenly realized that we had to depart from the strategy imposed (?) by our consulting wine-maker as we were risking making wines outside what the market wanted. In particular, under the tutelage of this particular consulting wine-maker we had followed a wine-making style involving heavy and long aging of white and red wines in oak. Not exactly the tipple you want to be drinking under the pergola on a hot Italian afternoon!
So, in December, in one swoop I removed all the white wines from oak and placed them in stainless steel vats. I also did the same to the reds that I felt had been in wood too long. I disposed of the oaken barrels in Slovenia and blended the whites according to year and type. We realized that a 2007 Sauvignon that I had made and which had passed only a very short time in oak had the makings of a very good wine. Light it isn't but fruity and flavorsome it is. After a light fining we submitted this wine along with a red wine - Refosco, a local variety - to the national Italian competition of organic wines. The results were slow in being placed on the web so our spirits dipped a bit as we assumed that we hadn't got anywhere. But then we received e-mails saying that the Sauvignon had won a Silver medal and the Refosco a distinction! It felt really good to have done so well in what is one of the world's largest wine producers. We were the only organic wines from Friuli Venezia Julia to have won any award. There is a big awards ceremony in Rome but we won't have time to go. It would be nice though. Maybe, if one day we win a gold!
NOTE: On 9-10 June this web-site will be transferring to a new server as we have exhausted the storage capacity available on the old one. At some point the Site will be down and the database will cease to work so the message system won’t be available. This is all very normal and temporary and if you encounter problems they should be rapidly resolved.
The usual metaphors for spring are that it <bursts out / upon us / forth etc.>. At La Faula spring is like a great wave that crashes upon us and leaves us gasping for breath. It is as if one is in a dream where there is something important to be done in a short time but, somehow, it just never gets done and the time counts down .... (I think that this might be a peculiarly lawyer’s dream!).
Everything is happening at once now at La Faula. The Agriturismo has opened and guests are coming and going. When the guests are coming one feels a sense of satisfaction and that all is right with the world. In empty periods one feels the hole and worries that the business might not be going as well as it could. Having being closed over the winter, in the Agriturismo there are always the last minute adjustments, improvements and things to be put right. At this point of writing these have been done. Connected to the Agriturismo is the vegetable garden which must be prepared and the seedlings planted. On a much bigger scale the vineyard, so peacefully dormant in winter, bursts into activity. The grass shoots up threatening to choke the vines. Convolvulus, brambles and dog-roses cut back in the autumn make a break for it on the terraces and banks. And the vines themselves throw-out shoots from every part reverting to the wild climber that by nature they are. While these shoots are soft and green they must mostly be removed leaving only those few that will be needed to train the plant in the next year.
I got into the routine of carting the clay back-up the track to fill-in the ruts, holes and channels made by the rain. The track was steep but with time I became used to it and the experience began to seem commonplace even though after a few weeks away I knew that I would approach the hill gingerly and with caution. Hills for farmers are terrible things. Coming from New Zealand I knew upon my arrival at La Faula just how potentially dangerous working our vineyard would be. The New Zealand of my youth in the 1960’s was still very close to rural life and that farmers died under their tractors was something generally appreciated. As I stayed here I also realised that one or more deaths per year was caused locally in the province of Udine by tractors overturning. This is not particularly surprising as the province covers not only the Friuli plane but also the pre-Alps and the Julian Alps proper. Most farmers are killed here logging wood.
In my first years here eventually I rolled a small tractor-trailer unit that I had over-loaded with damp earth. I am only here to write this because as the tractor reared-up and commenced its roll to the terrace below it was temporarily stopped by the head-pole sustaining the vine-wires. Eddy, a student who was doing work experience here, grabbed me as the pole gave-way and he pulled me off the tractor as it slipped over the terrace. The tractor and trailer had rolled onto their side on the terrace below. The wires supporting the vines had been dragged down and the supporting poles were bending crazily over the bank. I could write that afterwards it was like when I avoided a shark attack on the Australian Great Barrier reef by seconds. You probably won’t believe me so I won’t write it. But it was like that.
Our vineyard is made upon a steep hill. Erosion and water damage to the access roads is a constant headache. Roughly every five years we need to call the JCB to remake the roads and fill-in slips. This involves carrying back-up what has gone down with the rain. My job is to transport the clay (soil would be too grander word) with our bulldozer and trailer.
The JCB driver is an expert. Before he has even started, his computer head visualises the terrain as it should be afterwards and as it will change over the years. He sees the heavy rains to come and channels the water accordingly with varying gradients in varying directions. For this we only need him to come every five years or so. The work of a lesser operator would not endure so long.
The operator is a tough mountain type used to carving logging roads through the sheer gradients of the Julian Alps. The price for working with such a person is that one must never flinch or show fear. And he will get one to do things with bulldozer and trailer that put the heart in one*s mouth, make one want to shout <<No!>> and leave the tractor and hug the firm earth.
We started yesterday by filling the trailer with river rocks. The weight crushed the trailer tyres and dragged the back of the bulldozer down. Full of apprehension I departed for the hill where the rocks would be deposited in the channels excavated by the running rainwater. I was already afraid knowing that I had to drag this load up the steep, channeled and pitted access track that leads to the vineyard terraces. It seemed unlikely that I would get there without a tyre - or both - bursting - but with cheery waves and jolly smile I continued on reaching the base of the hill and vineyard with much swaying and rocking but intact.
Bound to proceed on without hesitation I permitted myself the panacea of shifting the bulldozer into its highest and slowest gear. I figured that if something bad happened this would at least give me more time to react. Reacting means resolving the problem while remaining in the tractor. Jumping from a rolling tractor is a certain recipe for death!
Slowly the bulldozer climbed up the hill. The steel tracks were twanging and banging with loud claps. The trailer was rolling and pulling the back of the bulldozer left and right as the trailer*s tyres sunk into the ruts. Eventually the inevitable happened and the trailer firmly blocked itself in a rut. The bulldozer locked from behind began to raise at the front and I found myself looking at the blue sky. Reversing slightly I brought the bulldozer back to earth and let relief wash over me. The trailer would be emptied there and nothing bad had happened. Raising the tray and feeling the bulldozer shake-off the weight of the river stones and wet gravel gave me such relief that I sat just enjoying the experience for a few seconds. But then the JCB was behind me and I began the job of carting the clay washed down with the rain back up the hill.
to be continued!
The Agriturismo has opened this Easter in a glorious spring! We can’t control the weather, obviously, but when the days are warm and sunny, the plants rich with colour, the grass green and birds all-over courting and making nests you really feel like you somehow got it just right.
It’s great for the kids too - especially those who have arrived from a cold northern winter!
From now-on following the website gets a bit more difficult. This week including today I have been running a cooking school for a Canadian family with origins in Friuli. I’m afraid that I may have learnt more than I have taught!
Someone wrote to me the other day asking if I needed to be concerned about the people I write about on this page taking umbrage at my descriptions of them and their activities. Basically, our neighbours.
This was a nice thing to write as I guess many of us must have come across stories on the internet about bloggers offending bosses, co-workers and clients. I suppose that this person didn't want to see me run out of town by angry Ravos-ers wielding pitchforks!
The message did, however, hit the nail right on the head. It has taken me years to find a voice that I feel comfortable with in writing these public observations. At the broad level I want to share the many attractive aspects of living at La Faula and thus make the place desirable as a holiday destination (without the guests there is no La Faula). However, I want the writing to be truthful and accurate and Italian society, bureaucracy, laws and mores regularly provide me with evidence that Italy is sorely defective in many of the civilising virtues of mankind! It is worth remembering that Italy invented fascism (never effectively renounced), the mafia, the world's third-largest public debt and Silvio Berlusconi! It also showed a cynicism and opportunism (and stupidity) in its behaviour in entering the two great destructive world wars of the 20th century and it used poison gas against native tribesmen to create its colonies. Italian bureaucracy is internationally famous as is its dysfunctional and corrupt politics. Its criminal justice system doesn't live up to its name in any sense - it is neither just nor systematic. But who wants to hear about all that if you're thinking of an escape-away holiday to a sunny paradise where everyone lives well in nice houses and eats like a king every day?
So I try to write about my daily life here which has plenty interesting about it (at least for me). Writing about daily life inexorably brings one to writing about the people who populate that life. The Bernie Madoff consulting wine-maker made a number of recent appearances in my blog. In writing about our struggles before Christmas to get the winery back on track I tried to avoid identifying the consulting wine-maker although if he were to read the blog he would recognise who it was about. But so be it. When writing about Ravosa locals and our neighbours I have to be careful not to play the whole thing for laughs although it can be a temptation as a foreigner in Italy to treat the locals as a source of amusement. But people hate being laughed at and I would be run out of town at the end of numerous sharp pitchforks! So I try to write lightly, using the fig-leaf of changed names and details to keep the writing from cutting where it shouldn't!
So we found ourselves in the centre of Ravosa at an hour when all sensible people are cosily tucked-up in their warm beds. Entering Sissie's bar, I realised it was not the place where I occasionally steal a moment to drink a cappuccino and read the local paper. The bar is long and narrow. Stepping-down from the doorway one immediately arrives at the corner of the bar-counter that runs along one wall for about a third of the bar's length. There, propped-up right by the door were some locals, farmers and workers, who could generally be described as older. There was Emilio, rumoured to be having a fling with Sissie. There was Stefano recently returned a single man - at middle-age it has to be said - whose wife ran-off with a village newcomer (who now keeps a very low profile). Nicola, a local trattoria owner arrived. I didn't ask him if he had done the dishes before he left. Maybe he did or maybe he left those for the wife.
Passing along the bar there was the football table. A group of young men was huddled around it intently watching a game. We slid past the football game to arrive at the centerpiece of Sissie's bar, Sissie's bar at Ravosa, on Saturday night: Lap Dance. There was a Pole on a raised plinth and in the spotlights danced the lap dancer. To the left of the pole there was even, to my amazement, a DJ plus assistant, talking to us all, and no-one, as if he were at the Ministry of Sound. It was, at least for him, a big deal. To the right of the pole were the sofas. On the long sofa closest the lap dancer were crammed together a bunch of doe-eyed boys watching the dance while giggling, making little comments and laughing. On the sofa behind a pillar, further away from the stage, were some young guys and their girlfriends going all the way. That is, they were smoking cigarettes (the normal ones) in a public place which is absolutely prohibited in Italy and is only done at the most transgressive of moments in dark, hidden corners.
We stood and watched the lap dancer for a while. I should mention here that I knew that Sissie didn't have a licence for lap-dancing and that she had had a visit from the Carabiniere after a neighbour - also a newcomer - complained about the noise. They say she got a big fine but I can't confirm this. The up-shot was obvious to us all. Lap dancing without laps. On the plinth a 20-something young woman dressed in a modest bikini (that is, her modesty was maintained and the bikini could have been worn to the local beach by your mum) did her best to look bored as she swung around the pole. Sometimes she seemed to be a fire-person sliding down the fire pole to the fire engine. Sometimes she swung around the pole as kids do at school. Lacklustre is the word and as she swung around she gave the uncanny impression of just filling in time.
To be continued ....
Note: our videos are now in High Definition HD and they sometimes even have evocatively moving music (thank you YouTube!) To see them in HD and hear the music, immediately after clicking on Play click on the HD symbol that appears on the bottom right of the video under the YouTube logo. The video will immediately re-load in HD with soundtrack
Yesterday evening, well, night really, I did something that was a real first for me and that introduced me to a Ravosa (the village where La Faula is located) that in my 12 years here I had never seen - the nocturnal Ravosa!
Soon the agriturismo will be opening so last night, Saturday night, we had a big dinner for friends. Our social life doesn't stop during the summer but in the winter we often have pot-luck dinners with friends. Everyone brings something wonderful to eat, many of us are wine producers so a great selection of wines is on the table (these are the only dinners where I end-up feeling seedy the morning after!) and, as we know each other very well we pass the night talking about what's been happening to us, local gossip and the wine world and we all eat too much. Normally the evening ends with everyone going home. Kids need to be put to bed or there are cows to be milked in the morning so as a group we have never indulged in the common Italian habit of seeing a dinner-out as a first course to be followed by a second of bar-hopping and perhaps finished with a sweet of going to a local disco.
Last night, however, the blokes amongst us decided to take me to SiSi's bar in the centre of Ravosa. Now I should tell you that Ravosa is an extremely nondescript place. The earthquake of 1976 damaged it severely and so much of the rustic charm disappeared with the rebuilding. Sometimes in the white summer heat it is so quiet that only the occasional barking of a dog indicates life. Strangely, in the centre of Ravosa their are two locales; the bar SiSi (<<yes yes>> but actually named after the owner Sissie) and the Osterbeer which as its name suggests is a beer bar. Both are locked in mortal competition. Unfortunately for it, the Osterbeer has lost favour locally and SiSi has benefited by hooving-up the early morning worker stopping-off for an espresso and a chat with friends followed by the (young) pensioner (in Italy very many pensioners are very young) stopping off for an espresso and a chat with friends and a read of the local newspaper followed during the day by various types who stop of for a glass of wine and a chat with Sissie. But where Sissie has really excelled is in the late-late night market. And if you think that in Italy young people (and some old one s too) only start moving at 11.00 p.m. you realise just what a good market this is to be in:
To be continued .....
Note: our videos are now in High Definition HD and they sometimes even have evocatively moving music (thank you YouTube!) To see them in HD and hear the music, immediately after clicking on Play click on the HD symbol that appears on the bottom right of the video under the YouTube logo. The video will immediately re-load in HD with soundtrack
Yet again, the photo of the day is of a bird commonly seen at La Faula (in this case a Stork). La Faula occupies the first hill rising-up from the Friuli plane. At the top of the hill is a wood, part of a forest that runs back to the Giulian Mountains. At the base of the hill are numerous small lakes and creeks fed by springs. The springs push-up from an underground river that finds itself blocked by the rock structure underlying the hill. Roughly 500 metres in front of the hill runs a torrent - a river that normally contains little water but which swells with mountain run-off during thunderstorms or heavy rains. The river contains shrimps and fish. The area is a paradise for birds. In spring, migratory birds stop-off to feed and the woods around La Faula provide perfect nesting for those birds who finish their migratory journey here.
During the winter Herons and Egrets are omnipresent taking advantage of low winter water levels to feed on fish trapped in rock-pools. About a week ago the stork that nests here returned. The Great Buzzard pairs nesting in the wood at the top of the hill become very active in the spring riding the warm up-drafts to impress their mates. A Hen Harrier with its long thin black-tipped wings also feeds over La Faula but it covers a vast territory in its travels. Soon, we shall see the European vultures wheeling high in the sky above us.
One thing to mention: if you decide to watch a faula video click on HD under the YouTube logo on the bottom right of the projection screen (the HD symbol appears immediately after you click the play arrow ->. Click on HD as soon as it appears). We now film the videos in HD and, sometimes, even add some music!!
Oh, the joys of running a small business. Sometimes just by doing nothing you end-up back where you started! Our perpetual nagging anxiety relates to our cleaning ladies. Until now, we have been really lucky in having both able and willing cleaning ladies prepared to do a good job flexibly. But we always fear the moment when it isn’t so. And we thought 4 weeks ago that this moment had arrived.
Our fear stems from the fact that cleaning at La Faula is not a particularly attractive proposition. For a start, the work is seasonal - we open at Easter and close on the 15th of September. The work is pressured - when the rooms have to be turned around, well, they have to be turned around in time for the next guests - and this includes Sundays. And when there are a lot of rooms and the summer’s days are hot .... well....
Unbelievably, in the 8 years we have been operating we have only had 2 cleaning ladies, both wonderful, hard-working, friendly and proud of their efforts. The most recent is from one of the Caribbean Islands and when she returned from a home-visit those four weeks ago she told us that she had found a super job working in a local trattoria for 5 hours a day, 5 days a week. Of course, it was the right job for her, regular work in a cosy location. We were really pleased for her but this was tempered by the reality that we would need to start looking for some-one else. You feel mean and petty in feeling that her gain was our loss but I guess that that comes from the least attractive side of human nature!
We also have two other ladies who help us out (apart from Luca’s mum). One cleans the kitchen and common rooms downstairs twice a week when we have guests and the other helps in the kitchen when we need it. Both have families and are less flexible but we decided that, given the uncertainty in the global economy, we would hold-off looking for someone else and apply some <blitz> spirit and, at least at the beginning, get by using these two ladies who would do extra to help us out. It nagged at me though that we were proposing to start the season without a principal cleaning lady.
Well, yesterday, our cleaning lady, recently departed, returned. The new job was for 5 hours pay a day but the hours worked were 7 or more. The promised work-contract had not materialised and so she realised that the job was probably one without much of a future. It’s good to have her back (although, as we are currently closed she has never really been away!) but, having got the other two ladies into the <can-do><this is our finest hour> kind of frenzy I now need to find a way to softly bring them down!
Spring is warmly upon us now. The days are sunny and breezily dry. We mourn, a bit, the passing of winter. We enjoy winter greatly. The working days shorten and it is a time of cosy fires, good company and meals together. In previous years winter was also daunting because we had four hectares of vineyards to prune, tie and repair and replace poles and wires. There is always wood to be cut and stacked for the following year plus the ’special jobs’ that we save for winter. In previous years this meant building the swimming pool, barn and bungalows (thankfully, not all in one year) and remaking most of the vineyard.
This year our special winter’s project was removing one hectare of vineyard. Probably for the fist time, we undertook a project that reduced, not added, to our yearly workload. Where the vineyard was, has now been smoothed and prepared for use by the golfers and the agriturismo. One of the ex-vineyards was near the back of the house and this has now been prepared as a soccer field and a grass volley-ball court. This winter I wrote extensively about the winery problems as this was our great challenge in the previous months. This too has turned out rather well. We got a grip on the winery, reorganised it and started preparing and bottling wines. Our prime problem had been the over-oaky nature of the wines in the wooden barrels. The decision taken in November to remove all the wines from the wood, blend them with non-wooded wines and allow them to pass the winter quietly in stainless steel proved to be a good one and after a light-fining the wines are much less wooded and their fruity characteristics have come to the fore. More bottling to be done here then!
The Agriturismo opens, effectively, at Easter. Advance bookings are holding-up well but we feel that we are really in the hands of the gods on this one. We have good repeat and word-of-mouth custom. We are present in important guides like those of Alastair Sawday and our web-site, for better or for worse, represents our take on La Faula and all those that sail in her!! Given the economic turmoil we feel that we will just have to white-water raft this one!
The arrival of what will probably be the first Spring Rains meant another day in the winery. Today we did the first filtration of a Sauvignon 2007 which went very smoothly. By smoothly I mean that we wine passes very slowly through the filters without being forced and without pressure. We then moved-on to filter a Cabernet Franc/Sauvignon blend from 2005 that had been in oak barriques until last December. Luca had said to me the the wine seemed still a bit turbid which inevitably means blocked filters but we decided to carry-on anyway. We didn’t have filter-sheets coarse enough to cope with turbid wine so, as happens often, we decided to push-on anyway hoping that it would all work out alright in the end and that the wine would, some-how, not block the filter sheets already in the filter. We filtered away and all the pressure gauges showed zero pressure so things seemed to be going well. But then, like the rivets of the Titanic letting-in the North Atlantic, there was a crack and wine sprayed everywhere. Hmmmm. I turned-off the pump. <When I turn-on the pump, tap the pressure guage> I said to Luca. Luca duly gave the pressure gauge a good tap and the needle leapt up .That was the filtering over for the day!
In March we like to go down to the local bird sanctuary located in one of the many lagoons in the lower part of Friuli. In this month, migratory birds are passing through on their way north. Sometimes, high above La Faula, we see enormous numbers of geese, flying in v-formation, honking and making their way over the Alps. In the lagoon, it’s possible to see various types of geese, swans, ducks, curlews and other migratory birds up-close. Our special pleasure, however, is the Marsh Harrier which may also winter-over in the lagoon. This morning we were lucky enough to see a pair of Harriers. They really are majestic. Impressive because unlike the Great Buzzard, Red Hawk, Kestrel (which we see daily) and the Eagle (which is common to see in the Julian Alps), the Marsh Harrier flies low, almost at the level of the bird-watching hide.
In the photos of 1 March, we are pretty sure that the Harrier photographed was a female and that she eventually went to her nest. I was lucky enough to have got some photos but with such fast birds in a soft morning light the quality of the shots seems pretty much to be the luck of the draw!
Today was the first day with a real spring-like atmosphere. The Great Buzzards were very active on the hillside behind the house. I guess that with the warmth small rodents are getting busy and by the end of winter the Buzzards must be getting a bit peckish! I enjoyed trying to photograph them from behind the house. They are very aware of our presence and it is impossible to get near them. They are also very shy about being photographed but this time didn't seem so concerned. Another very pretty raptor was active around the hill. This bird is not much smaller than the Buzzard and is perfectly white with black wing-tips. The wings are extremely long in relation to the body. It is a bird almost impossible to photograph because it flies just centimetres above the ground and is gone almost before it has arrived!
Today was also a Sunday for working in the garden until late, enjoying the lengthening of the evenings. Of course, being at La Faula means never working without a visitors dropping-by so the afternoon was punctuated by more than one coffee-break!
In fact, our oak-aged whites were special but not exceptional. And to justify the investment of money and time those wines needed to be exceptional and not only special. This is notwithstanding a cult-following that these wines have from a fair number of our Australian and New Zealand clients who have been exposed to wines such as these made by experimenting New World winemakers. In the end this was the dissatisfaction that we had with the path laid-out by our consulting winemaker: under his tuition we had undertaken quite an audacious experiment for an Old World winery and he had to be certain of the outcome before setting us upon it. And, he wasn’t. He was just experimenting as well. It is the nature of experiments that their outcomes are uncertain so in itself this wouldn’t have been a problem. But we should have been advised. And we weren’t. And, artist that he was, he wasn’t, in the end, a technically competent wine-maker.
So, how did the story finish? In July of 2008 we decided to go it alone in the winery. We felt like we had grabbed destiny while fervently hoping for the best. The previous years of experience had not been at all wasted: our experience as wine-makers had undoubtedly grown and developed. Plus, going down this particular path in wine-making which can be described as skins, lees and wood brought us to a broad overview of possible winemaking styles. No longer with a consulting winemaker we were obliged to develop our own knowledge and we have learnt much in these last few months. We discovered techniques and skills of which we were previously ignorant. And we have been helped along the way by other winemakers and technicians in the field. This has been particularly heartening. We have found, to our great pleasure, that the winter, a moment when we have time available, is a great time for us to prepare and bottle wines. Most importantly we have developed an idea of the kind of wines we want to make. It is extremely easy to make a mediocre wine. With some skill and dedication - in the vineyard and in the winery - making a good wine is achievable. But making an outstanding or an exceptional wine is virtually impossible. Great wines are probably made with the hand of god. We know - because they are in our cellar - that we can make good wines. We know what kind of wines they are. We know that we will never make a truly great wine. That’s outside the realm of our possibilities. We don’t know if we will ever make an exceptional or an outstanding wine.But, maybe, we just one-day might!
From 2001 to 2003 our vineyard was in conversion to being organic and as we had a lot on developing the Agriturismo in these years we sold the grapes and skipped making wine. 2004 would be our first year making wine from organic grapes. Prior to the harvest of that year we met a number of times with our old consulting wine-maker and let him lay-out a plan for our wine-making going ahead. The red wines would, as previously, be a mix of those made in stainless steel and those made in oak barrels depending upon the quality of the vintage overall and the quality of particular grape varieties. It was on the white wines that our effort would be focused as our winemaker wanted to produce whites effectively as one makes red wines - extensive maceration (leaving the juice and the skins in contact during fermentation), extensive contact with the lees (leaving the wine with the sediments produced after fermentation), extensive battonage (keeping the lees in suspension by frequent mixing of the mass) and finally aging in 500 litre oak barrels for three years. This winemaking style was extremely harmonious from an organic point of view because the effect of the lees and wood aging for an extended period and the extraction of numerous substances from the skins during maceration allowed us to keep quantities of sulfur dioxide preservative and fining to the absolute minimum as the wine stabilised on it’s own account during the aging process. It was a very natural product involving minimum use of pumps and much manual labour.
And the best part was that our winemaker enthused that we would have a truly remarkable product of outstanding quality. Well it was all true. Every bit of it. We made that white wine in a way that was pure organic. We let the wine live and develop itself, just helping it along the way when needed. Through meticulous attention to winery hygiene at every level we let the wine - and the oak barrels - express themselves without the normal chemical intervention. And that was the problem. Making white wine in this way involves the extraction of bitter tannins from the skins during maceration and the barrels when new. Those tannins - which are also present in red wines - soften during the aging process. But the aging process also meant that the wines developed a very pronounced vanilla flavour from the oak and were very concentrated (in flavour and alcohol). Wines aging in oak barrels are constantly evaporating through the wood itself - fresh wine must be added from time to time and slowly but surely the mass concentrates.
So we found ourselves with this distinctive woody wine that was special but which appeals to only 0.5% of the population. Most of the rest want the immediacy of a fresh and fruity white only a step or two removed from fruit juice. That’s OK too. The big problem for us was that a white wine in the summer sipped slowly under the pergola while the kids play in the pool has to be light, crisp and easy to drink. We did have some like that but it went so fast that we always found ourselves back on our old oaky friends!
(to be continued)
Prior to our taking over La Faula, it was owned by Luca’s parents. It was his Dad’s hobby of love. As a small child waiting out the bombing of Udine during the second world war, Luca’s father, Franco, passed many days at La Faula with the three families that share-cropped the property. In the late 1950’s while working in Mexico Franco bought La Faula and kept it as his passion. It was his true hobby farm and he kept animals and made wine. Wine was fun but never serious. Every weekend Franco would come up to La Faula from Udine with his friends from childhood and they would work in the property and the winery and eat a wonderful lunch prepared by Luca’s mum and they had a great time. The wine they made was shared amongst all and given away to friends. The quality was that of all local farmer’s wines at the time.
Luca and I entered La Faula upon Franco’s retirement. Neither of us had any great feelings for wine but we loved the place and so we accepted that the vineyard and wine-making would be a part of whatever La Faula would become during our time here. Luca had made wine as a child with his father but we realised right at the outset that we needed help if we were going to produce a wine of consistent and acceptable quality. It was right at that moment that we found the consulting wine maker whose advice we followed until June of 2008.
The very first thing that we did upon arriving at La Faula was to open a ’frasca’. A ’frasca’ is a right, dating from the times when Friuli was a part of the Hapsburg Empire, for a farmer to sell his own wine on his own premises for a limited time without the necessity for a licence. As licences were restricted for most activities in Italy until only very recently, this was a very important concession. The frasca was very popular with the locals who would come and sit under our pergola and drink wine and eat salumi. It was the last of old-Italy. The wine was popular but we found making it consistently complicated and confusing. Until this month we never managed to filter our wine without the filters clogging mid-way (and sometimes before). The measures of quantities of preservatives or fining agents for the wines were never clear. Our wine-maker used inapt measures and was vague as to their application. But it seemed that his career was on a firm upward path so it seemed churlish to give these concerns the weight that they seemed to call for.
(to be continued)
And then there is the vineyard. Surely some plants supported by wires held-up by poles doing nothing but sitting still couldn’t be a problem? But vineyards are on the move! The best vineyards are on terraced hillsides, facing the sun, washed by the soft breezes that waft around a hill’s contours. But those terraces are inexorably moving down-hill. After heavy rain or cloud-bursts there are slips and earth slides. Poles point crazily out over steep banks. Vine plants are suddenly found half-way between one terrace and another. Those vineyards on the flat, of course can’t slide down-hill. But they are constantly enlarging like pasty spread this way and that on a marble bench top. The constant passage of tractors between the wines pushes-up the soil, creating ruts and holes that become trenches with time. How to maintain and stabilise a vineyard in any particular place requires experience and know-how and a constant investment of time and energy.
So, in summary, the vineyard and winery owner who finds him or herself confronted by an activity which requires more know-how than he or she has, desperately searches for someone to help. Why desperately? Because grape-growing and wine-making is a continuous activity, year on year, month on month, season after season the grapes grow, are picked, must be made into wine and that wine must be sold to justify all the expense incurred just to get that far! There is no possibility to take "Time Out"!
By definition, the winery owner is searching for someone with more knowledge than him/herself. Lacking that knowledge it is very difficult to assess the competence of the many "consultants" that purport - for a good fee - to bring a winery’s wines up to that "special" level. And into any market where the customer lacks the expertise to gauge the quality of the service being offered, steps, frequently, the charlatan or snake-oil salesman. In the wine sector they are not infrequent and the only good thing that can be said for the current economic crisis which is heavily impacting on the wine sector is that the mistakes and failures to deliver of these second-rate "consulting wine-makers" are less tolerated than the go-go times before.
In December as the full scope of the problems arising from our previous consulting wine-maker became apparent, I wrote that even in a country with thousands of years tradition of wine-making, like Italy, there was currently great scope for wine-making consultants of every hue ranging from the competent to the grossly incompetent, the dedicated to the trickster, the honest to the charlatan, to ply their trade. This is because wine producers fall broadly into three types. The winning types are those established wine-makers, who have been in the business since the days when it was essentially an artisanate activity, who saw the need to develop constantly when all others were satisfied with the status quo. They embraced and refined technology and techniques and learnt how to standardise and industrialise processes to guarantee a minimum quality and who used their knowledge and capability to make good, even great, wines to improve all their wines. You find these types in Oddbins, Waitrose, Saisburys and Tesco amongst others!
On the other side are a pretty sorry lot. There are the old artisanate producers who were pretty happy with their situation and didn’t see much need to learn and apply new techniques, technologies and science. As the wine market expanded in the 1980s and 90s they added vineyards and carried-on producing wines of variable quality and inconsistent character. As their margins got progressively squeezed in the 1990s they realised that it was not enough simply to produce more but that they had to produce better. The problem was that they had forfeited the chance to learn gradually and now had to undertake exponential - and expensive - improvements in one leap.
Finally, we have the great folly of the last twenty years: the person of means, made in some other sector, who decides to buy and run (not personally, of course) a vineyard and winery. This foolishness was encouraged by literature lauding the experience, by the fine example of Gerard Depardieu and other luminaries, by films and television. It would have been easier and cheaper if these souls, instead of buying the land and winery, had just piled-up the Euros or Dollars that they were intending to spend and set fire to them. Being successful in some other sphere of life, these types, new to grape-growing and wine-making, expected, in a linear fashion, to get the thing in hand, have someone tend the vineyard, someone make the wine and then it would be sold.
But running a vineyard and winery is not linear. For one thing it is a natural product made by living things (yeast, bacteria and people) from a food (grapes) produced by living things (vines) subject to the whole environment. Non only, but success requires close cooperation between each of the players to arrive at a wonderful product (wine) and this cooperation has to be played out between multi-cellular and unicellular creatures of varying degree of complexity. Would you do it?
(to be continued ...)
In December I wrote a couple of times referring to problems that we had started to become aware of stemming from wine-making techniques adopted following advice of our consulting wine-maker. At the time we had been brought-up short by the realisation that the "Super" White Wines promised by our wine-maker were OK - were certainly not super - and were very heavily oaked. These white wines are very strongly appreciated by our New world guests - some Australians and New Zealanders just can't get enough of them. I have to admit that I, also, am a great fan of oaked white wines. But, we had to face the fact that we are not in the New World and that heavily-oaked white wines are too woody and strong for the under-average, average and over-average European palate!
Of course, what most Europeans long for - and what we all like and enjoy a whole lot - are light and fruity whites with an attractive perfume and a crisp note on the palate as the cool, semi-clear liquid is ingested on a warm day. Yumm! In December, reviewing our whites we realised that the "Super" and "Special" wines our wine-maker had promised - and had followed for 3 years in maturation - and that cost a fortune in time and money to make - were just not there. And at that point we slowly realised that we had had our own little Bernie Madoff.
Of course, the initial shock involved waking-up at 3.00 a.m. in the morning and revisiting every fact and scene involving the affair over the preceding years. This was quite quickly followed by a reckoning of losses incurred. Then the "what do we do now?" question raised itself. So much in such a short time! The worst part was accepting that over the years we had worked with this particular consulting wine-maker we had had serious, very serious, doubts. But the dropping of a name of a well-known supposed client, the sympathetic and understated approach, the reference to vague technologies and techniques and the difficulty that he had in finding time for us amongst all his "important" clients served not only to make us doubt our doubts but to doubt ourselves as well.
Wine being a foodstuff with a limited shelf-life meant that we had to work very fast to try to recover from the situation. The good news was that these problems didn't concern our red wines or non-oaked whites. We have more demand for our reds than we can satisfy and we are perpetually out of non-oaked whites so the problems only involved a percentage of our wines - but an important percentage. Getting a grip on the situation was rendered difficult by the fact that the wines in question were not in any way defective and have a very loyal - but little - fan-base (the barrels were very expensive and very good so someone should like the wines at least!). This meant that we had to take decisions concerning a good wine but of a style that would make it extremely difficult to sell in large quantities. This meant that we could not bottle the wine because it is a cardinal rule of wine-making that, for obvious reasons, you only bottle a wine that you are sure to sell.
In December we removed all the white wines from the barrels and in a long and tedious process created some blends which we are now in the process of selling wholesale. Realising that the wines that sold best plus the only award winning wines that we had made, had been made solely by us we decided that it was time to take the winery wholly in-hand ourselves and decide fully ourselves the strategy and techniques that we would use. No longer in thrall of the mystique of our previous wine-maker we came into contact with other wineries, received very helpful advice and suggestions from others in the industry and found ourselves with more choice and freedom to organise and run our wine business than we would ever have believed previously.
One of the first things that we did was to reduce the vineyard from 4 to 3 hectares to allow us to dedicate more time to the best parts of the vineyard and the winery. Previously we had been too overstretched. We then developed the means to prepare and bottle the wines during the winter something that is crucial for us as the Agriturismo renders wine-working impossible from late spring to mid-autumn. We finally got on top of previously impossible wine techniques like filtration and sterile bottling. In the last week we bottled three varieties of red wine and over the next month will bottle another two vintages of reds and two of white wines. All in all we are very pleased and it has gone well.
It is tiring. Recovering from a Bernie Madoff takes a lot of work. But I guess that it is here that the human spirit comes into play. We estimate that we lost around 30.000 Euro following the advice of our wine consultant. We discovered that what he was selling he couldn"t deliver because the way he wanted wines made technically meant that this wasn't deliverable. But this is all behind us now. The very fact of getting a grip on the situation, of moving forward by learning, gaining experience and mastery of the situation brings satisfaction that removes the cut of the loss.
Now we only have to confront the world economic crisis. Phew!!!
The Festive Season is now over and inexorably we move our way towards summer. Already the days are sensibly lengthening kicking-off the rush to get all necessary jobs done in the vineyard and farm before the arrival of spring. We passed a wonderful Christmas and New Year. We worked very hard reducing our four hectares of vineyard to three. Four hectares is too much for the two of us to follow as well as the agriturismo so we removed one-hectare of the least productive vineyard. Like wine, a vineyard must be well-balanced. A vineyard must produce, systematically and reliably, grapes of good quality. So we left the vines on the hill terraces. Exposed to the sun, well-drained and bathed in soft winds the vine plants produce grapes of wonderful quality. We removed four thousand plants and one thousand poles from the lower-lying and more closed-parts of the vineyard. The job was boring - using a piston on the tractor we pulled out the plants and poles one-by-one. But the days were sunny giving warmth so it was reasonably pleasant labour. Maybe it was more pleasant for me as I was on the tractor whereas it was hard-yakka for Luca who had to attach a strap to the plants and poles and manoeuvre them once the tractor had pulled them out of the ground!
We worked from day-break to sunset wanting to finish by the first week of the new year. The evenings were great. After a good day’s work we enjoyed a succession of fine meals and good wines with various friends who we don’t get to see so much in the summer.
We Wish You the Very Best for 2009. Perhaps wishing for prosperity might be a bit too much but happiness and good health should be more than enough. Auguri!