Wednesday 16 June was a good day for our winery activities. A small hotel in Austria decided to source the major part of their wine supplies from us. They have previously been good customers taking away certain local wines like Refosco or our Faula Bianco (made with Friulano) but this time they took a wide selection and it was deeply satisfying and affirming feedback on where our wines fall in the market. The market is amazing in its action. When one produces a wine that the market wants at the right price it just goes - automatically and all by itself! On the other hand, and we know this well from when we had a 'consulting wine-maker', one can convince one's-self (or be convinced by the consultant) that a particular wine is exceptionally good but if the market doesn't like it it will remain in the winery. All well and good you might think - but rather obvious. It is obvious, but often wine-makers (and carmakers and makers of lots of other things) are so convinced of their product, and the way that it is made, that they forget about the market.
It is the same in the case with the sovereign debt problem. The whole world knows - or would know if they followed the news - that Italy is a badly managed country with a bloated public sector, a hostile and obstructive bureaucracy, scant regard for markets, encouragement or at least toleration of cartels, gross mismanagement of public projects and corruption (without mentioning the Mafia or Berlusconi!). It also has the 3rd highest public debt in the world being 118% of gross domestic product. It is inconceivable that a nation such as Italy which has only ever exhibited in its history inadequacy of national decision-making (a true case where the 'wisdom of crowds' exposes the poverty of intellectual capacity of the people) can ever pay-back this debt. And its ability to maintain such a debt level will only reduce as the Italian economy stagnates.
In true Italian fashion the Italian government has failed to tackle the problems besetting the country (although the problems besetting Berlusconi are readily and ingeniously, if controversially, addressed). Instead, it has spent its energies convincing the world that it really isn't like Spain ('spivvy-newcomer') or Greece ('decadent, going no-where oldgoer') so we don't really need to worry about that public debt. But Italy is worse, much worse than either Spain or Greece. It didn't create its debt splurging on cheap Euro-denominated funding. No, instead, a whole generation over the last thirty-fourty years borrowed and transferred that wealth to itself. So Italy has an enormous public debt and extraordinary high household wealth. The debt is held by the State on behalf of the people. It is wholly inconceivable that the very people who engineered this situation are going to transfer their wealth to pay-down the debt. When the markets finally grasp this who knows what will happen? Maybe Italy will once again become a rather charming - if a bit run-down - cheap holiday destination!
When we came to La Faula I was 35 and Luca was 32. We felt young. Our friends were young-ish and having kids. Families came to La Faula and our principal preoccupation was with children’s’ safety; would the white dogs bite them?; would they fall-off the various walls or pieces of machinery and injure themselves?; would they come to harm in the ponds and streams around La Faula?
Time passed with nothing major having occurred and then this year a lot changed. I am now 50 and Luca is 47. Suddenly, Europe can no longer shoulder the burden of low productivity and growth with an ageing population. And that ageing population is also reflected at La Faula. Of course, we still have plenty of families with kids, as the daily photos show. But we are also having always more - can I say it - older people. Older people who are independent and clear of mind but not always of step and for whom machinery - even unfamiliar coffee machines - can pose a bit of a challenge. Some of these people find their own way to La Faula - but not many because generally the Internet is still a step too far away. But they come through recommendations and, they come because they have come many times previously, and during the meantime they got older.
Now, in 2010, our concern is to view La Faula, physically and its systems and processes from the point of view of more elderly guests. One obvious change is that whereas parents wholly supervise their young children (at least the attentive one’s do), with older people, to some extent, that concern and assistance has to be shown - and exercised - by us.
Obviously, every generation has to live through change. Historically, it was often war. In Continental Europe today it is these massive demographic changes wrought by the generation born just before or during the war. They worked hard, rewarded themselves with early and generous pensions for that hard work and now they are travelling!
MY heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began,
So is it now I am a man,
So be it when I shall grow old
Or let me die!
The child is father of the man
So many people who have written recently have asked how things are going at La Faula that I guess it merits a blog entry.
The most important thing right now is our relief that the weather has turned and it is now consistently sunny and warm. April and May, just passed, were truly horrible and were a real problem for an Italian Agriturismo. Of course, it must rain sometimes here otherwise the place would be parched like the Sahara Desert but the weather was really unpleasant, cold, sometimes with driving rain. It was pretty much like winter in Wellington, New Zealand.
Although we don't control the weather we felt bad for guests who came from colder northern climes, seeking sun and warmth, and instead just found a milder version here of what they had at home. On the contrary, when the weather is warm and sunny, the sky always blue, we almost feel responsible for holiday-makers obvious enjoyment!
Probably due to the weather but I think probably also due to economic uncertainty which is playing-out also in our sector, the start to the season was less than stable with great fluctuations in the numbers of guests. As our seasonal student helpers don't arrive until mid-June we found ourselves sometimes really pushed to manage the numbers of guests staying and especially dining. Maritza, the cleaning lady, found herself also pushed into kitchen duties more than once! Other times, were very quiet and would have given us time to devote effort to the vineyard- if the weather hadn't been so damp, that is!
Anyway, now the ship is out and the season for the Agriturismo moving along.
On the wine side things have really gone well. Our change of strategy, to produce lighter, easy-to-drink wines has had an immediate impact with sales soon to outstrip supply (it must be said we are relatively small wine producers!). We won another Silver Medal at the Italian National competition for 'organic' wines (those made from organic grapes - currently there is no European standard for organic wines) for our Merlot 2007. We guessed that this would do well just by looking at how many guests took it away at the end of the holiday.
We do feel confident on the wine-side of our business as we have only just embarked on the road towards producing light and fruity wines and every year will bring improvements in techniques and equipment (for this year's harvest we will have, for the first time, a refrigeration unit to cool-down and clarify the must prior to fermentation, for example).
The Golf Club - which is separate from us but which uses our fields - is really proceeding apace. To our great pleasure they are putting-in a (very) small putting area with synthetic turf and a (very, very) small bunker. They have worked on the hill behind the house and a creating 9 rustic holes. We don't know anything about golf but we are really pleased to see their enthusiasm - quite apart from the improvements that they are making to our land!