Today was the first day of the annual fencing chore. I shouldn't want to exaggerate, however. To a New Zealander fencing means leaving the homestead, often by miles, to make and remake miles of fences. At La Faula we would be lucky to have even one mile of fences. But by the end of summer, the grass grows slower and the grass on the other side of the fence seems greener so 'Daisy' (or Ermintrude or Bessie or whathaveyou) finds the inevitable weak point and pushes through. The too-ing and fro-ing of a 3 ton cow wreaks damage, more than the fence can bear and the brambles are more than ready to help out by covering, more or less instantly, and fence that is down.
But it's great to be outside. Fencing, even at the most minimal level, is deeply satisfying and speaks to the cowboy in those of us who led secret lives as cowboys as children (not to speak of Brokeback Mountain types of cowboys!). Cowboys wrought order out of the great American West and there is nothing like viewing a fence, soldier straight, wires perfectly taut, poles perfectly vertical, knowing that the corralled cows will thus not be free to roam and make harm on irascible neighbours' property!
On Friday afternoon Yetmir turned up to see us. Yetmir was carried to Italy in a fast speedboat from Albania some time around 1998. Being a minor the authorities were unable to deport him after he was picked up by the police so he was sent to a type of reform home run by the Catholic Church on behalf of the Italian State. There the boys learnt Italian and elemental skills like wood and metal working. Yetmir came to us on work experience and afterwards we gave him his first job while he worked out what he wanted to do.
Having left grinding rural poverty in Albania, Yetmir wasn't much enthused by agricultural work but he stayed with us for a couple of years before moving to a warehouse job with a large manufacturer of steel plants. From time to time Yetmir would call round to visit. He obtained and lost girlfriends, he bought and broke flash cars. He got on and fell out with flatmates. He had into occasional scrapes with unfriendly Italians in discotheques, sometimes over his nationality, sometimes over a girl.
When Yetmir was with us we went with him to north Albania. This was in 2002. At the time Albania was just emerging from the anarchy that broke out after the fall of Enver Hoxha's mad and madly xenophobic regime. Blood feuds based on the Canon of Lek had returned and foreigners could only travel safely if in a group such as the Charities operating at the time or if protected by the rigid rules of Albanian hospitality. Thus we were both the guests and wards of Yetmir and his family!
It was a wonderful and wondrous experience. The people of Albania are directly Illyrians and until the fall of communism had retained a clan society going back to European pre-history. Their rules on hospitality were unyielding. A stranger and guest must be treated as king while in the house. Thus Luca and I had the only bedroom and beds while everyone else in the house slept on mats on the floor. But a guest has a reciprocal obligation to respect the rules of hospitality, eating what is offered without hesitation, respecting the segregation of women, not imagining to go into the kitchen and not offending by demurring when every morning one found one's shoes cleaned from the previous day's mud.
We went to Albania in December. It was chilly so the rooms were heated by a brazier. We sat with the men as they 'chewed the fat' (as my Scottish Highland grandfather would say - he too knew a bit about clans). We were served by the women. More than one man carried a firearm. One man, barely away from being a boy, was in the village as to venture outside would involve death at the hands of the family of the young man he killed. We knew that we were seeing another time already transitioning away.
And so on Friday Yetmir came again to visit. 26 years old and with a flash Alfa Romeo. He had been laid off as the company had outsourced some of its logistics previously done in-house. And as his job went so did his right to stay in Italy. And so, for the time being, Yetmir will be with us again. It was the only hospitable thing to do!
Well, that's it, the Grape Harvest is finished and all the wines are in various stages of creation. It all happens so quickly. From the day the first grape is picked until the day that the last lid is screwed tight on the last wine to finish and stabilize my life revolves around the winery. The transition from a fermenting juice to a finished wine can be rather tricky. As the sugars are consumed and the yeast begin to die off there are some risky moments until the wine stabilizes and every wine maker dreads to discover problems at this time. On the one hand, there is the need to leave the fermented juice a little to decant while on the other there is the risk that the wine will reduce during this time. The red wines achieve their colour and complexity through the twice daily pumping over of the juice through the skins. It is a tedious job with lots of cleaning and putting everything in order until the next time. On lovely sunny days being in the winery is not so bad. On rainy days when it is damp outside and inside it's not the best!
Right at this moment the white wines have finished their fermentation. Without a consulting winemaker it falls to Luca and myself to sample the wines at the various stages to decide if we are happy with them, if we need to intervene in the process to help the fermentation and to know what has been the outcome of the various processes used in wine making. Neither of us are big wine drinkers. Luca, in fact, rarely drinks alcoholic drinks and I prefer a cold beer. But the process of knowing what we have in our winery and what it is doing and how it is evolving is leading us inexorably deeper into the whole mastery and mystique of the small wine makers art. Making that wine that you have in your head seems so difficult, it is a dream, and no matter how far away from its realization you seem this serves only to prompt a deeper longing to ’get it’ the next time, and so on. As one makes wine only once a year this yearning seems to fester and grow with time. Suddenly, being 50 seems far to old to be starting this lark!