[Being written Wednesday afternoon 16 May]
Springtime in Agriculture is a time of immense pressure. The response to the explosion of growth determines, along with the weather, of course, the nature of the eventual harvest in the autumn. So the grass must be cut at the first burst so it doesn’t out-compete the vine plants. The buds that sprout on the trunk of each and every vine must be removed to stop the vine reverting to the climber that it is by nature. Luca must begin the first spraying of the vines with copper sulphate to protect against fungal disease. It’s a jungle out there!
It is also a time of wine-bottling. Every year we close the Agriturismo for a week so we can get necessary bottling done in the spring. At the end of that week one knows there are bookings meaning breakfasts to be served and dinners cooked. One week may seem like plenty of time to prepare and bottle wine but in fact it is down to the line. Preparing the winery for the whole process takes a day in itself. Everything needs to be in the right place and clean. Filtering takes three days and the bottling two. Finally, there is a full day of cleaning and reverting the winery back to its ’normal’ condition.
At La Faula we bottle by hand. We have each of the elements of a bottling plant but it is not automated so it is physically demanding bottling 3,000 bottles in a burst. In addition, each step involves different machinery and the prospect of breakage and things going wrong. I find the whole thing unbelievably stressful and it is such a relief to have the wine in the bottle and no winery work until the harvest.
Last week the bottling itself went well. The filtering, which can be a real challenge, went smoothly. As someone once said to us about wine filtering "you know when you start but you never know when it will finish". This time it finished well. On the first hour of the bottling, a spring in the Stelvin capper broke and I feared that we would have to abandon the whole thing. However, the technician expert on cappers at our local wine machinery shop was in the workshop and free so Luca rushed the capper down, had it repaired and adjusted, and we had it back in time to carry on.
We know people with money who keep vineyards and make wine for pure passion; for the love of it. I can’t understand this. I always tell them instead of spending all that money and work for no return but the gratification to say that the wine in a bottle is ’yours’, why don’t you just burn an equivalent amount of Euros in the courtyard and spend the rest of the free time relaxing with a book! I guess that when it comes to wine passion one either has it or one doesn’t. How else can one explain the people that lose thousands and thousands of Euros, dollars etc investing in wineries that never turn a profit?
The week of the wine bottling also coincided with the opening of the swimming pool, the cleaning and filling of the fountain and cutting the grass around the house. It has been pretty stressful. Our swimming pool man is closing down. Friuli has never been a great swimming pool area and with the recession no-one is currently making pools. Our guy, who has moved into truck driving (having a truck for his swimming pool business helped!) hatched a plan to do pool openings and closures for existing clients as a way to augment his income. The weakness in his plan to operate, on the side, a bespoke and deluxe pool opening and closing service is that the prices would be deluxe also. In times of recession this is not a winning proposition and so I am in a bit of a quandary: keeping a relationship open with the guy is a good idea because when things break in the peak of summer he can put it right. On the other hand, we are running an Agriturismo not a firm of notaries so we can’t pay luxury prices for normal work. We paid for this year but rather resentfully so this is a problem to confront next spring and I guess that a lot of water will have passed under the bridge by then!
Of course, I would quite like to write about how things are developing in good old Italia, and I will, so I will just nip to the kitchen and do some prep for tonight’s dinner, then I will get down to it!
Today it was reported that the International Monetary Fund, at the end of its annual mission to Italy, considered that "Italy is a model for Europe" ... that "six months have passed since the current Government took charge [and] it has introduced policies that have produced a noteworthy level of stability. Those policies have been ambitious and have progressed the level of structural reforms".
So, there you have it. Italy is a model for Europe. How reassuring.
And it is true that, according to the Bank of Italy’s owns studies, Italy really has no problems at all. The Bank of Italy has reported that the Black Economy in 2008 was equivalent to 31.1% of Italy’s GDP and that of that 31% 18.5% was due to tax evasion and the remaining 12.6% to criminal activity. All the Italian State has to do is get its hands on that money and, in a trice, it’s economic problems will be over.
And so we are brainwashed into believing.
But something strange is happening in this economy awash in undeclared income. Businesses are failing in record numbers. The State debt collection arm, Equitalia (a nice touch, that, the name - Equitable Italy) has opened and continues to open record numbers of payment-demand and application proceedings and for its efforts is repaid by bombs and threats to its employees. Record numbers of business owners are committing suicide and although the causes of suicide are various and complex a good number have cited, in written notes left behind, economic difficulties and problems with the Italian State as being the reason they don’t feel able to go on.
But this is just anecdotal. More interesting are the official statistics for the first three months of this year. Notwithstanding the application by the Italian State of a truly massive amount of resources aimed at finding and combating tax evasion the year-on-year tax take was down by 0.5% and in March the public debt reached a new record. Not only but the Industrialists Federation is predicting a significantly deeper recession than forecast largely due to the collapse of internal demand in Italy.
Now none of these things prove the Bank of Italy wrong. However, the Bank of Italy study is only conjecture because if the Italian State, desperate as it is, knew where the black money was it would have got it. In fact, this mad Italian official obsession with the El Dorado of evaded taxes is causing deep damage to individual businesses, the economy and Italian society at large.
The evidence clearly shows that the Italian private sector is generally, although obviously not exclusively, in real difficulty. The numbers of workers on government-paid stay-at-home problems is climbing every month, businesses are going bust, GDP is falling and the tax take is going down notwithstanding swinging tax increases and the application of anti tax evasion measures that have been described by the Privacy Commissioner as far from those of a Western Democracy.
to be continued