The Years of Franco Colautti - Part 2

Struggle between a Dream come True and the Economics of Small Farming

In 1972 Franco and his family - wife Idanna and children Susanna and Luca - came back to Italy after fourteen years of working-life in Mexico and moved into Casali Faula. Before the family's arrival some necessary improvements had been made to the house, firstly and foremost the construction of the first ever bathroom inside the house and the installation of a heating system in the bedrooms. Apart from that the house was kept as it was, except for the replacement of some windows and doors which still exist today. As far as the farming went, it was properly in those years that the vineyard that he had made in 1968 started to yield its fruits. So as from 1972 at La Faula wine was made again. The harvest and winemaking happened with the help of family friends mainly on weekends because Franco's main job was still in the steel industry. Franco employed some local people part-time, namely Primo Fattori and Consuelo Bacchetti, to prune the vines during the winter and do other agricultural jobs.

Franco, Primo and Susanna Left to Right: Primo Fattori, Franco Colautti and Daughter Susanna eraly 1970's

In those years, as the local agricultural authorities were thinking up new ideas to slow down the disappearance of hill and mountain farming, the local Communita Montana - a regional body in charge of issues relating to less developed hilly or mountainous areas - introduced a cattle breed which was a hybrid between the Bruno Alpina cow and the Aberdeen Angus cow.

Aberdeen Angus The Herd of Aberdeen Angus crossed with Bruno Alpina Breed

The breed could be purchased for Lire 200,000 from the regional breeding farm at Valle di Faedis. Franco had almost the whole property fenced-off, probably something like 10 hectares of it, bought five cows and a bull and released them in the newly built paddock. The cows, having been selected for their roughness and adaptability, did not require any shelter and would be killed with a rifle shot, butchered under the portico where the winery is now and their meat deep-frozen. The fundamental mistake of Franco was that of not dividing up the fenced-off land into paddocks. The animals through their own selective eating favoured the growth of of bramble, dog rose and other weeds, like thistle and nettle. Moreover, the cows prevented the growth of tree-seedlings and tended to de-bark older trees. To this day some of the descendents of those cows still graze at La Faula even though in recent years Limousin bulls were introduced to change the blood lineage, given that the original breed had disappeared.

Romilda and Milio

Then on 6th May 1976, the big earthquake came. The epicenter of that devastating event was 30 Km away from Ravosa. Apart from the destruction of large areas of the Friuli Region in terms of Medieval villages and ancient dwellings, it lead to the death of over a 1000 people and the damage of many other buildings. Fortuitously Casali Faula withstood the over one-minute long tremor at 8.1 on the Richter Scale, but it was rendered inhabitable. On the day following the earthquake, which was also Franco's birthday, he and his family moved to a house which Franco had just had built in Udine, which had not been so badly affected by the earthquake. From that 6th of May it took roughly ten years before the house was recertified to be habitable. In fact, the local Councils had first to come up with directives on how buildings could be restored as earthquake-proof. Secondly, all building plans had to be approved by local-council technical committees set up to check whether they met the anti-sismic directives. Thirdly, whoever had a house damaged by the earthquake could apply for Government grants. Finally the restoration of the buildings could take place.

Because of the earthquake, many people in the region were displaced from their houses and villages. Eventually, through national and international aid, a system of villages made up of wooden chalets or portacabins was set up in the areas destroyed by the earthquake and people moved into them, waiting for their villages to be re-built. Obviously, life inside such dwellings was not always comfortable. So it was that some people in the village of Ravosa asked Franco if a couple of relatives in their seventies could move into a section of the house at La Faula, which had not been damaged by the earthquake. Romilda and 'Milio' (Emilio) were a couple who originally lived in a hamlet on the Monte Maggiore in the Alpi Giulie in the Municipality of Lusevera. Their ancient stone mountain farmhouse on a steep slope on the side of the Mountain had been completely destroyed. Because they lived in an area of the Region bordering Slovenija, their language was a Slovenian dialect, even though they spoke a poor Italian and the Friulano dialect.

Romilda and Bruna Romilda, on the left, with Friend Bruna
Romilda and Milio Romilda Serving Lunch with Husband Emilio to Her Left

They were mountain people born in the early 1900's. Therefore, they had emerged from what at the beginning of last century had been a civilization, which had changed little for centuries, to our modern age. Leaving aside the tragic event that the earthquake had represented, moving to La Faula for Romilda had been like moving to civilized society. Most of her life had been lived in an isolated hamlet made up of three houses, where at times, when her husband went brick-making to Germany for a season of six months, she had managed her small farm by herself. That meant hay cut with a scythe and racked by hand, milking the cows early morning and night by hand and cleaning the cow stall, growing vegetables, beans and potatoes (a staple in the Winter season), picking chestnuts and other wild produce which again were essential in a winter diet. All this along with dozens of other jobs, such as raising rabbits and chicken, making essential repairs and bringing up the children. She gave birth to the last of her daughters by herself in the house, having to cut the umbelical cord with the kitchen scissors.

Faula early '80s Faula early '80s

In the eleven years that they lived at La Faula, from August 1976 to 1987, Romilda and Emilio looked after the property, wineyard included. They would prune the vines, cut all the grass by hand with a scythe getting up at 5.00 am in the morning. They kept laying chicken and ducks and a vegetable garden. With all their knowledge and hard work, they were a great asset for Franco who, because of his job which kept him abroad most of the year, had little time for La Faula. Eventually in 1987, when Milio was 83 and Romilda 78, they moved back to Lusevera, where Milio died three years later. Romilda died in 1993.

The early '90

After Romilda and Milio's departure Franco tried to keep the vineyard, the winery and the property going with the help of part time labourers from what was still then Yugoslavia - today's Slovenija - as well as a few local labourers. Labourers from Yugoslavia, at that time, were very cheap to employ because they demanded very low hourly rates, even in the days of the Italian Lira. The truth was that without the dedicated presence of somebody living on the property full-time, it was impossible to keep the vineyard and the winery going. So, in 1991, Franco decided to rent out the vineyard to a Maurizio Zacconer from nearby Nimis. Maurizio owned a winebar and had some vinyards of his own. At the same time, part of the house of La Faula had been rented out to an acquaintance from Udine and his family.

By 1995 the property had declined to a bad state. Maurizio gave up the lease of the vineyard which he had badly maintained, and the tenants had decided to go back to live in Udine. At that point Franco was in a bind. He did not want to sell La Faula and he could no longer keep it going given that by that time he was already 67 years old. So it was that at the outset of 1996 Luca took over the property without ever having had an agricultural background, or in simple words, without having a clue of what he had to do.