Thursday, May 27, 2010


This is the 4th time today that I see what looks like a miniature train crossing the valley floor. From our vantage point on the vineyard, the train from Naples to Rome runs by as though it were a little toy train: the sound it makes across the valley is faint like that of a toy train, and its bright silver and red paint sparkles as if it were under a Christmas tree.
It’s now 7 in the evening and we’ve been working all day tying the new shoots to the top wire.
When we arrived early in the morning, Filiberto, our neighbour, announces that he has just finished the 3rd application of Bordeaux mixture to our vineyard, a fungicide made up of copper sulphate and lime. It is considered to be eco-friendly and is used by organic gardeners. His sprayer is still attached to his tractor; he’s wearing a mask, a rain jacket and a baseball cap.
He looks a little embarrassed as he tells me that our vineyard has unfortunately been infected with peronospora, as have most of the other vineyards in the area. Peronospora or powdery mildew (exactly what we are trying to avoid when we spray), is a fungus that is the result of a wet spring and the leaves not having enough time or air around them to be able to dry properly. We have had a very wet, cold spring, with a lot of strong winds. The sunny days have indeed been few, and the weather is more like that of Nova Scotia where we come from. The hot sunny weather so common to this area is reluctant this year, and the vineyard is showing signs.
Filiberto informs me that he will be turning the soil this week so it is time for us to tie the new growth to the top wires. Before he leaves he shows me how his father used to tie the shoots to the wire. He grabs a handful of long grass and uses it like a twist tie. He says that it will last and hold the vines all summer.

As I tie I noticed that some of the grapes are starting to flower, and others show the signs of downy mildew…little grape bunches are turning brown, and I’m told they will just whither.
Sometimes this occasional withering of the bunches is another way to green prune. By reducing the number of bunches, you increase the quality of the grapes that you do harvest. That would be fine if we hadn’t already reduced our product by half. When we became owners of the vineyard, it was evident that it had had only minimum care over the past few years. The grass had grown so that it was now a vineyard on a lawn, taking valuable nutrients and water away from the vines. The vines had grown too big, and far too many shoots were allowed to remain on the vine.
The trellis system in place was two cordons of permanent spurs;
We use new cordons every year, a method called the Guyot System which uses last year’s shoots , a new fruitting cane as opposed to using the same cordon every year.

We tie all day, and we only manage to make it through 14 of the 38 rows. I don’t want to stop, but my husband and my son want to go home now. We worked through thunder and rain showers today.
On our way home we must stop off at Filiberto’s home in order to pay him for the work he does for us. Their home is newly built. The left side of the house is only a shell, and they live on the right side which in true Italian fashion is immaculate and finished in a nouveau but rustic style. His home is not on his vineyard but in the town of Solopaca. The left side of the house will be completed when one of their children marries, and they will have a ready made house for them to live in. This practice is very common in Campania as Campanians don’t like to be far from their family members, and by far, I mean across town. Next door is the ideal, shouting distance is considered acceptable. Many homes in this region either have an unfinished second story, or an unfinished duplex beside them waiting for one of their offspring to take occupancy. Many are now being sold, as it is the parents who are moving themselves to where their children have found jobs.

We arrived with a gift of a flat of strawberries, another practice that has become habitual for us when visiting someone at home. It needn’t be a big gift, but it’s a sign that shows that the relationship is more than just a transaction between two people. As tired as we were, showing up and just dropping off the money would have been an insult. Transactions in Italy are best made involving food of some kind, and the very best are those that are concluded around a table.

So paying Filiberto is not as simple as one would think. The arrangement came about during a casual conversation whereupon he realized that we didn’t own a tractor yet and so he offered his services. However, he wouldn’t tell me how much he would charge, and he looked very uncomfortable when pressed. We finally suggested a price/hour, which he agreed to, but we have no idea if we are paying him enough. He’s uncomfortable taking money from us, and we’re uncomfortable too, hoping we are not insulting him.

His sister-in-law Giovanna, his brother Michelle and his wife Pina seemed to be expecting us as they waited around his cozy kitchen table and the coffee was on. We had a cup of espresso and some “morzette”, the local name given to a biscotto, made with cacao, flour, egg whites, almonds, icing sugar and “mosto cotto”, or “boiled must” --the first free-run grape juice which is then boiled and allowed to reduce to one third to become a sort of syrup. Though I don’t have a picture of the actual biscotti from that day, this photo from the internet, pretty much resembles what we had and the recipe seems to match.
Filiberto has 3 vineyards, is a former prison guard, is a begrudging member of the Solopaca wine cooperative and urges me not to become one. He says that it will only tie me down and I will be forced to sell my grapes to them, for a lower price than I could get elsewhere. He promises me he will find a buyer for our grapes this year. I really hope so, I think to myself, wondering what I would do with all the grapes if I don’t find a buyer at the right time. I feel that he is someone I can trust. He went on to tell us about all the things he will help us do throughout the year, as well as go over all the things that need to be done in his opinion to bring the vineyard up to optimal standards. We really feel lucky to have found him.

Filiberto helps us, not because he does this for a living, as he keeps explaining to me-- he’s got enough of his own work to do-- but he says he does so because he sees our passion, and he sees how much we want to learn. When we do something that he doesn’t like, he tells us because, as he says “non vorrei che fate brutta figura.” ….he doesn’t want us to make fools of ourselves. Nor do we, so we take his advice.

Filiberto explains that he won’t be around as much to help us come September. He has a young 13 year old boy who has just been scouted by Inter-Milan, the famous soccer team, and because he is one year too young to be taken into their school and training camp, they advised his wife to take up an apartment in Milan next year. Filiberto will have to pay for this apartment and will take the little miniature train that we see from across the valley to Milan for occasional visits. His wife and their youngest son will live there. He explains that it will be a sacrifice, but what parent wouldn’t sacrifice it all to have their son set up for stardom, notoriety, and affluence, all while doing something that he and all Italians love. We all smile at this, and I wonder if the house they built next door will ever be inhabited by their children or be sold for a much grander lifestyle in Milan. Some would think that this wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice, but to see Filiberto, as attached to the land as he is, it would be, but then again, as he says, what parent doesn’t make sacrifices for their kids.

1 comment:

Deep Red Cellar said...

Sorry to hear of the personospora - hope you can nip it in the fanny. :) What a lovely write-up, Cathy. Filiberto sounds like a God-send. Bless him.