Monday, June 21, 2010

Green Pruning, Red Tape

After a one weekend break from the vineyard we’re back at it again. Filiberto saw us drive by, and came to tell us that he had done one more spray application and that it was now time for la potatura verde or green pruning. “Si deve liberare I grappoli”:you have to free the bunches of grapes before they get too big. He spent no more than ten minutes with us, giving us a lesson in what needed to be done, and how it should be done. In five minutes he managed to work half-way down one row, all the while explaining and talking about what we were trying to achieve and why. He explained that this is done to rid the plant of unnecessary foliage, to free the bunches, to allow air to circulate around them. The bunches will also be a lot easier to pick if positioned this way come harvest time. The thinning is only done underneath the bunches, but not above them. The canopy on top is maintained in order to protect the now dangling bunches from the hot sun, and from hail in the event that it should fall. The ideal canopy allows for a dappling of sun to hit the bunches. He explains that we also must be mindful of next year’s shoots. If we trim some of the shoots that are hanging over into the rows, we must remember that at least two of them will make up next year’s new cordon. Next year’s shoots need to be kept at least 5 buds in length. “allora fate attenzione”…so, be careful, don’t cut them too short. Filiberto left, and the 3 of us began making our way through the 38 rows, one vine at a time. We could not come close to keeping up with Filiberto’s pace. There were too many decisions to make: pull this, keep that, “oh no…those were grapes I just pulled off and not leaves; is this a shoot I’m going to want for next year? How long should I keep it?” To give you a better idea of what we were up to this weekend here are some before and after photos:

Alittle while later, Filiberto’s brother Michele and his wife Giovanna drove by. I went over to greet them and they got out of their Jeep. They apologized for being hot and sweaty, as they also had been doing the potatura verde. They made sure to give us the same lesson that Filiberto had given us about an hour earlier. We didn’t mind, as they really seem to care that we do things well. Michele asked if I had registered my vineyard yet. This is a bit of a worry for me, but I told him I was in the process of getting it done. In order for me to be able to sell the grapes,( legally), I need to make my way through the maze of Italian bureaucracy. Italians themselves complain to no end about government workers, but I’ve rarely seen an Italian lose their patience with one. This surprises me, because Italians are not known to maintain their decorum when frustrated just for the sake of politeness. I’ve asked a few people about this and they say, that you must treat these government people with kid gloves because if you get mad at them, they can easily sabotage what it is you are trying to do. With this in mind, I realized I was in way over my head, as I didn’t have a clue about what I needed and which government agency I needed to report to. I needed help and I hired, a local geometra, who just happened to be in the grape business, and who just happened to be the person who cultivated the land that we bought as the former owner had died and his wife allowed him the rights to cultivate it. Already too complicated for me.

I made an appointment to see him, but I was not sure what I was going to ask of him, and what it is, if anything he could do for me. All I knew is that he had some papers that were in his name that needed to be transferred into my name. As he mentioned all kinds of officious documents that I would need, documents I couldn’t even remember the names of let alone understand what they might be, I was filled with despair, but convinced that this was a person that I shouldn’t aggravate, and who might be able to help. So I apologized for knowing nothing, and asked him to repeat what exactly I needed to do. I would stop him in conversation and ask him to repeat the name, and I would write the words down. If I could get the correct names of the papers that I needed I could go home and them up on the internet to come to some sort of understanding of them. I know I must have looked pathetic, but even at that, I didn’t get the impression I was arousing any sympathy. The list went on, and I continued to ask what it was called, and where I would go for it. There were no straight answers. I pressed on. He finally offered to do it all for me on my behalf. I didn’t have all the words that I needed in Italian to express the relief and the gratitude that I felt for him in that moment. "You mean, I could hire you to do all of this for me?" “Siiii” he responded with a smile. I am not sure of this man, and it is clear that he is not sure of me. The relationship is not yet one of trust as I would like it to be. He’s a person whom people speak sotto voce about when I mention his name, and then they speak in dialect to each other about him and I can’t understand what they are saying. I can’t be sure of his trustworthiness, but no one has really come out and said anything against him. I know that he lives in a rather large stately home in Solopaca.
He wrote up a document that he asked me to sign identifying the actions that he would take on my behalf. I went home and I looked up every term that I had written down during our conversation. This is what I understand he will do for us, and what I understand the terms to be based my on internet searches:
(1) He would transfer the declaration of the area under vines(la dichiarazione della superficie vitata) into my name. Curiously, this doesn’t happen automatically when one buys a property.
2) He would get a VAT number for me which essentially means a business taxation number. (accensione di Partita IVA)
3) He would register the business (and I needed a business name) with the Chamber of Commerce (la Camera di Commercio). As a business name we chose Azienda Agricola Cerasella (little cherries for the cherries that grow around the property).
4) He would transfer my name to the Fascicolo Aziendale which is a set of documents and information that summarizes the business situation held by the regional government.
5) He would register me with INPS (Istituto Nazionale Previdenza Sociale or the National Social Security Institute which issues pensions, unemployment benefits and other types of aid administered by the Ministry of Welfare….I’m guessing a pension plan) as a “coltivatrice diretta” literally I’m the person who directly cultivates the land: the farmer.

I had to first of all become a farmer. I found out there are two types of farmers: an impreditore agricolo, and a coltivatore (or in the case of a female a coltivatrice) diretta. No one, could tell me what the difference is. I went onto the internet going from site to site, reading different threads of people asking the same question as me. Though there was discrepancy in the answers that I found, I think I basically know what the difference is. The Coltivatore Diretto or “direct farmer” has to pay a registration fee (120euros/year)and is issued a partita IVA (VAT) number. The coltivatore can sell his product for up to 7000 euros a year. The coltivatore diretto may hold another job and doesn’t need to have any professional training nor does he need to keep accounting unless he makes more than 7000 euros. This person is registered at the Coldiretti I haven’t found out what that is, or where it is. I think it is some agricultural association or government division. My guess is that this category is for hobby farmers. They can pay into INPS (Istituto Nazionale Previdenza Sociale or the National Social Security Institute.....Issues pensions, unemployment benefits and other types of aid administered by the Ministry of Welfare.
The second type of farmer is an Impreditore Agricolo Professionista who is a person who has had some sort of training in agriculture, the raising of animals, or in the care of a forest. It is also someone who dedicates at least 50% of his work time to this endeavour and derives 50% of his income from it. This is an agricultural business, and accounting is formally kept and dues are paid to the INPS and INAIL (Workmen’s Compensation – Istituto Nazionale per l’Assicurazione contro gli infortuni sul Lavoro.)

I don’t know how much I will be charged for these services either. When pressed, I got an answer like, “well, it wouldn’t be much”.

As I left his office and proceeded down his long driveway I felt conflicting feelings. I was relieved but still a little uneasy. For some reason, I felt compelled to turn around and look back when I noticed my geometra /appointee was watching me leave. He had both hands on his hips, and he still wore the suspicious look.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Zucchini Fritters with Romanesco Salsa, Peperoni in Padella col Pomodoro, and Ravioli con Ricotta e Spinaci col salvia

We had a lazy Sunday, and I was meaning to go grocery shopping today, we were meaning to go to the vineyard, and we never got to either place. So, dinner was the result of what we had on hand.
The zucchini fritters with the Romanesco sauce is a recipe that I got from my cousin in Toronto who took a cooking class. They are made by grating zuchini; I used 2 very large zuchini that Giacomino gave me yesterday, grating an onion, chopping up 1 clove of garlic, parmesan cheese, and adding to that 2 eggs, and flour. I squeezed the extra liquid out of them, formed little patties, and fried them in olive oil, because I didn't have any grapeseed oil on hand.

The salsa calls for tomatoes, a handful of almonds, parsley, de-pitted green olives, roasted red peppers n brine, all mushed up in the blender, oh...and a red hot dried pepper. I don't use quantities when I'll have to guess. Here's what it looked like on the plate. They were crunchy on the outside, and sweet on the inside with the sauce adding zest and flavor, and spice.

I also needed to finish off some green peppers that I had in the fridge, so I made a typical neapolitan dish: peperoni in padella col pomodoro (green peppers and tomatoes fried in olive oil and garlic). I vary the recipe, and some neapolitans may tell me that I've made it all wrong, but to my palate, it tastes the same. I cut up the green peppers and tomatoes, and fry them both together in olive oil and garlic. I didn't have a lot of tomatoes left, so I didn't get a lot of juice from it. It's best served on fresh pane a legna, a dense, heavy bread, sold by the 1/2 or kilo, cooked in a wood-fired oven.

The last dish was Ravioli filled with Spinach and Ricotta, with olive oil a little bit of butter, sage, topped with tomatoes and fresh Italian parsley. If you would really like any of these recipes please let me know, and I will do my best to come up with quantities. The wine? That was left over too--last night's Falanghina/Garganega. It all tasted so good.

Trying to Make Sense of New EU Rules Governing Wine and a couple of questions.

The EU has recently legislated new communal regulations regarding food and drink, and wines have not escaped the makeover. There was a lot of negativity in the industry, as you can well imagine, when the reforms were first proposed as every country scrambled to decode the regulations to figure out what the impact would be for them. Thankfully, the reforms also insure that traditional “best-practices” that currently offer such diversity in the Italian wine landscape for example, are preserved throughout the re-structuring.
I have read as many articles as I could find on the subject, which I have referenced below, and have summarized, and greatly simplified the amendments, which apply to the vineyard owner, the winemaker and the consumer.

The main reasons for the reform were to effectively deal with overproduction, to harmonize vineyard practices and winemaking rules, and to create more transparent labeling practices to make choices clearer for the consumer throughout all EU member states.
While Europe is still the biggest producer and exporter of wines, New World wines seem to be gaining greater market shares and this fact has led European winemakers and economists to squirm and look for ways to maintain and increase their foothold.

The first area that caught the eye of the Common Market Organization for Wine (wine CMO) was the wasteful surplus of wine due to overproduction. They have set out a plan to eliminate this surplus and equilibrate supply with demand. Every year Europe is left with large quantities of wine for which there is no market and they must then deal with costly decisions either to store or distill the surplus. Hence, they decided that a good way to discourage this practice is to eliminate distillation or storing subsidies and to encourage producers only to make wine in the amount that they can sell.

Overproduction is also directly related to over planting to which the following rules have been established with regard to the conversion and re-structuring of vineyards:
-grubbing up of unlawful plantings (literally pulling up vines) which according to the Official Journal of the EU “constitutes a source of unfair competitions and exacerbates the problems of the wine sector”. As well, there is a 3-year voluntary grubbing up scheme for producers who wish to turn their vineyards into other uses.
They have incorporated stricter rules and monitoring with respect to awarding planting rights or replanting rights
-maximum yields per hectare preserving the quality of the grape over quantity
-the grapes planted must be of the vitis vinifera species, the species native to Europe

The most salient regulation for winemakers seems to focus on the prohibition and/or limitation of the practice of chaptilisation (the addition of sucrose to a low-alcohol wine or use of concentrated musts in order to increase the natural alcohol strength of the wine) except in certain areas where achieving ripeness in the grapes (and thus minimum sugar content) is difficult due to climatic factors. In these areas, chaptilisation will have maximal limits: 2% for Spain, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, and 1% for certain parts of France.
Why would this practice have come under the microscope? Well, some consider the artificial addition of sugar gives the wines a certain “blousy” unnatural effect (MacNeil, Karen: The Wine Bible). The regulations aim at improving the quality of wines.

Everyday consumers are often perplexed by the complicated and diverse labeling systems that don’t give the consumer a lot of information about what they are buying. Not only do rules governing quality vary from country to country, but some EU countries (France, Italy and Spain), label their quality wines for the terroir from which they come. In other words, the place of Origin and associated traditions and grapes varietals particular to that area, represent quality in some countries, while others govern their labeling purely on quality, unrelated to terroir, such as Germany.

Labeling rules have been simplified to allow more transparency for the consumer and must conform to the new labeling hierarchy as illustrated below. Each country will have the same categories.
The IGP wines (Indicazione Geografica Protetta, or PGI, Protected Geographical Indication) were formerly the IGT category of wines in Italy.
The DOP wines (Denominazione d’origine Protetta, or PDO, Protected Designation of Origin), which in Italy are the former DOCG and DOC wines, consolidated into one category.Before this reform, these terms only applied to food products such as cheese, some fruits and vegetables and olive oils. Now these terms apply to wines. IGP wines may also include the former table wines that had a Geographical indication. Table wines without the Geographical Origin would be delegated to the category of “Wines or wines without a geographical Indication”. Wines in this category will now be allowed to mention the grape variety and the vintage. The accuracy of this information will be monitored by authorities, and the list of grape varieties will be limited.
The new rules were legally adopted in March 2008, came into effect in Aug, 2008, but producers have until December 2010 to comply with the new labeling rules.

The question that comes to mind in all of this, and I admit that my research has been cursory, is how will the consolidated category of DOP wines make the distinction between the current 49 Italian DOCG's which are, as I understand, of superieor quality, to the more 300 DOC's?
And I have one more question related to will future superior Italian wines distinguish themselves? Perhaps, I've got to get away from the old categories. Perhaps, this time it will be left to the consumer to decide.
I welcome any comments, answers or clarificatons.

You may read the reforms in English at the following site - 61 pages

You may read the more concise and comprehensive EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mariann Fischer Boel’s explanation and justification for the reforms at
Both of the above were sources used for this article as well as

While the Italian wine pyramid in this article is my own drawing, the original comes from the following Italian site

Friday, June 11, 2010

Getting from Here...To There

Here There

As we tie the last vines we hear our very secretive neighbor call out to us once again. She has been making herself known on our frequent visits, but refuses to show herself. Her call sounds an awful lot like “cu-cu”, begging us to repeat it back to her. This is the first time I think we’ve ever heard a real cuckoo before. I look around, but I can’t see her. I call her a “her” because she doesn’t appear to be doing a lot of work while we are there. Female cuckoos are a clever, lazy, lot and get other birds to make their nests, and even raise their young. They will go as far as eating the other eggs in the hosts’ nest that they choose. They spy on the nests’ occupants closely, and can often mimic their eggs in color and size. The foster parents are none the wiser, and lavish the young cuckoo with all the love and attention that they would offer their own. Where’s the satisfaction in that, I wonder.
But then, as the spring sun heats up, and we can barely work past noon anymore, and whatever unseen, unheard bugs that have found a take -out lunch on my neck bring my frustration level to boiling point, I entertain the thought, for a while, of hiring someone to do this work. I’m in a sea of grapevines, and I know that if I stop now and linger on that thought for too long, I might give into it, so I put one foot in front of the other, and go to the next vine. It becomes apparent to us that we will have to move: either closer to Solopaca, or build something on the property. We should be doing this work in the early morning and late evening, but we live too far away for that right now. No one works in the afternoons here except us; it’s just too hot.
We are beginning to know our vines, and they are beginning to respond in a way that kind of makes us proud. I can’t help making the comparison between parents and children. It is very similar to the pride that I feel towards my own children when they accomplish or do good things. We have put the time into parenting these vines, and they’re responding, just like we had hoped.

We venture into a part of the vineyard that we haven’t been to for a while. We tend to spend a lot more time on the first rows than we do the last. As I am the first on this day to venture into this area, I am also the first to feast my eyes on a wall of overgrown cherry trees. We’ve heard locals refer to our part of the town as “Ceraselle” meaning “little cherries” for the now wild cherry trees that grow up here. I look up and there is a wall of green with bursts of bright red cherries. I’m delighted and I call everyone over to see it . Our son Adam acts rather blasé but it is he who took these photos:

Ron, my husband, thinks this should be the business name for the vineyard. The cherries are my pat on the back today…they seem to have recognized our efforts all these days, and reach out with their beauty to our tired spirits, and make us feel like it is worthwhile.
Something the cuckoo bird will never know.

Tasting notes tonight are of a local wine from Benevento. This wine, though not from Solopaca is from a town higher up the mountain in Frasso Telesino. It is IGT because of the use of the garganega grape which is not a local grape but more widely used in the Veneto region in Soave and Gambellara.

Azienda Agricola De Fortuna
Falanghina Beneventano IGT
Finile 2009
Grapes: Falanghina and Garganega
ABV 12,5%
The wine is bright, crystal clear and straw yellow in color, and almost transparent but with a slight tinge of green on the rim. It is fairly viscous with fairly quick tears, medium in size.

The town where the grapes are grown, Frasso Telesino, is located at about 374m above sea level, and has greater fluctuations in day and night temperatures than Solopaca where we are located, so I’m expecting to find more exciting aromas in the wine: it is intense with sweet, spring flowers like jasmine, and fruit-filled of pear, citrus, and definitely some flinty mineral tones, some almond. The wine is fairly complex in its aromas and presents an elegant bouquet. This wine has made a very good first impression.
To the taste it is dry, leaves behind a warmth from the alcohol, but is nice and smooth. There is a light and pleasant freshness from the acidity which is well balanced against the smooth feel of the wine. There is a liveliness there, but also a very persistent minerally,
flinty aftertaste which I think comes from the Garganega. What a lovely combination in a wine.
It is of medium structure, well-balanced, fairly intense and persistent. It has good overall harmonious qualities, and an elegant finish. Complimenti Azienda De Fortuna! It's late, and I'm afraid, I opened the wine just to taste, so I haven't paired it with anything. It's length and persistence would have be believe that it could handle a little competition from the food: perhaps stronger tasting fish dishes, medium-aged cheeses.