The Vendemmia (and a sister visit)

And suddenly it’s mid-October and I haven’t written in almost four weeks! I will try and do better. I once again find myself being pulled in a million directions, and feeling stretched too thin. This is something I thought was a product of my environment in Boston, but since traveling I’ve learned is just part of me, as it follows me wherever I go. I want to study more Italian, write more in my blog, write more in my journal, write more postcards, read more, take more photos, go for more walks, exercise more, do more yoga, do more travel and exploration of the area around here, hang out with my fellow interns, mingle with the guests, and of course, you know, be mentally present here as well too. As per usual, I feel that I’m doing a lot of things mediocre-ly, and not too many of them well. Also, Alex was here for two weeks, volunteering  at the farm, which was super fun. Two weekends ago I met her in Rome, and last weekend we went to Cinque Terre, so that kept me busy as well—more on that in coming posts!

But! Life on the farm continues to be great, though very tiring at times. I’ve slipped into a routine here now; farm equipment that seemed scary and imposing now feels familiar, and unfortunately I even have to remind myself to appreciate the gorgeous setting here, as I have begun to take it for granted as the backdrop for my every day life. Though still, in the mornings when the fog rolls in through the hills and swaddles Montarenti, the nearby castle-turned-observatory, in fog, I can’t quite believe that I get to live here.

The Grape Harvest

Three weeks ago was vendemmia, when we harvest all the grapes to make the Spannocchia wine that’s served at dinner throughout the year for the guests. Moreno, the man in charge of the vineyards, has been caring for the grapes and vines since the spring. When their sugar levels are right, it’s all hands on deck to get them picked as soon as possible.

First, we pick the best white grapes to be carefully rehung in a dark room to make Vin Santo, a dessert wine. They’ll hang for around three months to concentrate their flavors before being vinified.

bunches of white grapes for vin santo

bunches of white grapes for vin santo

Then, we pick the rest of the white grapes for the white wine. The red and white vines are intertwined here, so as you go along a vine there will be both red and white bunches. After the white grapes, we pick the more immature and the lighter red grapes (which would be too acidic for red wine) to make the fresh grape juice, which is the most incredibly delicious juice I’ve ever had—not just one-dimensionally sweet, like most grape juice, but dynamic—drinking it made me feel warm inside, it tastes like something that was living, or even still has life in it. Finally, after we’re done with the juice grapes, we pick the rest of the red grapes to make the rosato and red wine.

vendemmia-2.jpg

On the first day of harvest, the weather was beautiful and sunny, and we interns were in a good mood as we headed out to the vineyards together with our stackable red buckets. It was fun to all work together for a change, instead of each being in our respective interns post all over the farm. The three boys in the group—Luke, Philip, and Coulson—dressed up in short shorts and tight shirts and danced around to the soundtrack of Mamma Mia via portable speakers, which was continually charming throughout the day. 

It was pretty much like this.

It was pretty much like this.

We worked in pairs, each person on either side of the vine, clipping off the bunches of grapes, and had “vendemmia life talks”, when we would talk about more deep or personal parts of our lives through the leaves, while steadily making our way down the row. It’s a perfect place for these kind of conversations: talking about a vulnerability is easier when there’s no need to make eye contact, and there’s always something to do with your hands.

Sometimes the grapes were in perfect condition, hanging cleanly so all we needed to do was hold it in one hand and snip the stem. Other times, the bunches were intertwined with each other, or grown around a supporting wire, and it was a challenge to figure out how to extract it, which stem to snip. Or other times, part of the bunch was moldy, and we’d have to knock out the moldy grapes, which were soft and would squirt juice everywhere. Our hands got so sticky that I thought maybe I wouldn’t even need to grip my clippers, instead they would just stick to the skin my hands.

stacks of red grapes, ready to be made into wine

stacks of red grapes, ready to be made into wine

It was hard work; the buckets get so heavy when full of grapes, and my back was sore from dragging it along the bumpy ground as I worked and bending over the vines, but it was also fun to feel a part of something big, and learn a lot in the process. For example, I had no idea how many spiders go into the wine-making process (answer: more than you want to know.)

darker skies

darker skies

Unfortunately, the weather turned after our second day of harvesting the red grapes, and it started to rain. You can’t pick the grapes when it’s raining, because they swell with water and mess up the sugar levels, or something, so we had to sit on our hands and wait until it stopped and the grapes dried out again. Luke and I went back to normal animali chores—feeding pigs and moving fences from one muddy area to a slightly less muddy area. I went away to Rome for a 3-day weekend to meet Alex, and so missed Monday, which was the first day back of the harvest. But by the time Alex and I were back to help on Tuesday, the cinghiale (the dreaded wild boar) had broken in to vineyard and eaten most of the good grapes. The mood of the last day was somber, a far cry from the cross-dressing Mamma Mia dance party from the first day. Moreno was frustrated and upset, understandably, that a year’s worth of work can be compromised so severely in one night. But we were still able to get some red grapes, so it wasn’t all for naught. Unfortunately, the wine won’t be ready to drink until after I’m gone, so I’ll have to check back in with the farm in the spring to see how it turned out.