No time to wither on the vine

Cinque Terre vineyardsOn the terraces of the Cinque Terre the grapes have matured after such a long dry Summer and harvest time is already over. While tourists still invaded the villages oblivious to the sweat and hard toil that was going on in the vineyards above. Yet it is these vineyards that represent the Cinque Terre and the spirit of sacrifice that locals have had to exercise in order to obtain fruit from this enchanting paradise yet harsh land.

As I have said before, many have given up this tough labour and left their terraces abandoned as farming is no longer a viable livelihood and tourism in particular offers new employment opportunities. Those that do remain are mostly elderly, sentimentally attached to their vineyards and sometimes assisted by the Save Vernazza project or students work experience.

Cinque Terre wineThe land is a fragile one as we all remember so well with the flood in 2011 and the continual landslides that occur, are often aggravated by the lack of maintenance of the terraces. Various initiatives to encourage locals to return to farming have been discussed and some young people are taking up the challenge. The local Farm Cooperative that coordinates the harvest and produces the wine offered to pay double the price for grapes this year! Great news!

It’s a pity however that the dry season has meant less quantity, although the predictions are for great quality wine.

 

Human genius has managed to overcome some of the difficulties associated with farming these terraces as fifty monorail stations are now in operation, meandering these steep slopes to simplify the transportation of grapes and equipment.

Sunset brought the predicted storm, the classic sign of an end to the Summer and what a spectacle! Nature’s theatre for us all to watch from the terrace; a chilled glass of white in hand and camera on the go. Curtains of rain at sea, so desperately needed on land slowly approached the shore, yet in vain……and we were left waiting for Godot!

Cinque Terre storm


 

 

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Poetry, exotic wine and Bolgheri castle

Continuing our wine research takes us to the area of Bolgheri, sometimes described as the  ‘snobby area’ of Tuscan wine production since it has imported grape varieties from Bordeaux, France – cabernet sauvignon, merlot. Quite a change from the other famous Tuscan wines produced from San Giovese grapes – Brunello, Chianti, Vino Nobile.Bolgheri avenue of cypress

 

 

 

It’s a great day as we drive along the Tuscan coastline and surprisingly through ‘La California’ , not quite the California I was expecting, but an indicator that the turn off for Bolgheri is close by. It cannot be missed as it is flanked by over 2500 cypress trees for the entire 5km that lead to the enchanting hamlet of the Castle of Bolgheri. Rendered famous in the poem of Giosuè Carducci.

Bolgheri castleThe origins of Bolgheri Castle date back to 1500. Since then, it has been the property of the Counts of Gherardesca family. In the second half of the 1700s, restoration work and improvements were made to the building, and the cellars were built. In 1895, the castle’s façade was modified, with the construction of the tower and merlons as we still see them today. Bolgheri Castle and its surrounding lands were transferred by hereditary succession to the current family of the Counts Zileri Dal Verme.”

The grounds of the Castle boast wine and handcraft shops and cute Enoteca’s for a light snack or restaurants tucked inside the cool ancient walls offering welcome relief from the heat of the day.

Every nook and cranny has been tastefully refurbished to accommodate the flow of tourists, yet retain the contours of the Castle buildings and cellars.

Wine is everywhere and we head off to explore some of the local wineries and learn about the local production. Our first two attempts to visit were greeted with a rather cool reception and polite refusal at the gate intercom, either because they no longer open for public visits or only by prior appointment. We persist and fortunately find some very welcoming family run wineries keen to explain the development of Bolgheri wines.

Sassicaia winesIn the 1920s the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta dreamt of creating a ‘thoroughbred’ wine and for him, as for all the aristocracy of the time, the ideal was Bordeaux. His great grandfather had experimented with these grape varieties in the Piedmont area and seeing the similarity of terrain in the area of Bolgheri Mario planted cabernet sauvignon and merlot on his property –Tenuto di San Guido. In 1930 he married Clarice della Gherardesca consolidating his wealth and interest in top quality horse breeding. Initially critics were not enthusiastic about the wine, being more accustomed to the lighter local wines, and  the vineyard did not release any wine commercially until 1968 – Bolgheri Sassicaia. Now the Sassicaia is ‘The’ wine of Bolgheri together with Bolgheri DOC where the grape varieties are not mentioned on the labels as the Terroir: the grape-growing conditions of the area, are considered more important.

As described by local experts : ‘The wines from this area are incredibly compact, dark and ruby red in color, which suggests great ageing potential. The heady bouquets are reminiscent of ripe berries, with hints of Mediterranean maquis (the main vegetation along the Mediterranean coastline) and spicy oak. They are characterized by their powerful structure, elegant poise and smooth, rounded natures. A sweetness of fruit on the palate is backed by layers of velvety tannins, a lively, fresh acidity and a long, lingering finish.’Bogheri winery

The area has other villages of interest like Castagneto Carducci, as well as a great stretch of sandy beaches, so something for everyone.Bolgheri souvenir

 

We finished the day with a glass of wine back in the square at Bolgheri noting some  words of wisdom on a shopping bag:

” We are all mortal until our first kiss and second glass of wine”


 

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Grape harvest and wine festivals

Vernazza grape pickingIt’s that time of year again and the intoxicating bouquet of squashed grapes lingers in the air. Pickers complain of back aches yet sport a satisfied grin when the picking is all done.
In the Cinque Terre the harvest is over and most managed to get it done before a few stormy days menaced the area. But then if they avoided damage from the weather there were still some disgruntled comments of how wild boar had crashed through wire fences and run amok amongst the vines, a never ending battle.

 

Save Vernazza harnessed the help of its Busabout tourists who worked hard assisting local landowners, having fun and at times eating more grapes than what they put into crates, but no one was really fussed. ( Photo credits: Save Vernazza)

Cinque Terre Social Cellar

 

Many landowners produce only a ‘damigiana’ demijohn from a few strips of terraced land which they keep for themselves, while others sell to the local Agricultural Cooperative who readily produce the Cinque Terre white wine from a mix of bosco, alberola, and vermentino grapes.

 

Or leave the grapes to dry until November to produce the sciacchetrà desert wine, which slips down very easily after dinner.

In Tuscany the grape harvest continues under an Autumn sun and a lazy sky.


Cities and  villages celebrate with wine festivals, entertaining locals and tourists with elaborate processions, ornate costumes and traditional customs, and of course lots of wine to add even more gaiety to the day. In Florence the traditional ‘crazy‘ wine cart ‘carro matto’ of raffia Italian wine cartcoated flasks is slowly drawn along the main street by patient bullocks with proud locals from the Chianti Rufina area keeping a watchful eye on its stability as it leans and lurches rather precariously. Not a bottle lost or a drop of wine spilled!

 

Florence wine festival

 

So reassuring to see the timeless Festivals and the younger generations now taking on the ceremonial roles, ensuring that the age old customs and traditions continue in a festive spirit.

We look forward to the new drop….Cin cin!Flat bead with grapes and  as always my favourite ‘schiacciata all’uva’ – flat bread with grapes!Florence wine festival

 

Photo credit for Wine festival: Angela Magnelli

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

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