It was kind of spooky when the other day I received an email from neighbours in the valley here in Umbria letting me know that today they would be heading down to their vineyard to start the grape harvest and as ever inviting me over to help. Why was it spooky? Only because I had been thinking over the past few days that it must be time for the vendemmia, which is never a fixed date but dependent on the ripeness of the grapes, and the prevailing weather. As I read the reply to my email delightedly accepting the invitation, it is an event I so look forward to, a huge smile came over my face, ” Dear Alec, You are tuned in to the grapes! “, I felt I have arrived, the ‘imprenditore agricolo‘ profession of my Italian identity card is now finally correct!
Early departures to catch obscenely early flights meant I was up at 06:15 to give departing guests coffee and a light breakfast, so important to me that every departure gets a fine send off and especially those leaving especially early that they do not have to search for a coffee and cornetto enroute to the airport be it in Assisi, Umbria or nearby Ancona in the neighbouring region of Le Marche. Other departures after breakfast, lovely guys who had stayed ten nights and were last night after dinner which we served for the first time since the spring in the dining room, dancing and partying until 2am meant that I spent little time in bed and was a bit sleepy as I headed off in glorious sunshine to help with the harvest.
Tumbling down the lane, as a proud cock strutted by I passed a new mother, a donkey with her new born foal basking in the September sun, a time of both gathering and re-birth.
By the time of my late arrival a couple of lines were already picked, the grapes dark, ruby red and small, plucking one and putting it in my mouth it was sweet, the baking summer sun intensified the sweetness. As we later discovered, the grape juice is already over 12˚ alcohol. Secateurs at the ready I headed down the row, and joined in the snipping of bunches of grapes from the vines and casting them into crates. After only an hour or so we were finished. Papu the horse had carried several crates of grapes up from the vineyard through the olive grove to the cantina where they were hand fed into the hopper to go through the torchio, an old wooden one made by, and for many years used by a neighbouring farmer which crushes the grapes and so begins the first fermentation.
Up in the courtyard smoke was curling lazily from the wood stove, a huge pan of spaghetti was on the boil, mushroom sauce gently simmering on the back of the stove. A tomato and basil salad and fresh baked bread made up lunch on a lovely table set under the shade of the nowhere near ripe strawberry vine, it will be a late harvest for them this year. We were seven at lunch, myself, the family and visitors, one from Estonia, and two from the UK one of whom is a dog trainer, need to remember that for when I get my next English Setter, I am just not assertive enough!
As only yesterday I mentioned to some of my guests here at Bellaugello Gay Guest House who are, as so very many, mesmerised by the beauty of the location and tranquillity and peace of the valley, I am very fortunate for whilst none of us living here is financially wealthy, we are all exceedingly wealthy in quality of life. To live by the seasons, be attuned to nature, to have a real community, and to be able to still pick grapes and share food, experiences and conversation in the dappled shade of a courtyard with people from all over the world is in today’s mad city dwelling world a very important special part of life that is denied to so very many and which I treasure so very much and am fortunate to be able to share with many guys.