Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Il Conte e Il Contadino

During the harvest of 2006, when I was in Tuscany, I passed by an estate in Greve. I recognized the place as I passed it, going to and coming from an appointment. I didn’t have time to stop. Behind the wall of the estate there is a story that is really out of this world. It is a story about a family with ties to Chianti that go all the way back to Ricasoli, pass through Antinori and head north towards Milan and Trentino, to the hillside vineyards of the Northeast. It is a story about a water parched parcel of earth, a noble family and a mystic farmer who brought water and abundance to the land.

A parcel, a building, several hundred years of neglect. A child of an artist walks on to the land and is moved by what he sees, hears, feels. The land is in the middle of Paradise, but it was in a temporary Purgatory. Now the doors will be pried open by the new generation, with a little help from an ancient one.

The young man speaks Italian like an Italian, French like a Frenchman and English like an Englishman. He stands straight and tall and has clear, piercing eyes. He is young but his soul is that of one much older than he. When he looks around the estate he sees centuries of history, for it courses through his veins and his DNA. He is bringing new life into this thirsty vineyard.

There is no proper well on the property, so it must be abandoned during harsh weather. When a place is empty for periods of time, it is like a person who can read but only stares at a television. Things start to fall apart. Tuscany and all of Italy had the fortune in the past to have people who could read the land. But those people are dying and their craft has not been handed down. The craft of the diviner is one of those.

One day the noble young man summoned a local farmer, a contadino, to the property. The farmer, it was said, had the gift. He could find water. Yes, he was a bit crazy. Yes, he scared the women and the young children. At first. But squirrels would come up to the man and talk to him. And he would answer them. Birds would follow him as he walked through the land, keeping an eye on what was ahead. Dogs loved the man; they sensed his ability to tune into their frequency.

He appeared at the door of the Castello and the young man welcomed him. Yes, he would help to find water in this estate, which in Italian meant “re-dried”. It would not be inexpensive, but he wouldn’t charge unless he found water.

He walked around the property for about an hour reciting Dante. He had memorized the Divine Comedy by heart and was prone to reciting verse after verse. It would take him to that place where his mind would no longer pay attention to the distractions, and then it could get on with the work of bringing back life to the dirt.

The mystic farmer fashioned a rod from a branch he found on the property. With it he started walking in search of the water source. At a point he found indications of water, but told the young man he wanted to find the place where the two underground rivers met. There is where the well would be dug and a stronger water force could be found.

The young man was a bit skeptical but he stayed in the background, letting this walking encyclopedia of Paradise and Inferno go about his work. When the farmer found the confluence of the two rivers he brought out a little pendulum. “Ecco”, he exclaimed, he had found the spot. He then told the young man that he would find water at eighteen meters. The young man asked him how much he wanted for his service, but the old man told him to drill first and if the water was found he would be back with his bill.

To drill for water is expensive. But the people who do such things were summoned and started right up. The deeper one drills the more expensive the job is. But eighteen meters was not so harsh. As they neared ten meters, the workmen thought they hit some kind of hard mineral. But after a time they moved on. Past fifteen, to twenty meters. Still no water. Deeper, to thirty, forty, fifty meters. Nothing. An hour or so later they found what they were looking for. As they hit the water there came a sound out of the bowels of earth that could have been from Hell. Deep and haunting was the rumble and silence for a brief moment. Then all Hell broke loose and a force of water shot twenty meters into the air. There was no way to stop the water until the workmen came back to cap it the next morning. When they returned to finish the work, all of the property had been flooded. They indeed had found the joining of the two rivers, not at eighteen meters but at eighty.

When the farmer came around to collect his fee, he was apologetic and didn’t want to accept any money. He felt bad that he had misled the young man and made him drill deeper than he had divined. The young man persuaded the old man to accept his fee, and asked the old man how much it would be. The farmer explained that he had expenses and had to keep his old farm running and had to keep food on the table. This talent that he had was a way for him to subsist. The young man started getting nervous, thinking this was going to cost more than he had imagined or allocated. When the old man asked him for 250 Euros, the wise young man wrote him out a check for 1,000 Euros. Because the old man had miscalculated the depth by four times, the young man also miscalculated by four times when he paid the fee. It seemed a fitting way to repay the man for his “mistake”.

Now the property still carries the Italian name “Re-dried”, but the property has water year round. Swimming pools dot the property and the vines bear luscious fruit which become delicious wines.

If you ever visit Tuscany and are in the area of Greve, please do not hesitate to visit this property. This is a true story and the estate accepts visits off the street. Email me and I will send you the information, when you want to go there.


  1. 4 times 4 is square biz
    Great story

  2. My father in law use to divine water but stopped because he said it bothered his heart too much and regretfully my husband wishes he would have passed along his ability. Excellent story.

  3. what a great story! I wish I had heard it before I visited Tuscany last October. I would love to know where to find this place so I can explore it on my next visit to the region.


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