Sunday, December 09, 2018

La fille Américaine in France, making wine (naturally) in Italy - Pt I

Anne Marie was from a new generation of global citizens. Born in America in the late 1980’s, from parents who immigrated from Europe, her mother was from France, father from Italy, and they met among the vast plains of West Texas. Both looking for space, for freedom from convention, for a patch of blue sky they could claim. Along the way they found each other, fell in love, settled down and gave birth to Anne Marie and her twin brothers.

Neither were farmers, the father was an engineer, the mother was a doctor. Both their families had roots in the farm and in grape growing. But that was a long time ago in an entirely different world. This was America and The Dream was still alive.

Anne Marie showed an inclination towards the French culture early on, learning to speak French fluently by 4, and attending the Dallas International School Mission Laïque Française. Anne Marie was smart, precocious and dearly loved by her mother, her doting father and her twin brothers. When they spent summers in France and Italy, she showed interest in the culture, the food and the farms of her French and Italian families.

And then she became a teenager in Texas, and for a brief time went into another world. Music, technology, peer groups, all intersected in this budding young human. And the future, when one is 13, seems so much further off than one’s best friend down the street. Anne Marie was “ma fille Américaine,” as her mother loved to say.

So, Anne Marie lived in the moment, and grew into an adult, heading off to college in the West Texas Panhandle town of Lubbock, Texas Tech.

If you’ve never been to Lubbock, Texas, I will only say this. You have to have a reason to go there. It is flat, often bitterly cold in the winter and blindingly hot in the summer. There is little or no water, no beaches, and the High Plains (or Llano Estacado) stand downwind to their Rocky Mountain cousins to the north. The wind blows so much that the place is a veritable center of the universe for windmills. And the ancient red, fine sand, ashes of ancient mountains when they were as tall as Everest and much older, now pulverized by millions of years and eons of wind, gets in everything. It may look romantic in the old Western films, but it isn’t.

One of Anne Marie’s college friends came from a nearby cotton farm, and with the global shift of cotton farming to countries that could produce the fabric much cheaper, the family looked to diversify their crops. Someone told them to start growing grapes and so they planted Chenin Blanc and Sangiovese. To Anne Maire it was a clarion call. She enrolled in winemaking classes at Texas Tech the next semester, changed her major and set upon a path to learn all she could about winemaking.

When she graduated, she secured a spot in the Loire Valley, nearby where her mom’s family lived, and became an apprentice at a small winery. There she saw Chenin Blanc in all its many forms before it was made into wine. She tasted, walked the many vineyards, learned what was being done right, and also learned about the many missteps farmers made in France, thanks to Crédit Agricole’s influence among their many loan holders. She would see one vineyard bright and green and alive right next to another one, which was brown and burnt and fallow. And she would taste wine from the different plots, noting how different the wines tasted. It was here she got religion and committed to winemaking in the most natural way she could, when the time comes.

One August, she decided to visit her Italian family on the Umbria-Tuscany border. They grew grapes, Montepulciano and Sangiovese. Her uncle Emilio would walk with her among the vines showing her the differences in the grapes, the rows, the topography. This was an area in Italy where natural practices were strongest, no herbicides, no pesticides, no Crédit Agricole. Here the green bank was the earth, and the locals saved wisely. Here Anne Marie would come to find a full circle for her life, from the wind-swept plains of Lubbock to the enchanted valleys of the Loire, to the green heart of Italy.

Uncle Emilio said to her one afternoon, while they were sipping on a red from the demijohn, “Anne Marie why not join us for harvest? With your education, and your love for wine and your influence from your mother’s country, your father’s country might benefit from all of this. We’d love to have you with us to help. Think about it, for I know you are already committed to harvest this year in France. But next year? I have a special parcel of old Sangiovese, it can be yours to do with as you see fit. Just don’t wait too long, the vines and I are not getting any younger.”

To be continued…

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