Sunday, July 07, 2019

A Symphony of Wine in 100 Movements

Pt. V

Who could we get here to help us, help this amazing woman who was unknown, outside of Tuscany and Florence, but, in my mind, was one of the greatest winemakers the world has ever known?

As it turned out, my career back home took a turn. In fact, everything changed, and in some ways, for everyone. The stock market crash, the fall of the Berlin wall, the end of the old order and the dawn of an age that humans weren’t quite prepared for – the internet age. But that was a good 10-15 years away from reaching its out-of-control momentum that we are now (in 2019) only realizing. Facts, reality, the cliff ahead, careening in a driverless vehicle, pedal to the floor, with no bridge and no parachute.

Meanwhile the consolidation of the wine trade in America saw me jobless for the first time in my adult life. I was adrift, floating and in Italy. And there was this treasure trove of wine, made over the decades by this amazing winemaker, Diana. Even though she was an elder, she showed no signs of stopping in the foreseeable future. It appeared that fate had bound me to the mast of this ship, for now.

[At this point, switching into Diana’s voice, her words, translated into English]

"When I was a young woman, I dressed as a man, that much is known. Partly because my father didn’t know how to raise a girl, but also because we were poor and the clothes left by a brother who died, were in good shape, and Papa wasn’t one to waste anything. My life would be set by the circumstances of men, both living and dead. But there was a little candle burning inside me, someday hoping to be a fire that would warm more than just my imagination.

"The vines, as I said before, were in poor shape. Imagine souls whose village had been bombed. All that was left was what survived. But it was as if the force of the destruction served to wake up any vine that was nearby, to cause it to become more vigorous, stretching deeper into the earth, and climbing to the sky. In a year or two, we were overrun with wild vines and cultivated ones alike. They were intermingling, making new connections, new families springing up. It was something to see. The world was going into peace, but the vines were preparing for the next onslaught.

"We had, not too long ago, a young doctor here, from Cincinnati. I remember him telling me his family lived in Rome. And he was on holiday, visiting some friends. His interest in grapes was very doctorly, and he knew quite a lot about grapes. But he said to me, “What you have I have never seen anywhere, with the exception of Calabria. You have grapes for which there are no names. This is a breeding ground for the best Tuscany, and by extension, Italy, will have in the future, to give to the world of wine.” It was a curious thing to say, this young man talking about my family, these grapes, running around like children, shouting screaming, stretching, growing. And then when the vines grew up, the grapes that came out were so different.

"And being young, and not being a man, that is to say, I didn’t accept things as they were (at least to myself, in the beginning) I started experimenting with small batches, making wine from them. Maybe just a small demijohn, here and there. And absolutely made with no interference on my part. All I did was watch the fermentation, making sure we didn’t make vinegar. But all the fancy things my neighbors use now, with their high-paid consultants from Milan and Turin, with all the letters after their names and medals on their lapels, this did not come into my land, my world. I was invisible, and I’m grateful for that now. Because I made many mistakes, but I also made many discoveries. About wine, about myself, about nature and the world. And to a lesser degree, about Italy, Tuscany and Florence.

"We were poor, yes, but we were also self-contained. Money wasn’t so important. For in those early years, there was no money. Everyone just pulled themselves up and tried to make it through a day. And then another day. It was hard, back-breaking work, and it was a solitary life. So, yes, like Papa said, it was a monastic sort of life.

"When I turned 30, Italy was starting to come back to life to the rest of the world. The few times I ventured into Florence to sell some of my wine to my few customers, I would see tourists. One of my clients was between the Arno and Piazza Santa Maria Novella. I had a distant cousin, Beatrice, who worked at the Uffizi gallery, and we would have a coffee, try and keep our relationship alive, event though she was a polished urban woman and I was a country girl-boy. But she was open-minded about things, she had a view of life that wasn’t so traditional. Beatrice would tell me about the American men (and English women) who came into the galleries. It was a different world, to me, but it was also a different world from the one my father and his father grew up in. I sensed something was changing, something big. Not that my whole life hadn’t been a big change, all of it! Still, my wild-child sensed a transformation was about in the world at large.

"But then, when I came home, to the hills and the earth I called my home, tranquility would return. The grapes, the vines, the birds, the foxes, the worms, it was like they were talking to me, all the time. The grapes, especially were the noisy ones in my neighborhood. And so, I listened. And I listened so more, until I felt like I had learned their language. And then they began to instruct me.

"This was my revolution. Italian wine, in 1957, was not so delicious. It had alcohol, lots of dried earth flavor, but it was lacking life. I wanted the wine to be young and vibrant, youthful. Not tired. Not vinegar. Not brown. Red, like my blood. White, not brown. Like the clouds. And golden yellow, like a sun setting. I was totally immersed in this dreamworld, and there was nobody telling me to stop. And so, I ventured forth, and began my symphony of wine in 100 movements."

wine rablog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

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