I was never much of a fan of Wet, Wet, Wet: Marti Pellow was just not my kind of heart throb. And I am definitely not a fan of Wet, Wet, Wet when it comes to the weather.
April has been a month of damp, mizzle, drizzle, showers, rain, torrential downpours, thunderstorms, hail, and even days when it rained cats and dogs. I’ve blooming hated it, and I have had enough. Now that it is May, I would really like the Italian climate to make a return, please.
Outdoors, as a consequence of the weather, we are getting really rather behind. The pruning that should have taken place in March, and then in April has been constantly hampered by wet weather (our Proper Agricultural Workers do not go outdoors in the rain) or by wet trees (you can’t prune a wet tree). On a positive note though, the mild(ish) winter and wet spring has induced an incredible abundance of olive flowers, even on the damaged trees! Of course yesterday’s hailstones and gale force winds may have destroyed them completely but I don’t know yet, I’m on my early morning commuter train to Rome …
The orto (veg plot) has been taken over by us this year. Lovely Indispensable Neighbour (LIN) finally admitted that she really couldn’t face the work. I’ve planted tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, Chillis, three types of lettuce, spinach, beetroot, onions and courgettes so far. And just the other day, a special delivery of dwarf French bean seeds arrived from my dad in France.
My officer training of, ahem, thirty years ago came back to the fore, as I made tripod after tripod from bamboo stakes, all lashed together to withstand any weather, and any weight of crop. If I’m honest, unless each plant produces a crop weighing around 75 kilos, I may have overdone it with the lashing together bit, but old habits die hard. In support of the Great Orto Effort, Scott has bought Yet More Power Tools, as apparently, I will drown in the mud between the rows of heavily cropping vegetables without paths made from wood chippings, and that meant we had a suddenly urgent need for a wood chipper …
Anyway, it all looks very pretty (photo is pre wood chips and minus several tripods). LIN has come over to supervise several times, and has declared my work “buon lavoro” and prettier than her efforts. I am sure that this can only be a good thing.
The vines have nearly all recovered from their abandonment, and are mostly growing beautifully. Scott has mowed between the rows, and is currently strimming between the vines. A fly, or possibly a moth or butterfly (yup, I have no idea) is laying eggs on the leaves of some of the red grapes, and we noticed the first hints of mildew on some white leaves this weekend (not surprising after all the rain!), so we are probably going to do an initial spray this week, weather permitting. We are in the process of organic conversion on the farm, and so are very limited with what we can spray, but we do have a few weapons up our sleeves.
We are also agonising over whether to make “raw wine” again this autumn, having bottled 200 litres of last year’s “vino contadino”.
Raw wine is made without the addition of anything except fresh air to crushed grapes, a method that is fairly standard locally, and relies on natural “good yeast” in the air causing spontaneous fermentation. After the harvest, the used grape skins and stalks are taken back to the vineyard and dumped, year after year, so that gradually, over a number of years, the good yeast multiply, and the wine gets better and better year after year.
When this method is not followed, “bad yeast” quickly take over the air. Bad yeast make bad, maybe even dangerous wine. LIN and her husband were using our grapes, and the raw method for a number of years, but prior to that, the large quantities of out of date chemicals we have found in the cantina would rather suggest that the owners were making commercial wine, which relies on killing all the natural yeast with sulphites, then the addition of yeast that is guaranteed to be only good, then killing that off with yet more sulphites when fermentation is complete.
We think that the wine we have made tastes pretty good. We’ve fed it to a number of guests and they have managed to smile as they have drunk it. It has been variously described as anything from “not dreadful” to “bloody awesome”. Nobody has died (yet), and the amazing gift of raw wine is that it doesn’t give you a hangover like that sulphity stuff you buy in shops does. But it’s a highly fragile process, fraught with the danger of producing vinegar.
So was this beginner’s luck?
So what to do next year?
What would YOU do???