Winter, Schwinter

Like most people, I have always found January a rather depressing month. The days are short, the skies are dark, it’s cold, it’s wet, it’s miserable, and spring seems a million miles away. To add into all of this misery, we’re all supposed to be doing Dry January, Veganuary, joining gyms, giving up caffeine,and generally Changing Our Lives For The Better.

This time last year was a little different, in that I was deeply immersed in a quagmire of Italian bureaucracy (you can read about that here). Having recently (finally) obtained residency, I was doing the weekly three hour round trip to Rieti, in my attempt to become a registered farmer, and to then buy the farm.

We made several visits to the farm during January 2018, and each time we felt calm and relaxed, knowing that all our future plants were fast asleep, dormant for the winter months. Of course, winters are short here, and this January I am a real farmer, not a future farmer.

So, this January, we are farming. The vineyard needs its “leaf fall” clear out and prune to be completed by the end of the month. And we’re nearly there! Every sunny day (which is practically every day), we put on layers and layers of clothes, and yomp down the hill to the vineyard, armed with machetes, pruning shears and (in Scott’s case) a drone. Yup. A drone. Moving on … We should also take our strimmer, but it’s broken, hence the machetes.

Because the vineyard has been abandoned for a couple of years, it was a bit of a jungle until we managed to mow between the vines.

Now that we can see our way, we begin by “strimming”, ie getting on our hands and knees and cutting down the weeds (above) that the mower couldn’t reach:

It feels how it looks: hard, rewarding graft under the gentle January sun. We entertain ourselves by listening to the birds, and just this last week, the lambs in our neighbour’s fields. Bliss.

Then we prune. This is my favourite bit, partly because I am no longer on my hands and knees, but also because I am no longer risking accidental amputation of a much loved limb with a rather sharp machete:

At the end of a morning, we yomp back up the hill for lunch, and this Wednesday, after lunch I hopped on the little train to Rome. Within two hours of finishing in the vineyard, I was in the centre of Rome teaching. Amazing.

So this January, we are not doing any of the “Change Your Life For The Better” things that January is usually all about, because this January we really have Changed Our Lives For The Better. And we still have all our limbs. Result.

Our Grape Weekend – Part 2

And so we returned to the Olive Hill, laden down with 850kg of White Grapes of the Highest Quality.

Thankfully, our googling of the previous day had not been in vain, and we knew that we had a machine for every job that lay ahead of us, and a vague idea of how to use each of them:

Step One:


Chuck a bin full of grapes into the Very Loud Machine that de-stalks the grapes, and transports the sludgy mess to the grape press by means of a hose.  Watch helplessly as the hose shoots out of the press, spraying the entire cantina with grape sludge.

Clean up.

Employ father to hold hose VERY FIRMLY inside the press.





Step Two:

Chuck another bin of grapes into the machine.  Turn Very Loud Machine on.  Experience a power outage.  Run up the hill to the house to reset circuit breakers.  Run down the hill and turn VLM on again.  Run up hill.  Reset power.  Run down hill and repeat.

Step Three:

Discover that the electric pump that takes the grape juice from the press to the fermentation vat is causing the power outages.  Substitute hoses and pump that you spent hours cleaning yesterday, for an old laundry bin, that had mysteriously been left next to the hose and pump by the Previous Wine Maker.

Step Four:

Successfully get de-stalked grapes through the press (thanks dad) and into the old laundry bin.  Fill laundry bin with grape juice.  Carry this (spilling only a little) across the cantina, climb onto Wonky Old Plastic Chair (again, thoughtfully left in position by Previous Wine Maker).  Pour contents of bin into the top of the rather large vat, and straight out of the tap at the bottom, onto the floor of the cantina.

Clean up.

Close the tap.

Step Five:

Establish a cheerful little production line.

Help husband to lift grape bin, in order to chuck contents into VLM.  Wash bin as dad holds hose in press. Carry grape juice to vat.  Pour into said vat.  Repeat for an hour or so, until the wine press is full of sludgy grape skins.

Scratch heads, and discuss.

Step Six:

Discover that various bits of wood that you cleaned yesterday fit neatly inside the press, so that the grapes can be squeezed by means of pistons and the bits of wood, and lots of pressure.

Discover that the pistons are broken.


Climb onto the wine press, and stand on bits of wood.

Feel immensely smug, as you are told off for not being heavy enough to do the job.

Get joined by Husband, and jump up and down on the press, with father as Safety Man, holding everything steady.

Make enough room in the press to finish all 850 kg of grapes.




Step Seven:

Go inside to make a delicious meal to thank father and DD for all their hard work, leaving husband to finish up.  Hear raised voices in the cantina.  Ignore, and enjoy a gin and tonic with father and DD, even though you have to shout to make yourself heard over the voices in the cantina.

Run down hill to cantina, and find Lovely Indispensable Neighbour sweeping sludgy grapes off the floor, which is suddenly literally inches deep in them.  Realise that the shouting is her husband and my husband, involved in a major altercation over the press.  As they shout and swear in languages various, discover that the pump was broken by the Previous Wine Maker, but that husband of LIN knows how to make it work, and if we had only asked, he would have shown us.  He has now fixed the pump, no thanks to us, and to demonstrate how well it is now working, he yells “POMPA POMPA” at my husband.  Or possibly “BOMBA BOMBA”, I’m not sure.  But every time “sufficient pressure” is applied, grape sludge is fired several metres into the cantina,  splatting all over my husband, who is by now, catatonic with rage.

Of course, we have been here before with Husband of LIN, when he explained that there was a dirty pump “pompa sporca”, or possibly a dirty bomb “bomba sporca” in our tractor, which was why it had broken down at the bottom of our hill.  But now, he seemed to have successfully converted our clean press into a dirty bomb…

Finally, we manage to get the blessed thing working, the floor, ceiling and walls (relatively) clean, and friendships are revived.

Until I ask the question “so do we add the wine yeast tonight or tomorrow?”

Now it’s my turn for a tongue lashing, as it is explained in no uncertain terms that Previous Wine Maker  was a cretin who made wine that sent you straight to the doctor’s surgery, so full of chemicals was it.  With mounting rage, he lists various dangerous and unnecessary chemicals: sulphites, yeast, anti-oxidants etc etc, and then explains, calmly(ish) that all you need is the wild yeast in the air, grapes of the highest quality, and patience.

And so we are making raw wine, just as nature intended.

And if you are wondering what raw wine is, you’ll need to read my next post …