GoNOMAD Book Excerpt:
A Bittersweet Adventure
Together with her husband Fernando, they both learned to love and live a pleasant, romantic life in Tuscan-style throughout the four seasons.
Below is an excerpt of how they wanted to be a part of the grape picking event, which almost seemed like a necessary practice in a Tuscan’s life.
Invitation to Grape Picking
We had begun back in June to ask Barlozzo where he thought we could help pick grapes. In my journalistic life, I’d travel much of Europe to participate in one vendemmia or another – in Bandol in southern France, on the island of Madiera, and once, farther up north in Tuscany, in the Chianti – to collect information and impressions for my stories.
“Whose grapes do you help pick?” I’d asked, hoping the directness of the question would stave off more scenes of Armageddon under the still-cruel September sun.
“Usually I go to help my cousins in Palazzone, though now they’ve got so many children and in-laws swarming the vines, they hardly need me,” he’d said.
“Well, is there other work we can do to help? Can we cook?”
“What you’re not understanding is that the harvest is ‘family’ work, open to neither the curious nor the admiring. But we’ll see. I’ll ask around.”
After his clearly stated cultural lesson, I’d just let the subject sit. And the first we’d heard that we were invited to pick was this morning’s announcement that he’d be waiting for us at dawn tomorrow.
How It Should Be Done
La vendemmia, the grape harvest, is anticipated, celebrated more than any other seasonal event in the life of Tuscan farmers. The oldest cultivated crop on the Italian peninsula is the vine, the tendrils of its history wound about and grafted into rites pagan and sacred, into life itself.
Almost everyone has vines, either his own or his landowners’, either a hundred or so scraggly plants grown up among blackberry bushes or set between rows of feed corn or hectares and hectares of luxuriant and photogenic vines nurtured by masterful hands. Or, as it is with Barlozzo’s cousins, some configuration in between.
A strange sort of flat twig basket is hung from the vine where the harvester works, freeing his hands to clip the clusters and drop the fruit into it in a smooth two-step motion. When the basket is full, the fruit is turned out into larger plastic tubs, which are then carried to the small trucks or wagons that wait here and there among the vines to port the grapes down the road to the crusher.
The other thing that separates us from the pack is that we have not come with shears attached to our belts. Suddenly I feel like a chef with no knives, a plumber who must borrow a wrench. But there are others without arms, and soon the vinaiolo, the winemaker, is distributing weapons and errant gloves to us as though we were on a breadline and had asked for toast.
The spirit of festival is thin among the vines and under the wakening sun as the vinaiolo assigns territory, demonstrates technique to the few first-timers. I can’t help remembering the California harvests I’d witnessed. The estate manager and the winemaker mill about the vineyard, variously nodding and shaking their heads, touching, smelling the fruit, writing in notebooks, racing with the grapes into the lab to test the Brix.
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