It’s just after ten in the morning here in Montalcino. The sun is high enough now that I can bring the laptop outside (yes, this is the middle of February, but it’s 100% sunshine and on the way to over 60 degrees today; magnificent in other words.
I’ve already had an early morning walk through some Brunello vineyards, an olive tree grove, and past the dogs and cats that are, generally, good companions to any farm. I’ve heard the cats squabbling a time or two, and it just brings a smile to my face – to hear them playing around on a lazy Sunday morning.
Well, not that lazy.
You see, just after I set my laptop down on the patio table, and adjusted the screen’s brightness level so that I could see what I was typing, I noticed something in the distance.
It wasn’t something I’d even thought possible, but that’s because I’m not a farmer. You see, it’s a beautiful Sunday morning, as I’ve said, and other than the cats and their screams of pain and joy as they chase each other about, there’s really only the birds, and the sound of me pecking at the keyboard.
But as I pause for a moment to look up, and across the vines and beyond to the other side of the valley – a scene I get to play out for about 3 weeks each year during Benvenuto Brunello – I see some movement in the vineyard. I adjust my angle, and in a moment of disbelief, I see Vasco, long since retired, in his 80s,…and he’s pruning. Winter pruning isn’t the hardest job (neither is tasting wine every day and scribbling notes). But it’s physical, it’s dirty, and it’s 100% ‘in the elements’. That means it’s got to be done in good times (like today), and bad (like this time last year, when it was really cold, and rainy all the time); the weather’s not been quite this superb in years past, and I’m grateful. I think Vasco is, too.
Vasco is out working because it needs to be done. You see, his son, the winegrower/maker, is at a four day event (Benvenuto Brunello), and time on farm is costly. The work piles up. Family farming doesn’t have the same understanding of time as most of us do, or at least, the price that’s ultimately paid is a little less forgiving.
There’s a beauty in farming. A beauty in the lessons of discipline, passion, and family helping to get the job done. I remember, this time last year, Vasco was doing the same thing. Only difference, the temperature was about 25 degrees lower, and the wind about 5-10 times as great; rain started and stopped all the day. This made for a very uncomfortable ‘Sunday’.
This picture (above), taken during Benvenuto Brunello 2018, was on the same bone-chilling, wet day that I’d seen Vasco – pruning for hours – in the vineyards. As you can see from the picture, even those inside were clinging to any form of warmth. Consider these sacrifices the next time you have a glass of wine.
This brings up something I’d thought about the other day, my first day here, while I took some time in the late afternoon to walk through some vineyards at La Serena – how much don’t we see? Are we as good at listening as we think we are?
When we smell/taste a wine, what do we observe? I think it depends. On many things. If we’ve seen the label, and we’re familiar with it already, we probably observe, but also, even if subconsciously, we fill in some things, too.
For example, if I’m at a wine dinner, and I see someone proudly pouring a hard-to-get, recently annointed 100 point wine, and I’ve had that wine before, I’ll fill in most of that tasting note before I’ve even put the wine in my glass. I’m biased. But, I’m also not listening. Not listening to what’s in my glass. Most wouldn’t bother to listen, they’d rather enjoy it without having to analyze it. I envy them. I’m cursed, I think.
Back to my point, for those of us that do enjoy the analyzing part (I prefer to think of it as a learning exercise) listening isn’t always such a straightforward endeavor. There are lots of variables we need to consider – how much/little aeration did this wine have prior to service? What is the serving temperature? How long has it been in the bottle – 2 days? 20 years? Etc. Maybe, with enough practice we don’t need to know those things, we can discern them. If we’re good listeners that is.
Just the other day, I set out on a short walk to consider this place before life is abundant on the vines, in the neighboring cereal fields, etc. I’d walked a half mile or so seeing little sign(s) of life (I’m talking about the obvious signs, like bunches of grapes, thick rows of cover-crops, etc.). Considering the approaching setting sun, I decided to turn around, having seen all there was to see. As I did, I looked down, and I saw life. It was everywhere, I just hadn’t bothered to look closely enough.
Obviously these weren’t knee-high wildflowers, but at the same time, they were at each step I’d taken over the past half mile, and yet I’d not seen a one of them. I wasn’t listening. I thought I knew, upon first glance before I set out on my walk, what I’d find, and I was wrong.
And it occurred to me, how much else was I missing when I started off with a clean slate, as it were, or wasn’t holding a phone in my hand, etc.? More specifically, how closely was I listening to what was in my glass?
I’ve thought about it these past few days, and decided that becoming a better listener is a daily goal. If I really listen to what’s in my glass, I may hear messages I’d have otherwise missed. I don’t want to miss those opportunities, those messages. I don’t want to just see a vineyard as I look up from my laptop, I want to see the Vascos of the world, working passionately and tirelessly. These, for me, are important things. So obviously, I’m not just talking about wine.
(Featured photo: walking up from the lower parking lot toward the Benvenuto Brunello 2019 event)