Winter, on the wine trail in Italy. The vineyard is a concentration of packed earth in a cold box. The not so glamorous work of preparing the vines takes place in the short days, soon dark by 4:30 in the afternoon.
There are no wine trail tours, no salumi and aged cheeses. The holidays, the merrymaking, are soon behind us. In the cities the salespeople and marketers are trying to press out every last drop of cash from the retailer and the consumer. Here in the vineyard, the frozen hand of the worker guides the pruning sheer to train the next crop, the next great vintage.
But now it is dark and cold and lonely. This is out somewhere beyond the cover of friend and family. This is no place for the damaged heart, but this slope is where we find ourselves in this moment.
What dreams are left in the earth for this heart? What music waits in the piano for this ear? What empty glass patiently sits on the shelf for the wine to come ? How does one press hope from this moment of dormancy?
For the winemakers in Valpolicella it is too soon for their beloved Amarone, and the Recioto is even more illusive. In Tuscany, in the Santeria, the white and red grapes are withered, but not yet will their flesh be pressed. This is a moment to hold one’s breath and hope for hope. And share the morning coffee cup with a little grappa, for strength, for clarity, to ward off the illness hovering about the little stone house.
In Sicily, they are laughing at the northerners while sending their blood orange and the Pacchino hothouse tomatoes up to the frozen provinces and fraziones.
They laugh at the vine as it twists in the bitter north wind. And they dance and they feast on the 7 fishes and eat cookies stuffed with figs and brandy.
Today I was looking at wine made by a clown, a Neapolitan that long ago moved to Tuscany, and is now as Tuscan as the next door neighbor. The labels are lively and sunny and the wine is sunny and fruity and happy like Scarlatti’s Renaissance lute music.
His family was famous for their place in Neapolitan stage life. They were the clowns in the operas so loved by the music lovers, rich and poor.
Once in Tuscany, though, a serious country town, provincial and conservative, he had to relegate that creativity through his vines and wines and labels. So loved are these wines that people travel from all over Italy to pick up their yearly allotment of wine. During the Christmas holiday they drive the Lunigiana to pick up his red wine and olive oil, honey and marmalades.
All is this said as a way to push back the darkness and the solitude , the loneliness that vine feels as it twists in the wind, in the dark, in the cold, hoping someday for spring and sun and warmth and hope.