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Thursday, 20 March 2008


Well, it’s certainly been an eventful day and I’m knackered as hell! The picture above only tells half the story. I’ll start at the beginning. We were wanting to plant vines on George’s plot in Villa this week before it was to late for this year. Ideally they should have been planted before the last full moon in February, but at a push before this full moon (i.e. tomorrow). Our neighbours knew a good garden centre in La Spezia and, since they also wanted some vines, phoned on Monday in advance to see if they had some Vermentino vines ready for planting. Vermentino is the quality grape of the region. They said they didn’t, but were going to their suppliers on Wednesday and will ring us back if they managed to get some. This morning they did ring, but said they couldn’t get hold of any Vermentino, but they had some 2 year old vines of various varieties and I could come and have a look at what they had. These were of course a wee bit more expensive, but on the plus side they’ll give us grapes a year earlier.

Marco gave me very precise directions how to get to the place, which was just as well, as we would never in a month of Sundays have accidentally found this place. It was a beautiful spot and the husband and wife who run this place were extremely friendly and helpful. They have some 6000 trees up above the Gulf of La Spezia, including some impressive potted lemon trees and olives. We finally made a choice of some 25 vines, 10 red and 15 white, enough to make a row on the terrace we cleared recently. From there we went straight to Villa to plant them; we had already dug the holes yesterday ducking in and out of showers every now and then. Today though was a beautifully sunny day with a slight, cool breeze.

To keep Susan busy while I planted the vines, I told her to light a fire to burn some of the cuttings from recent clearing jobs. We decided to light it in the vicinity of a dry bramble bush in the hope that it would catch as well, saving us the bother to cut it down manually. Now this slight breeze I mentioned earlier made this fire spread much quicker than we expected and before we knew it, it had made short work of some dry grass, brambles and some small weed trees over several terraces. It was spreading like wildfire (literally) and was threatening to ignite the surrounding woodlands. When I realized we didn’t have any control over the fire, running up down to the river with a bucket like a mad man, I sent Susan to the only neighbours. Of course they weren’t in. I thought there’s nothing to it, I’ve got to ring the fire brigades, but no reception on the mobile. So I sent Susan to the “main road” to stop any of the rare passers-by. She did manage to flag someone down, but nothing happened for some time, so I took the car to somewhere, where there was a signal and rang the fire brigades. When I got back, some helpful neighbours had turned up and managed to get the fire under control. They knew where the direct neighbours got their water from and put it out to our great relief, before it actually did any damage. I had to drive back out of the valley to call off the alarm, but everything was ok. The result can be seen above. It looks worse than it is. All the dry grass burned off at incredible speed, but the vines and trees were all ok. On the positive, it does save us cutting down a lot of the weeds and puts some potash into the soil and we got to meet Signor Bruschi, the previous owner of the place, who could fill us in on the grape varieties of the old vines and who said he could fix the door to the cottage, so we could lock it up and keep tools there.

After all that the real work of planting the vines began. I will list them here in order of them being planted for my own and George’s benefit, for future reference. I planted them on the 3rd terrace up to the right of the central path like so: 2 x Barbera, 4 x Dolcetto, 3 x Bonarda, 1 x Barbera, 5 x Chardonnay and 10 x Sauvignon Blanc. Now the Barbera was unintentional, she thought she gave me 6 Bonarda, but it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference. All 3 red varieties are at home further north, producing fruity wines in Piemonte and Lombardia, so they should do well here too. The choices for white were Trebbiano (which makes dead boring wines), Malvasia (which is not much better), Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Now, the slightly cooler conditions at Villa should bring out the more aromatic qualities of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay blended in adds body and mid-palate, which is often missing in Sauvignon. The old vines apparently are mostly Trebbiano and Albarola (the latter is the traditional blending partner of Vermentino, which we will plant next year). Oh, and I think the lady at the garden centre also made another mistake with one of the Sauvignon Blanc vines: the seventh from the left is labeled Edeka di Bogliasco. I’ve never heard of this one, so it may even be red as far as I know. We’ll see…

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