Saturday, September 4, 2010

Emergency Harvest!

Yesterday, I was remembering Aesop's fable about the fox and the grapes and wondering if Boots, our visiting fox, had been the cause of the denuded clusters I found in the middle of two rows of our white grapes. But that seemed preposterous, foxes eat voles and lizards and other small wriggly things.

I was scratching my head about it, looking up the row of what I have deduced are Malvasia, one of the four grapes Giovanni told me were planted in my vineyard, and the ones that should ripen first, when this guy flew by.

It was a European hooded crow and he had a lucent green orb about the size of an olive in his beak. It wasn't an olive.

Grabbing some used DVDs to hang in the vineyard (their flash is said to keep crows away), I went out to walk the rows. I found even more missing grapes than yesterday. One out of every 10 clusters was down to bare stem, or almost. Then I remembered a home winemakers maxim: When do you harvest your grapes? Answer: When the birds are eating them. They know exactly when they are ripe.

Yikes! Grabbing my spectrometer, I plucked random grapes and measured their sugar content. Double yikes! At 22 to 25 Brix, they were already overripe for white grapes (19 to 21 is ideal). I checked acid and found that they were not 3.1 to 3.3 pH range one wants, but had dropped much of the acid essential to making a lively wine. Then I heard the crows cat-calling from the tree nearby.

Luckily, yesterday, I had bought some grape harvesting shears. They are designed to carefully snip the stem and to pluck out bad or green grapes without puncturing good ones. I grabbed one of the cassettes I also bought and went to work picking only the best bunches. Unfortunately, crows like only grapes that don't have oidio. Still more clusters went onto the ground, but by the time I was done with the row and a half of confirmed Malvasia around lunch time, I had harvested almost 2 cassettes worth, maybe 70 pounds. The crows would get no more.

Now what? It's not enough grape to make much wine (about 4 or 5 bottles). Not to worry. I already had a plan. Because I'd already guessed that these vines were early ripening Malvasia, and that they wouldn't make much wine, I had decided to do an old trick invented, so the oenological lore goes, right here in Tuscany. I had to work fast so the grapes wouldn't be damaged. But more on that in the next blog.


As I was putting up the electric fence to keep the caprioli (tiny barking deer) from eating what's left of the grapes, this guy runs across my path, literally, right through the vineyard. He paused to stare at me like "What the heck are you looking at?" then trotted on.

I call him Boots because his paws look dipped in ink. He's a European red fox. At night, he's been leaving little gifts shaped like a popular log-shaped chocolate confection of my youth. On the front porch. On the back porch. In the kitchen when I leave the door ajar at night. Last night, the sound of a wine bottle falling over downstairs woke me and I knew who'd done it.

In the morning, as I had coffee (after removing the poop from the kitchen) I heard a rustling in among the paper bags in one corner. Worried it was the fox (Do they have rabies in Europe? Answer: yes.) I carefully approached, only to find it was a big fat toad with golden eyes. The outside has it's way of coming in here. If even in the "stolen views" through our windows.

Or the bats that wing in and out of our bedroom on balmy nights.

At night, the death watch beetles in our roof beam tick tick tick, reminding me that the minutes, even here, are numbered. And that outside my grapes are ripening quickly.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Palio! At Last!

In the 15 years since we started coming here, and the 3 since buying the property, Sally and I had never made to Siena’s famous Palio -- partly because of schedule, partly because it is a claustrophobic’s nightmare. Determined that if I didn’t go this year, I’d probably never go, I got in the car and drove to Siena on August 16, arriving at 2:00 p.m. At that time it wasn’t too crowded in the Campo, but people were already camping in the best spots. You can see the clay packed street that is the racetrack.

The contrada chest thumping and flag waving (a contrada is a community group or brotherhood), began around 3 o’clock.

Another contrada...

One of the race horses

Another contrada....

The parade around The Campo starts ...

... and takes 2 hours to complete

Sea of People. Not for the claustrophic.

VIP Balcony.

Mounts and Jockies before the costumed paraders.

The race is starting.

Here is the race on You Tube Tartuca (The Tortoise) Wins!

They thundered past so fast in such tight quarters that I forgot to breath, literally. Afterwards, all I could think of was getting out of the crowd and to my parked car as quickly as possible to avoid the crush. Since couldn’t do that without crossing the track, I stepped out onto it as soon one of the guards holding back the people turned away. That was both a discovery and a mistake. For the jockey had decided to dismount the winning horse and remove his jersey right in front of me. Meanwhile, one contrada of sore losers had pulled off their shirts and were ready to rumble.

The winning horse.

I'm close!

Way too close!

The Victors...


More Victors...

Sore Losers.

The Rumble begins...

Parting Shot. I got out just in time!