We are in the midst of a week of proper wintery weather. Minerva, the Great Dane is loving the snow. I thought I would post some photographs. Mini really didn't know what to make of Robi's snowman... she hid...
It is hard to imagine, given that it is snowing outside here at Potentino, that in 4 months time, we will be sorrounded in a green paradise of orchids and wildflowers and that we will be foraging for some of the wild plants to eat.
One of the most extraordinary things about our valley, owing to its lack of modern agricultural practices, is that we have an amazing variety of flora here- along with wonderful insect life and birds. The orchids are so prolific that at times you have to tiptoe through the fields. We even have the very rare lizard orchid.
May is a great moment to come and visit - picnics in the olive groves, walks along the valley and trips to some of the local sites will be organised. We will have a wildflower and foraging expert on hand to help you find and identify plants and to give you guidance on what to pick to eat. Charlotte and I will then cook foraged ingredients for your dinner. One of our favourite dishes in May is the first feathery sprouts of wild fennel: lightly cooked with anchovies and a little garlic and olive oil they make a delicious pasta sauce. For the foodies, I am sure there will be even more treats in store.
Other highlights include: A visit to the wonderful gardens at La Foce, the renaissance jewel of Pienza and to the local monastery at Sant' Antimo.
The Details The course will run from 16th-22nd May and costs £1,100. The cost will include your stay and all food and wine at Potentino for 6 nights. It does not include flights or any meals outside of Potentino (during the day trip away).
And has now been bubbling away for while so while the olive nets are being repaired and things calm down, I thought I would say a few things about harvesting grapes.
As an annoying younger brother, I tend to ask questions of my sister about the whole winemaking process- this is my first full year of production so I have a lot of questions and one of them was why we do so much by hand...
So this is what Charlotte adds:
Many estates use machines to remove leaves. This is often done without observation of the particular conditions of individual plants or consideration of the weather. Forecasting what the seasons will bring is a core part of winemaking and fine-tuning in the vineyard can improve or save a harvest. Working robot-like to a standardised calendar has created many problems including the spread of fungal infections of the vines and is not kind to the vines.
This year has been a very difficult year for most of the vineyards in Italy- a cold, wet July followed by a very hot and dry August lead to grapes that in some vineyards resembled raisins rather than fresh grapes as the vines were sucking back all the water back into the plant to save themselves. Not ideal- we widely hear reports that quantities are down by more than 30%- the vine equivalent of the Great Depression...
But we have managed to avoid the raisin issue completely by leaving a lot of leaves on the vines this year providing extra cover. This wouldn't be possible if we didn't work by hand. The result is that we have actually produced the same amount as last year and we are very happy with the quality as well.
Look at these
When it comes to picking the grapes, the mechanical harvester is incredibly violent, potentially damaging to the vines and to the grapes both, which leads to wounded vines and fermentation before the grapes reach the cantina. But perhaps more important, it takes out that human element of selection- particularly important for the pinot noir where there are a lot of small secondary bunches of grapes that aren't as sweet or as ripe at harvest time- that leaves out all but the healthiest grapes.
I leave you with a clip of video of a mechanical harvest- I certainly wouldn't want to be a vine in their vineyard...
And one at Chandon in France- done alarmingly fast by hand!