Above: A scene from the festival of San Zopito, the patron saint of Loreto Aprutino in Pescara province, Abruzzo (image via Vincepal’s Flickr [Creative Commons License]).
It’s hard to digest the news that continues to arrive in the wake of the blizzard that destroyed 2,700 hectares of vineyard in Abruzzo last week.
Below I’ve translated an excerpt from a letter that was sent by Abruzzo grape grower and winemaker Fausto Albanesi (owner of Torre dei Beati) to the editors of L’Espresso wine blog (L’Espresso is a major glossy weekly magazine).
It was reposted by a number of Italian wine bloggers (and I owe thanks here to my client Silvano Brescianini of the Barone Pizzini group who brought it to my attention).
The letter by Albanesi, who grows grapes in Loreto Aprutino township (the same where Francesco Valentini lost up to 50 percent of his legendary Trebbiano vineyards), is as moving as the editors’ allusion to a famous nineteenth-century Italian poem.
It’s a poem so well known to Italian school children that the editors didn’t even need to quote it directly to evoke the poignant lines of the canto below (please read this Wiki entry to learn about the meaning and legacy of this famous work).
Oh Nature, Nature
why do you not give now
what you promised then? Why
do you so deceive your children?
Anyone who has ever driven through Abruzzo on a fall day before harvest knows that its hillside towns are surrounded by vineyards and olive groves as far as the eye can see. It’s one of the areas of Italy that still looks the way people remember it from the 1970s. In many ways, there is still a de facto share-cropping system in place (see the letter below). The effect of this natural disaster on the local economy is hard to wrap my mind around.
And so today the small grape-growing families of the Abruzzo countryside are in our hearts and in our prayers…
My translation of an excerpt from Albanesi’s letter follows.
After the first snowfall, Adriana and I spent Tuesday morning walking underneath the two hectares of pergola[-trained vineyards] that still had no “streets” [i.e., space between the canopies where one could walk] so that we could use our hands to clear the snow.
The old folks always tell tales of how dangerous it is to do this because if the vine decides to collapse while you’re underneath it, the taut wires can cut your head off or [the canopy can] crush you.
But one can always hope that these are just superstitions.
By the time we made it home, we felt like icicles but we were relieved that we had managed to save those two hectares. They probably would have succumbed to the weight of the snow that fell that afternoon and the following evening (the major damage actually happened because of the accumulation of snow after the second snowfall and not the first).
The forecast had called for the first wave of cold weather but you never expect a storm of such great proportions with such catastrophic effects. And it’s not a simple question for large estates where they need to implement drastic pruning to lighten [the canopies]… And pruning of the pergolas can only be done by hand.
In many cases, the preemptive pruning wasn’t enough.
The smaller parcels are often managed by senior citizens or by their children, who work during the week at other jobs. The time they can devote to the vineyards is often dictated by the factory or office calendar. For them, grape growing is a supplement to their income and for many of them, given that grape growing is not particularly lucrative, their work in the vineyard is a duty that they carry out to honor their family traditions and the traditions of their land.
I drove around Pescara province Thursday morning and I saw enormous swathes of land that had been leveled…
One of the images that I can’t forget, perhaps because I saw it with my own eyes, was a GI-GAN-TIC [sic] oak tree that had been toppled near my Pecorino vineyard. It had been completely mutilated and all of its branches had been reduced to one enormous trunk. I don’t imagine that many know how much sap gushes out of a tree that big when it’s cut down or toppled like that!