Guest blog from Charlotte Horton at Castello di Potentino, Tuscany
The grapes are turning purple and we are getting ready for the harvest. Cleaning the winery and the barrels, scrubbing down the crates and sharpening the clippers. The vineyards are vibrant deep green and the leaves shimmer when the breeze moves them. It is all touch and go now.
Will there be hail, will it rain too much, too little, or at the wrong time. When the grapes are ripe they have to be picked before the sugar and acidity levels get too high or too low. It is a tense but exciting season. The culmination of a year’s work, maturing into the luscious juicy bunches that will be transformed into that irresistible magical liquid elixir – wine. Viticulure, it seems, was first introduced and developed in Etruria (modern day Tuscany) by the Etruscans; a pleasure loving race who also brought Pecorino (sheep’s cheese), and the tradition of apiculture (honey) to Central Italy, among other things, with them when they migrated. Thanks to DNA tests, it appears that they probably came from Asia Minor.
The Etruscans specialized in wine-making and cornered the Mediterranean market, selling enormous amounts of wine to the Gauls in France who at that time did not seem to have vineyards. At the Castello di Potentino we have found a series of wine making stones carved out of the local rock. They are remarkably similar to other ‘pestarole’ found in Etruscan archaeological sites. So, curious to see how they worked and what ‘Etruscan’ wine was like we experimented by squashing the grapes in the upper chamber (see below) and bucket out the deep almost blood coloured juice from the lower chamber, to ferment gently, using their natural yeasts and absolutely no chemicals. Whether this is actually what they drank, we cannot know but it is certainly delicious, fresh and exhilarating to create and to drink. The sensation of the flesh of the fruit, bursting through the skins and oozing through one’s toes is exquisite.
So now we do it every year to mark the end of the harvest and to thanks the Gods, especially Flufluns, the Etruscan equivalent of Bacchus. Our stone is down by the idyllic river Vivo, which runs through really gorgeous rocky ravines and waterfalls. Under the shade of poplars and oaks with the gushing melodious gurgling of the water, you really feel as if you have stepped back in time. The winemaking is always accompanied by a delicious picnic and naturally some wine! Although we do not wear chitons, it is a very merry celebration, worthy of the Etruscans.
Suggested reading Virgil’s Georgics Pablo Neruda’s Ode To Wine
You can join in the annual Etruscan wine making and help celebrate the end of the grape harvest at the gorgeous Castello di Potentino from the 11-14th October 2013. Visit the trip page for full details and to book your place.