I’d been to Italy before, but this time I was going to help my uncle and grandfather make wine. A traditionalist, I had always wanted to experience wine making in my ancestral home, this would be my first time doing so. What I didn’t count on however, was that the real lesson would have more to do with the way I worked, than the work itself.
As I stood staring at the streamlined vineyards which flowed down one long hill and then up another, it dawned on me that this would be slightly different than going to a supermarket and buying grapes pre-packaged in a wooden box; yet, I was not to be deterred. Standing, facing the 50 000 square foot mountain valley, arms to my side, chest out and with great audacity, I devised a plan, a plan of efficiency, a plan of strategy: a new world plan.
That night around the supper table, I spoke to my uncle about my plan which began at 6 o’clock the next morning. My uncle laughed and told me they always started around 9 o’clock. This didn’t make any sense to me, these people were farmers. Why so late?
Uncle Rocco: “Do you have any place to go?”
Eager nephew: “No.”
Uncle Rocco: “Then why are you in such a hurry?”
Eager Nephew: “I’m not in a hurry but whenever there’s a job to do I like to get it over with so we could relax afterwards.”
Grandfather: “If you can’t find a way to relax while you work, you’ll never relax after because there’s always work to be done.”
In light of this unexpected wisdom that had been thrust upon me, it was evident that my plan had hit its first snag.
The next morning I woke to a sun very different to the Canadian one I was used to. It was close to 8 o’clock yet the heat of this star made it feel like mid-afternoon. I ventured to the back of the house wanting to once again view the monumental task before me. Standing in the lush green grass at the top of this hill however provided little view of the vines, for in front of me stood dozens of olive trees proudly displaying their little green olives still a month away from becoming oil. Two rows of fig trees lined either side of the cluster of olive trees. I spotted one rather large fig mid-way up a tree and decided it would be my breakfast. Moving down the hill, I couldn’t help but notice a certain scent in the air, I realized the aroma was coming from laurel bushes clustered next to the fig trees. These tall bushes rustled together in the breeze which sent this very fragrant odor wafting through the air.
Finally, reaching the grape vines, after having passed some lemon and orange trees, I counted five rows of vines, all of them spanning the length of two hills, about a kilometer each. The vines were picturesque to say the least, with their deep, green leaves, and the full, fat grapes strewn on the strong branches and metal wires which joined each tree together as if they were all holding hands. As I stood there, contemplating how long it would take to cultivate five kilometers of grape vines, I heard a tractor coming from the street signaling that my uncle had arrived with my grandfather.
It was time to show them what I was capable of. I quickly got to work cutting the grapes off their stems. Working as efficiently as I could, I began to fill the buckets. In an effort to save time, I positioned my buckets in such a way as to drop each cluster of freshly cut grapes without looking down. After about two minutes of working with my new system, I was working up a sweat. My grandfather, approaching me from behind asked me if I was alright, I turned to look at him wiping sweat from my forehead and noticed that he was staring at my feet. It seemed that I had missed the bucket a few times as there were more grapes on the grass around the bucket than there were in it. My grandfather, with a concerned look on his face told me that if I wasn’t up to collecting grapes I didn’t have to. I assured him that I just wanted to make good time so that we might finish as much cultivating as we could, and then be able to sit down together and enjoy some food and wine. My grandfather walked to the tractor, reached inside a cooler and pulled out a bottle and two plastic cups. He handed me a cup, told me to sit and said,
“Why wait till the work is over, let’s have some wine together now, we could use the break and the grapes still have too much dew on them, water and wine don’t mix.”
We did share wine right then and there, we sat on the grass and let the sun do its work, and this simple act on his part made me understand what a fool I really was. I had failed to see what surrounded me: the splendor of the landscape, the beauty of family, and the magic of patience. The only snag in my plan was me.