1996 was the last year I made wine in our palmento, the old stone winery. A photo from that year shows my eldest daughter, still in nappies, standing inside the press while she watches the machinery with the proud air of someone undertaking a very important project. When I took that photo I had no idea that everything was about to change. At the end of that year’s harvest we were told that if we wanted to continue using the ritorna (the old fermentation tanks) we would need to cover not only the tanks, but all the spaces, with washable ceramic tiles. But these ritorna date from the early 1800s and had been waterproofed with Sicilian terracotta tiles! So I refused. It seemed a tragedy to erase 150 years of history.
For 25 years I no longer used the old tanks, and they became part of our little museum collection of tools and machinery from an era I would define as almost ‘heroic’. But I missed that world with its aromas and folk songs and nursery rhymes sung in dialect to give the workers a rhythm and relieve their fatigue. It saddened me to think of it as a past – of work and industry but also serenity and sharing – lost forever. Today, however, transparent resins for use in the winemaking industry are available and these will enable me to treat the ancient terracotta tiles and use them in compliance with hygiene regulations. And so, why not embark on this new project?
I walk around my palmento, checking the tanks and planning the stages of this new journey. And already I can feel everything – walls, floors, tools, equipment – beginning to live again.