Lived during the period when farming was split between a myriad of properties. Rarely did anyone own up to 200 hectares, even fewer held up to 500 hectares, many more had around 50 or 100 hectares. But some led existences like inhabitants of the Asolo district, home to 7,000 of the 40,000 landowners in Treviso Province who on average farmed 3 hectares each. These divisions were called chiusure (closures) and were managed by just one family (from a single wedding, as the saying went) and the work was all carried out manually, hence the word bracciante (braccia being the Italian for arms).
The traditional masserie farmhouses enjoyed a greater area, around 10-25 hectares and were worked by a number of families. Vianello and Carpenè wrote: ‘We believe that this agrarian division of land is a natural consequence of mulberry and vine cultivation which need many arms and meticulous care which would be difficult to obtain if the masserie and chiusure were of larger dimensions’.
Whatever the type of rental contract, the farm workers would work from dawn to dusk with two breaks, one of a half hour mid-way through the morning, and one of an hour and a half at midday and they were tied to the success of the crop to the amount of half or at least a third of the income.
As the 1900s began, those with their roots in farming viewed the poverty of that world as something shameful to be forgotten and as subjection to the more well-off. Many of these artisans and manual workers, mocked with the nickname of half industrial worker and half farm worker, divided their time between the shops, workshops and the piece of land, woodlands and cow that were waiting for them at home after work. After years of extremely hard work, when finally after enormous sacrifices they achieved economic success, they rewrote their past and forgot where they had come from. Overall, they thought the world should be reworked in industrial mode, forgetting that land sacrificed to industry was land taken out of agriculture.
But luckily, culture like a liquid is always in motion, and so what had been viewed as a poverty-stricken existence was re-examined from the perspective of its better points. The value of being able to boast of a tradition, a heritage built-up through the generations was discovered. Communities, which may even have struggled with reading and writing, had developed wisdom that made the very best use of resources, particularly anything to do with food. The simplest dishes were enhanced with wild herbs in the spring months, the months of rebirth, herbs which science has revealed as possessing high nutritional values. Next to the cereals were the legumes. Winemaking was becoming ingenious alchemy, product of millennia of noting the moon’s cycles. Wood for barrels, troughs, buckets, candlesticks, funnels large and small, and ladles would be hewn when the moon was full so that it wouldn’t be riddled with woodworm.
The up-and-coming generations, not only of farmers but also of entrepreneurs who had already lost their ties to the land through their fathers, felt the pull and attraction of that world, so poor, so basic, created by men admired as workers all over the world not only for their strength and stamina, but also for their good nature and gentleness which kept them far from every demonstration as all governments worldwide observed.
These men who avoided, precisely because of this peaceful character, frequenting inns and in particular, those out the way, where perhaps not the best people to mix with, or by men, bitter as they consider their lost lives. Regulars, sometimes energised by the thought of starting a fight after one glass too many because ‘The first drink is for thirst, the second for fun, the third for pleasure, you’re drunk after the fourth, the fifth drink brings anger, the sixth arguments, rage comes with the seventh, sleep with the eighth and your ninth drink brings illness’ according to Lucio Apuleio, from Madaura.
To honour these traditions, we thought we’d grow a few rows of vines or at the very least have a lovely pergola over the front door so that we would have the fruit to prepare the wine needed in those little household rituals and the ones we share with friends. It was lovely, a source of pride, inviting friends into our own section in the house’s north wing, the part exposed to the bite of the Tramontana wind, removed from all human and animal activity that could somehow upset that precious wine with smells and noises. Usually, a few steps down to the cellar and you were confronted straightaway by vats, buckets, troughs, and barrels perhaps made from mulberry wood. The white wine barrels were smaller, not as tall and rounder than those used for the reds since they were handled more often for decanting, moving them with a chain, but also because the family preferred white. The barrels holding the black wine were mainly in chestnut wood as lighter and, according to some producers, this resulted in a better wine compared to those stored in other woods.
These contained the black wine from the Recandine grapes, more than a quality, rather a typology of grape, all deeply coloured like the Raboso del Piave. Then fi - nally, under or behind the barrels, you could see the bottles and in particular the spuman - te which ‘When you remove the cork, how - ever hard you try to restrain its fury, fizzes, sprays, makes a break for it, soaks everything, women screaming, small children crying in fear and all this uproar ends up with a mouth dirtied by a sip of foam’ in the words of the doctor and poet Giovanni Rajberti in 1851.
That feeling of satisfaction warming the nouveau industrialist home owner and no longer young son of farm workers comes from offering friends a glass of his own Pro - secco. A wine produced with so much love in his cellar, with traditional methods, bringing back what he remembered of his childhood memories and that now was right there in the glass with its straw-yellow colour, stirred by some fizzing pearl lazily unwinding. The pleasure of these little triumphs, the enjoy - ment of this tiny natural miracle he’s repro - duced makes him forget his everyday worries.
The great thing about this wine is that it’s not for drinking only by refined connoisseurs, used solely to wetting the palate which often remains saturated by strong, alcoholic wines, but also and mainly by true drinkers. That is, those for whom this slightly acidulous taste, this full-bodied flavour and moderate alco - hol content enable them to drink one, two glasses then perhaps stop... a comfort break, then onwards with that final glass, the one that, full of promise, seals friendships.