Toiling under the Tuscan sun

On our second day at Trove, Ugo gave us a crash course on vine pruning and staking.  He was leaving the next day for a week-long tour and the old vineyard was in desperate need of attention.  Chris got some driving lessons on the tractor, and a lesson on how to empty the poop bucket in Ugo’s absence. I may have mentioned that already, but it’s worth another mention as I must admit, I was pretty impressed that Chris accepted this job without complaint.  And so our work began.  We worked hard on that first Saturday and again on Sunday in response to the urgency of the task at hand.  Good progress was made and by Monday the vines had been pruned quite ruthlessly as per our instructions (I’ve got my fingers crossed that we didn’t do any permanent damage) and we had begun to clear the rows of debris from previous seasons.

The new vineyard with the olive grove in the background.

There are two vineyards – one that is about a hundred years old and a newer one that is about 40 years old.  In a good year, the vineyard might yield about 1,000 litres of wine but in some years, they get nothing for one reason or another; last year it was the birds who came and ate all the ripe grapes just before harvest time! They use the wine for their own consumption only.  They also have two olive groves that yield the most delicious olive oil that again they use for themselves.

Part of the old vineyard.

We pruned the old vineyard as Ugo had already pruned the newer vines.  But the entire vineyard, old and new, needed to be cleaned up of old debris and that task took us a couple of days of back breaking effort.  Chris drove the tractor up each row and I followed behind collecting all the twigs and placing them in the tractor bucket.  After a while we changed our tactic as quite frankly I was doing all the hard work and Chris was just sitting on the tractor waiting for me to finish.  We got into a routine where he would drive the tractor about fifty feet ahead and then together we collected the old vines.  No reason why I should be the only one breaking my back!  We then put all the dead branches into a huge pile that we will burn one day soon.

Our pile of debris - what a bonfire it will make!

At this point, we had already had a discussion with Barbara who had outlined the tasks she wanted us to do and their respective priority.  She also shared the details of their schedule for the month of May and it was at this time that we learned that they would both be gone for a 10 day period doing tours and we would be left to hold down the fort.  Once we were finished in the vineyard (number one priority), Chris had a list of jobs to do including refinishing some old windows and furniture.  My job would be the garden – weeding it and then planting the vegetables. It was a large garden, completely over run with weeds.

By mid-week, we were pulled from the vineyard (we only had the staking left to do) as other tasks became more pressing.  One day, we all went into town to do laundry, grocery shopping and some miscellaneous errands.  And then Chris was recruited to assist in getting the house back in order – moving things around, hanging pictures, etc.  Meanwhile, I started in the garden tackling the heavy weeds and pruning the bushes near our patio.  There was another tour scheduled for the following Monday which included a cooking lesson at the end of the week so Barbara was under the gun to get the house in order by then.

Collecting wood.

I’ve mentioned tours a few times and should probably offer an explanation.  Barbara and Ugo run a tour company, Tuscany Under The Skin, that focuses on walking tours in Tuscany.  Springtime is one of their busiest seasons and this year was no exception. We were offered the opportunity to join in some of the local walking tours the following week which gave us incentive to work more than our required hours that first week.

By the end of the week, we were physically exhausted and were so grateful for a rainy, cold Sunday which gave us a good excuse to light the wood stove, and have a cozy movie day, giving our weary, aching bodies a much needed rest.  We didn’t realize how soft we had gotten these last few months! We had spent much of the week on our own, what with Ugo away on tour, and Barbara distracted with getting her house back in order and working on upcoming tours, work she had fallen behind on. It was obvious that Chris had made a good impression on Barbara as she kept complimenting him on his many talents but it wasn’t clear to me where I stood.  Frankly, I often felt like “hair in the soup”, like my presence was just being tolerated.  It was a strange situation to be in, one that caught us off guard.  We chalked it up to their distraction with their renovations and their tours, and I did my best not to take it too personally.

Category: Europe, Italy
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