Under the Tuscan Sun

We had been hoping for a more intimate experience that involved living with a family and having meals with them. What we got was a full blown operation complete with a class system. First, there were the villa dwellers. We never saw them, but they lived at the end of the Cypress Tree lined driveway and had security cameras everywhere. The villa residents’ son, the owner of the operation, lived elsewhere. Then there were several full time staff, four of whom we worked with. Finally, there were the wwoofers, who are a dime a dozen and come and go throughout the seasons. During our short stay of two weeks, there were four other wwoofers (three of whom were 19 – I applaud their adventurous spirits at such a young age!). This fun bunch of people hailed from California, Ohio, Sweden, and Ireland and we had an enjoyable time living with them in our commune-like setting.

While wwoofers do not get paid for their work, the farmers are expected to feed and house them. This can take on a variety of different forms. In our case, we lived down the road from the villa, above the vineyard’s shop that was used for wine taste-testing. We had bunk beds and an entire kitchen to ourselves. Our groceries were paid for and we would come home with some of the best pasta and mozzarella in the world. Not to mention, we were always hooked up with leftover bottles of wine from wine taste-testing, so we were never thirsty. Needless to say, we dined like queens and kings.

Realizing we had arrived at the farm at the tail end of the grape harvest and about a month before the olive harvest, we were unsure about what work we’d be up to. Our timing couldn’t have been more terrific, as we experienced several aspects of the wine making process, instead of being stuck doing the same chore day after day. Daily activities included anything from cutting grapes from the vines, hanging grapes to dry, wrestling with the invasive American Vines and cutting down thorny bushes in the vineyard, rotating wine, transferring wine from vats to barrels, cleaning and applying labels to wine bottles, and finally, loading the wine into boxes to be shipped to far-off places. I was amazed at the lack of micromanaging; after we’d been given instructions, we were more or less left to fend for ourselves.

Around eight in the morning we’d gather downstairs to receive our morning assignment. Start times were never punctual, however, and sometimes it would take a good forty minutes before the staff was ready for us. Obstacles always came up – doors were regularly locked, the labeling machine never seemed to work, the truck needed to transport the grapes would refuse to start, a tube would burst open and start spitting sticky wine everywhere, etc. I don’t know how many times I thought about how inefficient the operation ran and how we could be doing so much more for the farm. I guess you could say we were experiencing a piece of the more laid-back Italian work style. We’d work all morning, break for lunch at twelve and spend the next few hours cooking and resting before gathering again at two in the afternoon and working until about five. Some days we would finish early and have an entire afternoon to ourselves. To be honest, we appreciated the slower work pace.

Wwoofing was a unique and enjoyable experience that we would highly recommend. We learned a lot during our short stay and wished we could have spent months hopping from farm to farm and learning more about Italian agriculture and culture.

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