14 Apr Heydi
“We harvest grapes straight from the sea. We still use the original baskets, we call them corbe, do you see them there? The small one is for my son, he’s 7 years old.
When he was 3 we gave him his first beekeeper’s suit, but now he's afraid of bees. I'm sure it’s just temporary and he’ll get over it.
The bee helps us in the vineyard and tells us how things are.
On the terraced plots where I harvest the grapes I have 130 citrus plants. The ecosystem is everything. I’m 41 and I’ve always lived in Riomaggiore. I was introduced to the countryside at a young age. In 1994, I joined a group of volunteers in Riomaggiore that repaired trails and cleared areas that were overgrown. We were always dirty — the others were embarrassed but I was proud. I had my piece of land in Possaitara, the walk to get there is about twenty minutes from the main road. It’s not easy to get to, that’s for sure. I started picking up abandoned plots nearby because slides and collapsed dry stone walls prevented me from reaching my own land. I ended up taking over 62 different plots, but they were just little patches of land. In some cases the agreements with the owners were made verbally and never formalized, a farmer’s word is the only one that is reliable. It’s difficult to explain how the bureaucracy works here. If a plot has been abandoned for two years, nature takes over and creates its own balance. At that point, in order to clear the land you have to have government permission to remove the Mediterranean brush. You need all the paperwork… it’s a nightmare. On some of my land I have Mediterranean brush. There are plots that have been passed down from families from the 19th century and now there are 70-80 heirs with maybe a third of them in Argentina — nobody knows who they are. How am I supposed to get them all to sign the necessary paperwork?
In 2004 I founded the Possa label but I was using someone else’s wine cellar. In 2007 I finally got a cellar of my own and now we are 3 people working full-time. We cultivated the Galletta which is long, flat, and crescent-shaped and best suited as a table grape. My son loves it. We do not use pesticides, sulphites or any of that crap.
To choose ‘clean’ agriculture when you are a farmer and entrepreneur is not optional, it’s a moral obligation. If you use poisons, you’re the first to be poisoned.
Biodynamic farming is the scientific transcription of what our ancestors did unconsciously by following oral tradition. Everyone knew that at the base of the olive groves you have to plant cherry trees and that Sciacchetrà wine is made in the waning moon to avoid refermentation. We knew these things even before reading about them in the Triple A manuals. On my land I have dry stone walls that are up to 500 years old. Nothing else that can filter water like them, you won’t find that written anywhere — yet.
The 2011 flood decimated my land in Monterosso and that same year 6,000 square meters of my terraced fields in Riomaggiore went up in smoke during a fire. Seven dry stone terraces collapsed and fell like dominoes, one on top of the other — they even buried my monorail.
It took me twenty days of working non-stop to get things back in some semblance of order.
We’ve managed to save 19 different varieties of grapes and we’d like to focus on cultivating small quantities for each varietal. I currently bottle around 18,000 units a year. In the beginning we served almost exclusively the foreign market, but I’ve managed to flip the proportion. Among foreigners, Japan is our top market followed by Singapore and then the United States. First, the Japanese came here and then they ordered via the internet. Until 2016 I worked two jobs, at night I worked at the port in La Spezia and during the day I worked as a farmer. Now I’m finally a full-time farmer. We also make the only Palmaria wine — it’s the island off of Portovenere and where we make our Parmaea white wine. We make 2-3 trips back and forth from Riomaggiore with our fishing boat to load the grapes. The vines belong to two men from La Spezia who have cultivated them for 50 years, they asked me to help them because they could no longer harvest by themselves. Now we make 1,200 bottles with the Palmaria vine.
Our Sciacchetrà quantities are similar: 1,000 normal and 850 made in amphoras. Do you see those barrels there? Some are cherry wood and the others are pear wood. I think the pear ones are super tasty, it’s a wood that releases everything. Do you see how misshapen it is? And it’s only two years old.
My wife is from Monterosso, at times there was a bit of a culture shock but we’ve overcome it.
The road was built here in 1965 but in the early years the people of La Spezia considered us second class — we didn’t even know Italian. Our parents forced us to abandon our dialect so we wouldn’t be considered “primitive.” I started receiving awards from 2013 onwards, when my father — who was the former President of the Cinque Terre National Park — was no longer a part of anything. I owe my love for this land to him. Working with children is incredibly gratifying. I hope to transmit my love for the land to my son. And who knows, maybe to an outsider who might dedicate himself to recuperating the plots on the fringes of the park, which are the most critical ones. We don’t want the cellars to become rooms to rent, we want them to return to their original purpose. That’s what we’re here for.”