Shock, Horror and a Golden Lining


My alarm clock seemed louder than ever this morning. I got back from Paris late last night and having enjoyed every baguette crumb, every bite of cheese and every drop of wine, I was running a high sleep deficit.

The alarm sounded at 6.30am. Half an hour later, I was standing at the top of a vineyard, secateurs in hand, admiring the view down the Val d’Alpone and over to the Soave hills.

We were picking garganega grapes for our recioto today. The Recioto di Gambellara is a traditional dessert wine made in my adoptive town by letting the grape bunches dry out over a period of about 4 months. Gambellara’s Recioto is not like other passito or straw-wines, because we hang our grapes on vertical nets…… which is exactly what we then spent the afternoon doing!

Brutal as my wake-up call was this morning, it is nothing compared to the shock, 3 days ago, when the De Bartoli family in Sicily discovered that someone broken into their winery during the night and stolen 600kg of passito grapes.

Screenshot of their Facebook post. Click for full-screen.

This is a quick translation of their text: “This morning we had the most horrible of surprises, the kind that leaves you just speechless and gobsmacked : someone stole our zibibbo grapes. They had almost finished drying out, and so for us, they were even more precious. The onerous work of a year, tending to the vines and then a very difficult harvest. Stolen in one night…. There are no words, just disappointment and bitterness.”

I touched upon this subject briefly last year in “How Do You Get Justice?” It bears repeating that this kind of act is the most malicious and spiteful that a winemaker can experience.

It’s not like stealing a can of gas or a strimmer or some other kind of agricultural equipment. It’s not like when a team of pickers mistakenly harvest someone else’s crop, which often happens in France at this time of year. To steal someone’s grapes or ruin someone’s wines is far more gut-wrenching.

It’s made all the worse because of the difficulty to rid your mind of the doubt that a fellow winemaker is the perpetrator. Pantelleria is a small island and there are only 370 grape-growers. That everyone knows everyone makes it even harder to understand why someone would do this to you.

What a nightmare for the De Bartoli family this year.

There’s a silver lining to this story, however; or, rather, a golden lining given the deep hue of these passito wines.

The 6 other wineries who make up the Pantelleria DOC (Donnafugata, Basile, Pellegrino, Coste Ghirlanda, Murana, and Vinisola) have got together to each give De Bartoli a share of their passito grapes. As a result, there won’t be their prestigious Bukkuram wine this year, but the juice from these donated grapes will be called “Passito della Solidarietà”, as a thank you for their solidarity.

“From an awful situation, like the one that we experienced, emerges the spirit of the island and the desire to show our better side.” (De Bartoli Facebook page.)

Seb and Gipi De Bartoli (c) De Bartoli Facebook page


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