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the magic of montemaggiore Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Lise CiolinoMy husband, on the other hand, did have some history that influenced our choices.  Of course, we always knew we wanted to be organic, so we started off with that, but then we thought there had to be something more.  And we started hearing about biodynamics, and it made sense to us.  But it was especially because of my husband's background that we went into biodynamics.  His family all came from Sicily — in fact, a town called Montemaggiore, a small farming community of perhaps about 3,000 people.  It was your classic Italian farming town where everybody lives in a compact area with fields surrounding it.  His family was all farmers: they raised grapes for their wine, wheat for their bread, pigs for their procuitto, sheep for their cheese, etcetera.  And they came over [to the U.S.] in the late '50s to find a better life in the New World.  The funny thing is, when we purchased this place, Vince's dad said to him, "Vincey!  I came to America so you wouldn't have to be a farmer!"  {laughter}  Lo and behold, one generation later, he buys a farm!  But that's what [his family was] trying to do, lift themselves out of the agricultural world.  Once the family settled in the suburbs of Chicago, Vince's dad had a planted an entire garden in their backyard, where he grew tomatoes and peppers and everything.  And there were so many summer mornings he would wake up furious at finding that his tomatoes were all gone.  It was because Vince's brother's friends, who were all cops patrolling the alleyways [adjacent to the backyards], would always steal the tomatoes, knowing that Vince's dad had the best tomatoes!  And he farmed according to the phases of the moon, and used the compost and the horse manure — that's the way they'd farmed in Italy and then continued it in Chicago.  And that's ultimately what biodynamics is all about — it's peasant farming methods that were used for thousands of years until the chemical companies came about.

But Vince always jokes that while he didn't have a lot to do with his dad's garden, he was always the one who was forced to go get the manure for the garden.  He would haul it in the trunk of his first car, one of the huge clunkers that people had in those days.  And that's the one thing that we import into our farm today: cow manure from an organic farmer from around Santa Rosa.  Now, ideally, if we had a true biodynamic farm, we would have our own cows producing the manure.  In fact, that reminds me of one book I read a couple of years ago — one of a handful that had a big effect on the way that I look at food, although I'll never remember the name of it.  It featured a vignette about a man who had this farm in Pennsylvania that from my perspective was truly the ideal farm: it was basically a self-feeding cycle where the output from one part (the animals producing manure) was the input into another (the manure fertilizing the crop soil) and so on; it was a perfectly continuous ecosystem.  With that, you don't have to import all this stuff, which god only knows where it came from, and then export all this waste, which god only knows where it goes to!  Reading that really made me focus more on where my food comes from and what goal to aspire to, even though I may never really reach it or really have any hope to.  But ideally it's a nice ecosystem to at least take steps in emulating.  I hope to get close, but I'm not sure I'll ever get there.

NM:  So, clearly, learning about biodynamics and other gentle farming methods has inspired you to incorporate a number of holistic practices in your grape growing.  But taking a step back and looking at your experiences more broadly, what have you learned in the process of raising vines and making wines that you've applied to other parts of your life and which perhaps even made you a better person for it?

LC:  So many things… so many things.  One of the great things about life is that if you're eyes are open, you get to learn about yourself and you can improve and aspire to be even better by understanding things and having those 'a-ha' moments.  I think one of the most profound things that I've… I hesitate to say 'learned' because I'm not sure I'm there yet — but at least am aware of — is to simply let things be.  I grew up in an academic environment, in mathematics where your world is constructed; you construct it, you fix it, you resolve it.  I'm definitely a problem-solver.  When somebody tells me a problem, they might be just looking for a shoulder to cry on, but nooo, I try to solve it!  {laughing}  But there are situations where really the best thing to do is nothing.  I took this wine microbiology class last week at UC Davis and one of the things that I'll never forget from that class is a great quote, a mantra really: "When you have various things going on in your wine, sometimes you just need to take the option of getting up and going to Tahoe."  {laughter}  Take the Tahoe option!  In other words, get away and the problem might solve itself; at that point there's not much you can do, anyway.  And if you come back and the problem hasn't solved itself, at least you'll have had a good time over the last few days!  For me, that attitude crystallizes exactly what I feel I need to aspire to: greater acceptance of what is.



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