Don Vincenzo pushed open the rustic gate. “Welcome to my ‘fazzoletto di terra,’” he said. “A piece of land as big as a handkerchief.” From a nearby coop came the cooing and clucking of chickens. It was a fine, sunny summer day.
“Please tell me about your vineyards,” I said.
“The growing of grapes and the production of wine are the most traditional and the oldest activities here in Ischia,” Vincenzo replied. “Before tourism arrived, we grew and prospered thanks to this.
“Mind you, Ischia wine is all rigorously DOC, ‘denominazione ad origine controllata,’ which means it meets rigorous regulatory standards. My production is not at all industrial, but ‘casareccia,’ or rustic, made with simple methods and for family consumption.
“A great deal of work is necessary to grow these vines, and to protect them. In the past you had to plant a branch and could only see a good growth after two years. At that point, of course, you could harvest. But that was back one hundred years ago. Today, with the new techniques, you can harvest each year and still get a good product.
“In my father’s times the phylloxera, or vine-pest, destroyed enormous quantities of vines. This disease exterminated entire plantations and only very few have survived. This is exactly what happened when my father was the owner of this vineyard. Everything you can see here belongs to me, but here on this corner is what is left of my father’s own vineyard.
“These branches are a hundred years old. How they survived is a mystery, a miracle. All the rest of the vineyards had been destroyed by phylloxera, and the only section that was spared is the one I’m showing you now. This survived by miracle, and each year I take a small branch from the oldest one, the so-called ‘vite vecchia,’ which wasn’t grafted.
“The difference consists in how well this old type nourishes the others. See how different this plant is from the others? In winter we cut off a foot-long branch from the old type and graft on to the other stocks, and one can see the product a year or two later. The section that I’ve just shown you is the healthiest and the best; it is what is left from my father’s vineyard, and it keeps growing in this corner.
“Now look here. This is what we call ‘the American vine.’ It must be grown near the rest of the vines because it has bitter roots that the phylloxera dislikes strongly, so it serves to protect the vines. Consider that even after the graft a vine will last eight or ten years and then will die.
“You also need to remember that a certain distance between the rows is absolutely necessary, or each vine won’t grow well because each needs ‘its plateful in which to eat.’ And if you look here I’ll show you the difference between the other vines and this one, which evidently needs a graft.”
“This vine, instead, belongs to the species of ‘barbatella,’ which is very renowned for its own quality and for making the stocks on to which it is grafted just as excellent. This process of vine-growing has been going on like this for at least fifty years, if not eighty, which is around my father’s times. Today all of this is the product of genetic engineering and is conceived and planned very rationally.”
I could not resist asking Vincenzo about Stregheria. What has he heard about it?
“Stregheria? Well, you know, it is mostly the ignorance of people that cause these stories and rumors to spread. Our grandmothers used to tell us these tales basically to make us more conscientious, to prevent us from doing stupid things like going out in the dark.
“One of them was for example narrated by an old woman who, being a particularly cunning person, used to tell it in dialect so as to make it even more mysterious. This story describes a cat who used to sweep the floor of a church. One day the cat found the smallest coin that existed. After thinking a long time about what to do with it—because every possible choice could have a negative side—she decided to buy some red and white paint and to spread her face with it. Like this, she would not have had to choose anything that would have negative consequences.
“To understand Stregheria you have to consider that back then there wasn’t much to eat but there was definitely a lot of wine to drink. Therefore when you visited one’s house it was common to hear somebody moan, scream or shout out loud and to see in these things something strange.
“There are still those today who cast spells, and there are those who believe in it and for whom these remedies are like a medical treatment. For the Church this is nothing major, really, no big deal. The real origin of these beliefs is people’s ignorance and lack of education.”
Wait till Vittoria hears THIS! I thought.
There’ll be hell to pay.