End Of Year Letter
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us”
These celebrated words that begin Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities were written in 1859 but are as true of today as they were in their own time. We, too, find ourselves at a complex period in history: politically, with the fall of old regimes and the rise of new forms of governance; financially, with the disenchantment in large institutions and the emerging power of entrepreneurship in solving local as well as international problems; spiritually, in the well worn phrases of our supposedly morally bankrupt culture that has lost its soul in the pursuit of material wealth. The ‘season of Light and the season of Darkness’; as it was then, it is now.
But out of the shadows there will always gleam a spark of light. We of Corzano e Paterno are privileged to live this agrarian life. We are more severely tested by the whims of nature than the fluctuations of the stock market however, like all producers, we are servants of the marketplace. Appreciating the appetites, tastes and financial possibilities of our clients is essential to the success of the work we do. But we also have the luxury of being able to pause, to consider, and in the end to please ourselves, to invent a new cheese if the inspiration takes hold or to try a different grape variety, or a different method of olive oil extraction if we thought it could interesting; however loyal we area to traditional methods, we can try new and different ones. In other words, we can experiment. This possibility of being able to combine tradition with improvisation is, I believe, at the heart of Corzano e Paterno. It is what keeps us fresh, spontaneous and curious, despite more than forty years of the farm’s activity. And a new generation is coming forward with the same dynamic spirit.
Corzano e Paterno: We have, over the last year and a half, seen a substantial structural change on the farm. The move in 2010 to consolidate the office/shop/dairy/wine cellar/tasting rooms on the Corzano hill has benefited both administration and sales. It is now easier for clients to see the dairy and the wine cellar at work, to watch workers in the vineyards and the sheep grazing in the fields in the valley below from the Corzano hill. The guests who come to stay on the farm now have a point of reference at the farm office when they arrive and where they can later participate in tastings and visits to the facilities.
On the other side of the farm at Paterno our own farm artisans have filled the space vacated by the move: Svetlana creates wonderful painted ceramics of all sorts, and adjacent to her studio is Stefan, Ari’s companion with his carpentry shop where he makes furniture from old wine barrels, and next to him is Pascal’s son Oliver who works his forge in his metal workshop, while Till’s partner Stephanie, as she completes her degree in phytotherapy, is developing an officinal botanical garden and facilities for phytotherapic preparation.
There is now a farm pool in an open field above Casa Fallocchio with a glorious view of the surrounding hills towards Corzano.
Despite the current economic difficulties our wines and oil continue their success in the US and various European countries. The cheese production, unique as it is, has difficulty satisfying demand. Likewise, the agriturismo, under the astute tutelage of Mirella, has had a very successful year indeed. After the surge of interest in Tuscany some years ago, followed by the inevitable falling off of numbers after the ‘boom’, we have seen a return of guests looking to stay on a family owned working farm whose products have received praise and awards in the enogastronomic world and where the beauty of the landscape is legendary.
Vineyards and Cellar
2011 began with all the promise that a vintner could want. With abundant rain during the winter, then early growth in the warm spring, the vines showed great potential under almost ideal conditions.
The grapes were free from disease, ripening perfectly with abundant sun. But as the summer progressed the hot temperatures that normally mark July and early August and are needed to ripen the grapes failed to materialize. Under ideal circumstances toward the middle of August the weather would break, there would be storms and the temperature would diminish. But the opposite happened: towards the middle of August the heat suddenly bore down on the hills like a raging fire. The temperature was consistently above 40 C and the grapes were scorched by the hot breeze. On one side of the plant (the part away from the sun) the grapes were perfectly mature while on the other they were shriveled and burned. The vines in the better positions ironically suffered more than the ones in the less ideally situated, further away from the relentless sun. And to this was added the fact that it had not rained since June. The stress of heat coupled with lack of water reduced the yield by 30%. It was the young, strong vines that suffered most, the older vines having rooted themselves more deeply in the soil.
We had the longest harvest in our history, lasting from the 25th August to the 6th of October. It was a slow selection process, arduous and time consuming, and done only when conditions were advantageous.
The work in the cellar went ahead with the added help of three young women, students of wine making from Germany and France. The harvest, the selection, the pressing and the monitoring all went ahead normally. After the enormous work that went into caring for the vines, the processing of the grapes, the watchful progress of the fermentations, Joshi and Ari say the wine for this harvest will be a very fine and elegant one, full of subtle, fruity flavors.
Oil: it is hard to better last year’s success with our olive oil. It was named one of the very best olive oils in Italy by Gambero Rosso’s Oli d’Italia olive oil guide, among others. This year, again due to the lack of rain, the trees suffered terribly and some died. The oil however is still extraordinary. The olives are harvested and brought to the press twice a day by Joshi. He has arranged that we once again use the new and sophisticated press that operates under vacuum to guarantee as little oxidation as possible. The oils keep their fruitiness and freshness long into the year.
Stables and Dairy
We are very happy that his year Ram and Krishna from India came to work with us in the stables, adding to the farm’s great mix of nationalities. Joshi and Till organized a major revamping of the stables with new feeding bands and fixtures. The sheep continue to produce the wonderfully rich and flavorful milk that brings so much to the special taste of our cheese.
Toni is as busy as ever managing the dairy and the shop. We are doing a brisk business in the shop with the direct sale of farm products as well as tastings. Toni continues to invent new cheeses. At the moment there is a soft cheese covered in the traditional Tuscan herbs in development that should be in our shop soon, adding to the twelve different types (depending on the season) that we already produce.
As to the family, here is a quick report on their activities:
Joshi continues to oversee work on the farm with the ingenuity and hard work that is characteristic of him. Whether it is organizing solar panels for the roof of the stables or researching for the very best olive press he is diligent in finding the best solutions for our work.
Toni is equally active: dairy, shop, children, garden, cooking, painting, supervision, making the meals for the harvest each day. In an article by a local magazine the author called Toni the ‘beating heart of the farm’.
Their children are all busy: Eli will leave shortly for India where she goes each year to design and produce clothing for sale in Europe; Tim is doing very well studying architecture in Berlin; Oscar is studying biology at Exeter University in England; William studies viticulture and enology in Turin; only Rocco remains at home, studying this year in Florence.
Punzi (Sibilla), who worked in the shop and dairy until this year, has moved with her companion Aran to Singapore where he is working and is expecting her first child in April. We hope to have her back on the farm for an extended summer visit this coming year.
Ari is working tirelessly in the wine cellar, challenged and motivated by the desire to make the best wine possible. Stefan, her companion, has his carpentry shop in one of the spaces vacated by the move to Corzano and is busy building furniture and fixtures for the buildings on the farm.
Susan has had the great pleasure and satisfaction of having visits from film directors, authors, screenwriters, actors, artists, directors and musicians to the calm and creative quiet the farm atmosphere offers. She believes that one of Wendel’s great wishes was to complement the work on the farm with the arts. This last summer we had the Kneehigh Theater together with the Little Angel Theater from London for research and development of a piece after a short story by Marchez for the 50th anniversary of the Little Angel. They staged a charming improvised version of the piece in the chapel at Paterno before leaving for home. It was the highlight of the summer in Paterno and we sincerely hope that they will be back.
On the adjacent property Poggio: Joshi’s brother Pascal is now flying even bigger hot air balloons with boxes for up to twelve; Kirsty is always involved in a range of creative projects; Anna is at university studying psychology in New Zealand; their son Oliver has set up his forge at Paterno and is making Damascan knives and forged art objects; Rudi will go on to study architecture next year, hopefully in Switzerland.
The farm also features in various documentaries, cooking shows and blogs, articles about gourmet cooking and in a feature film called Decadence by an Australian director, Pria Viswalingam dealing with the decline of western cultural values (we are not part of the decline, but part of what should last, I should add).
This has been a difficult year for us all; it has been a year full of uncertainty and instability. Consequently in these times of disquiet we turn to our home and families. I think that I can say for myself and for the others in the family something that Kirsty, my niece, wrote to me today; “we are strongest and shine more brightly as one, for sure”.
In the name of the Gelpke and Goldschmidt families and
La Fattoria di Corzano e Paterno
We wish you peaceful holidays and hope to see you again in the New Year.