Thursday, June 23, 2011

Garantito IGP: The Man Who Planted Dry Stone Walls

This time Stefano Tesi takes the Stand:

"The Man Who Planted Trees," by Jean Giono, is the story of a shepherd who, by planting acorns every day, succeeded over the course of a lifetime in bringing life back to an entire mountain that had been stripped bare by human misuse.

One could say the same of Francesco Carfagna, "a professor of mathematics but primarily a rural foreman," as he likes to define himself, and also hostler and winemaker. A multifaceted man.

Because Francesco, in a sort of inevitable backwards path, found himself midway along the road of life, following a dream that quickly became a project. Nay, a magnificent obsession: to restore the vineyards of the island of Giglio to their ancient splendor. Acres and acres of glorious shoots clinging like lichens to the slopes of the island, twisting among the rocks and devoured by the scrub forests that plunge to the sea.

A goal at the limits of utopia, but this didn't keep Francesco, who has also written poetry and performed with Alan Ginsburg, to recover, in the space of 10 years, 4 hectares of ancient terraces and to rebuild, by hand, stone by stone, 10 km of dry walls. All for the satisfaction of producing a few hundred bottles of the traditional Giglio Isle's traditional wine, Ansonaco. The list of hand tools he used is equally long: hoes of all kinds, picks, pick axes, shovels, hoppers, scythes, poles, trowels, hammers, and more.

His initial goal was to make 3000 bottles; he has now doubled it.

"20 years ago nobody still made our wine, and there were just a few bottles left. Now it's fashionable again, but I'm the only one who really makes it, because the others take the grapes to the mainland and ferment them there," he says, in the cool shade of the tiny shed (hearth, kitchen, cot, and a blinding view of the Mediterranean) he has in the middle of the vineyards.

He opened the way, and a few have followed. With good results, but Francesco isn't jealous. Quite the contrary. On being the trailblazer, however, he brooks no dissent. "Even though my Ansonaco is traditional and pure, it's modern in style, and bears no relation to the cloudy almost orange wines we used to drink in our homes."

He remembers them well: Like many good Romans, he would come to the Isle of Giglio on vacation in the 50s. At age 21 he moved to Florence to study and of love, even though what he really liked was masonry: he kept himself in school by waterproofing factory roofs. After his degree, seven years teaching in high schools. Too much; his career ended in 1985 when he became a "rural foreman" in Florentine farms.

His work then led him to Giglio Island; he moved in 1986 and the following year opened a restaurant at Giglio Castello, called L'Arcobalena. Because he's also very handy with a spoon. A huge success. Last year they cancelled his lease, and he reopened a few hundred yards down the road.

And in the meantime, during the long winter spent composing poetry, thinking, and walking about the island, contemplating the sea and the hardy vines that had survived being abandoned, inspiration flashed: The vineyards. Destiny? Francesco says, "Nothing can change of what is destined, but destiny is destined to change."

The Estate
Altura: 4 hectares trained in the low bush and guyot styles, entirely terraced just before the Punta Capel Rosso lighthouse on the south-west side of the island, overlooking the sea, with sandy acidic terrains. About 8,500 vines per hectare, with roots deep among the rocks, and yields of 40 quintals per hectare. Treatments? "None. "Just cow manure when I can, my wine marks, and green fertilization. Hand-hoeing of the rows, ground cover consisting of clover, wild flowers, wild herbs, and some vegetables, with everything periodically scythed." Sulfur occasionally, between April and June.

The Wines
Two: Ansonaco "Carfagna," of course, a Maremma Toscana IGT that's a warm intense reddish hue, with the natural aromas of old, that bring to mind sun and hot stones, ripe fruit, sea salt., On the palate it's full, rich, and dense, and quite up front and enjoyable, clean but with some of the farmer's mark. It's best drunk at cellar temperature. Six thousand bottles in all. Then there's the red, "Saverio," once again Maremma IGT. Just 1500 bottles, and a blend that tells a story: "Mixed grapes from the Island of Giglio." It's more than 14% alcohol and every bit stands out. First in the elegant ruby hue, and then in aromas that after surprising with an unexpected fashionable elegance, become rustic, with persistent extremely ripe fruit and Island scrub forest, but never overcome the senses. On the palate it's warm, pleasant, structured, with pronounced alcohol that does not disturb thanks to a certain fluidity and the absence of distracting concentration.

The cost?
Significant, as is the experience one has in drinking them, and the effort making them requires: 30 Euros for the Ansonaco, and 35 for the red. Wine lovers can buy direct (0564 806 041 or altura - @ - or seek it out in wine shops.

The Concert
Thanks to a friendship with an extraordinary group of musicians (Daniela Petracchi, violoncello, Myriam Dal Don and Mauro Tortorelli, violins, Demetrio Comuzzi and Paola Emanuele, violas, Riccardo Agosti and Daniela Petracchi, violincellos, Maria Grazia Bellocchio, piano, harpsichord, spinet), on Friday July 29 Altura will hold a concert by a string ensemble in the vineyards, "with the music ending when the sun skinks below the horizon". Simple, informal, extraordinary from an artistic standpoint, and free: Wind, sun, a cushion, and comfortable shoes.

Azienda Agricola Altura
Tel&fax 0564 806041,
email altura - @ -,
58012 Isola del Giglio (GR)

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti. We Are: Carlo Macchi Kyle Phillips Luciano Pignataro Roberto Giuliani Stefano Tesi

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