Yesterday, it rained. Not a hard rain, but a steady one. The clouds rolled in, set up shop, and kept at it all day, though they did take some coffee breaks and a pretty long lunch. It rained until dinner – a soft patter punctuated by the songs of the more courageous birds – and then began again during the night. I woke up this morning to a misty sky and wet pavement.
The mood in the bar yesterday was one of subdued relief. People were quieter than usual, listening to the rain outside. As I sipped my morning cappuccino, one of my friends said: “watch, the whole landscape will change.”
Like most of the Mediterranean, Sardinia has been going through a severe drought. I ask how long it’s been since there was rain. Six months? Longer, they tell me. The news is full of statistics on the drop in agricultural production. Unripe pomegranates hang broken on the trees, their skins split by the arid winds. The blackberries on the plateau are shrunken and juiceless, so dry they break if I squeeze them. All this year’s fruit is smaller, and less. The figs are tiny. The vines bear fewer grapes, fewer tomatoes, fewer melons. The almonds are shriveled in their shells.
But yesterday, it rained. By mid-morning, a smell of warm clay filled the streets as water soaked into the hard-baked dust. By afternoon, the smell was of living soil with all its tiny life waking up and cautiously carrying on. And by evening, as I walked home from the little town library, the breeze carried a scent of keen freshness, like cutting into a watermelon that’s still a little green.
This rain came too late for the summer fruit. Most of what produce there is has already been gathered. But I’m looking forward to my next long walk in the fields or up on the plateau. I’m looking forward to watching the landscape change – if we’re lucky – just in time to plant the winter grains.
Yesterday was my first day back in the deposito, and I was delighted to find it in great shape: everything where I left it, the electronic equipment still working, no mold anywhere. There was barely a spider that had set up a web among the bags of pottery. While I’ve been away, the Comune even came and attached the plumbing, so whereas last year we constantly carried equipment to an outdoor tap to wash it, this year I have a functioning sink right in the lab. (Tante grazie al Comune di Siddi!)
There was one negative surprise, however. It turns out that the bones I was convinced were stored in the deposito are currently housed in a museum in another town about 5 km away. These bones are, of course, precisely the materials I came here to study.
It isn’t a major problem, and if it’s the worst thing that happens during the study, I’ll be in great shape. Still, archaeology is surrounded by bureaucracy in almost any country, and Italy is not an exception. Taking those four crates of bones, putting them in a vehicle, and driving them 5 km to the deposito will take days. There will be permit applications, calls to the Soprintendenza, organizing a day when we can use the Comune’s truck…
So when a friend asked me if I wanted to spend this morning helping him harvest his vineyard, I said sure!
I got up at 6am and dressed for fieldwork – my Northface pants, a long-sleeved shirt with a high spf rating, hiking boots, work gloves, sunscreen, a hat. Then we drove to the vineyard – a short distance outside the town – where we met five friends who were also lending a hand.
It’s a small vineyard divided between two Sardinian grapes – bovale and monica – with a row of table grapes as well. We started with the bovale, which was difficult to harvest. The grapes are small and the clusters grow in tangles with themselves, the branches of the vine, the wire trellises the vines are tied to, really anything they can wrap a tendril around. It was hard work just figuring out where to cut, and even then we had to untangle the grapes before they would fall into our large plastic baskets.
The monica was simpler. The grapes are slightly larger and the clusters tend to hang down one by one. It was easier to see the stems, to insert our shears among the leaves and branches, to gather the clusters once they were cut. All in all, the seven of us made short work of the harvest. We finished before 9am, when the air was still too cool for the wasps to come out, but late enough that we could tell today was going to break 37°C (100°F) again. Another hot day in a series of hot days in a series of dry weeks stretching back for months. The effect of the drought was clearly visible in the grapes, some of which appeared to be drying on the vine before they had even fully ripened.
The wine production takes places in my friend’s garage, and the first step was to turn our fresh grapes into must. We slowly poured each basket into an electric crusher, which spat out the stems – or most of them – and dropped the juice and crushed grapes into large plastic vats below. At the end, the vat of bovale was knee-high, and the vat of monica was only slightly lower. They told me it wasn’t much this year because of the drought, but it still looked impressive to me.
The must has to stand for a week to let the fermentation begin. We’ll go stir it a few times, then press it and bottle it. It seems almost too simple to result in the excellent wine I’m used to drinking at my friend’s table.
“È tutto?” I ask in some disbelief.
“È tutto,” they assure me.
We can’t resist tasting our work before we go. There’s a fine screen we press down on the must to let just the juice through, then we scoop up the juice in a plastic cup. Both are delicious. The bovale is intensely sweet and rich tasting, the monica slightly less sweet with a flavor closer to table grapes. Some complain that it’s too sweet, but it seems the intense sugar is expected in a drought year. Drought years produce little wine, they tell me, but the wine you get is very good. I’ll have to return next summer and see.