I can’t say that I’m a fan of Keanu Reeves, but there’s something about the film ‘A Walk in the Clouds’ (1995) that gave me a certain romanticized perception of wineries that has stayed with me ever since. The beautiful and natural settings where the vines are grown, the traditional elements of the craft, the idea of working the land under the sun, the romance associated with wine in general… All attractive to a lover of the outdoors with nostalgic tendencies. Naturally, when I decided to do this trip and I thought of the time I’d be spending in Italy, I couldn’t help fantasizing about what it would be like to spend a bit of time working in a vineyard, as other travellers, I knew, had done before.
Thanks to my good friend Tim, an American whom I met in Taiwan a few years ago, I was given the chance to experience a taste of it all for myself. While on his own travels around Europe over a decade ago, Tim was staying at a youth hostel in England when he met a fellow traveller named Marco Cecchini. They hit it off from the start and became fast friends, and soon enough Tim was on his way to Italy to work in Marco’s vineyard, which was only in its 3rd season of operation.
Marco had learned the skills of winemaking from his father, who had a few vines and enjoyed making wine for friends and family. At the young age of 23, after graduating from the University of Trieste in business economics and international commerce, Marco decided that winemaking was what he wanted to do with his life. He spent the first few years learning the process and refining his skills with the help of his father. By the time Tim arrived, things were going pretty well and Marco’s independent winery was starting to take off.
Tim worked with Marco for two seasons, travelling around the rest of Europe in between. It’s been more than 10 years since they last saw one another, but they’ve kept in touch. And when I started making plans to do this bike tour, Tim immediately mentioned Marco, saying that I should definitely make the trip to Faedis, in northeast Italy, to spend a bit of time at the vineyard.
As my journey progressed and I got closer to Marco’s parts, Tim sealed the deal and put us in contact with one another. I was thrilled when arrangements were made for me to spend a few days at the winery; finally I would get my chance to walk in the clouds, so to speak.
Marco and his girlfriend Tina gave me a warm and heartfelt welcome. I immediately felt comfortable and at home, as Tim had assured me I would. A cozy room had been prepared for me and they kindly gave me a tour of the land soon after I’d arrived. We shared a delicious home-cooked meal on the terrace and I got to sample some of Marco’s wine, which was lovely. I was as happy as can be.
The next morning I was eager to put on the gloves and green rubber boots I’d been lent so that I could help out in the vineyard. As the fruiting canes were starting to get taller on the vines, it was now time to re-position and guide them using string or wire, so that they would grow together vertically rather than at an angle, moving away from the trunk. It was easy work that required little more than an active sense of observation, a gentle touch and a certain amount of patience. Having been damaged by hail only a few weeks before, the vines were prone to break when they were handled too hastily.
In the weeks before I arrived, Marco had generously taken the time to spread the word amongst his friends that I was coming. As a result of this I was able to do three tattoos before the end of my stay at the winery. For his friend Sara, a lab technician who works with Marco on the analysis of his wines, I added some cherry blossoms to a beautiful Asian-style tattoo of a phoenix and dragon she already had on the side of her torso. For his buddy Max, I added a roulette and some dice to an arm band that covered everything but the tender skin on the inside. But it was on Marco himself that I did more than eight hours of work, doing a beautiful piece of an Art Nouveau-style, wine-drinking pinup girl inspired by Alphonse Mucha’s ‘JOB’ cigarettes poster. After 15 years in the business, Marco felt this would be a nice way to commemorate his passion for what he does.
Admittedly, the project was a bit ambitious, and though Marco hung in there twice as long as most people do, we weren’t quite able to finish it. But we’re not too concerned; I’ll be around Europe for at least another year, and we’ve agreed that no matter what, we’ll find a way to meet again before I leave the continent for good so that we can add the finishing touches to his lovely piece. This suits me just fine because it means that one way or another, we’ll get to hang out again, which would be wonderful. For if there’s one thing I never grow tired of, it’s the company of good people, and sharing a glass of wine with a good friend!