There is a cure for the Summertime Blues…

Lord Kitchener got 18 of the 19 letters correct.  Close, but no cigar.  What he really meant to say was:

Our Country Needs You!

It’s become much warmer over the last 2 weeks.  I’m seeing a lot more ‘summertime reds‘ around Alba as visitors from more northerly climes are starting to arrive, replete with shorts, t-shirts and only the merest of acquaintanceships with sun tan cream.

The vineyard work now starts at 6am (don’t worry – when you come to visit, you won’t be expected to do this…) and, especially for those unused to it, it’s pretty hard going.  Rising at 4.30, I simply repeat the mantra, ‘I finish at 2, I finish at 2’, as Thomas the Tank Engine might.  On the other hand, you do get to see stuff like this as you rock up to work:

6.00am on 24th June. Not a bad way to start the working day…

That summer sun that you see poking its head above the parapet, allied to the physical nature of the work in the vineyards makes a strong mixture, though.  Zumra, however, appears impervious to, well, weather of any kind – heat or cold, she has the jeans and a sweater on.  I started at 8.00 one day and finished at 2pm – by midday I was roundly puffing and downing as much water as I could.  Again, like Thomas The Tank Engine.

It may be almost parodically bucolic, but I still had to wait until 2.00pm before I could sit here and refresh myself

I was melting in 35°C heat (that’s in the shade, remember, and we definitely weren’t) and Zumra still had the sweater on.  I asked her if she wasn’t hot, and she said no.  A few days later, someone else asked the same question and got the same reply.  And I don’t think she’s making it up, either: she never looks like she’s on the warmish side.

As you see, however, on that first morning, I ‘caught the sun’.  Long trousers were the order of the following day.  Working in the sun and heat is no joke.  I can understand why Italians don’t want to do this work – an air-conditioned office for more money has its appeal.  All those who come to work in our vineyards, potato fields, farms should be met with the deepest gratitude.  This is where the quality of the produce is set, so they are doing the most important work, as well as the toughest, for relatively little money.

And it means that we don’t have to, but can stay in our sedentary jobs, getting paid more.

Too late for Eddie Cochran, but here’s the cure: a trip to Piemonte…!

Sedentary jobs like assisting some visiting Americans with logistics, transportation and translation.  They had all had their vaccinations and several tests and were raring to get back to Europe, so that they could hang out in places like this:

The lovely couple in the photo above warned me last week, ‘Things are about to change here: Americans are ready to leave home and come visit.  Things are about to get very busy for you.’

Now, the regular reader of this blog may recall that this time last year, I went to Venice to see it without having to squeeze everywhere.  Here’s the article I wrote for The Local Italy about it – I can’t believe it’s a year ago…

While it was lovely to see the city itself, rather than thousands of heads and, above, phones on selfie sticks, it has nonetheless been an incredibly tough time for all those in hospitality and tourism (as well as just about every other sector, of course – with the odd exception such as Amazon and Netflix.  And I reckon Zoom did ok out of the last 18 months…I would normally put links to all those companies, but I think they’re doing well enough without my ‘help’…).  Well, the cruise ships have returned to the lagoon this month – sparking surprise and ire in equal measure in Venice.  There’s no doubt, though, that returning visitors are required economically, not just there, but all over Italy: Rome, Florence, Siena, the Amalfi Coast, Sicily, Cinque Terre – all need an injection of revenue.  There are some difficult and impassioned decisions to make about how much and what kind of opening up to visitors is wanted, needed and sustainable, but for now, places that were on their knees are beginning to see some financial light at the end of the tunnel.

And here in Piemonte, it is no different.  People are starting to return, and we are happy simply to see you!  One of the things I always liked about Alba in particular was to hear so many different languages as I passed the cafes and wandered in the squares.  It’s a small town, in a rural area, and to feel so connected to the world was a great feeling.  It’s wonderful to have you back, and views like this are what await you when you arrive:

The beautiful medieval village of Neive, as seen from the Fontanabianca winery

If vast swathes of the world are itching to get over here, I have a simple message for you: Piemonte is itching to welcome you!

The two couples that kindly rescued me from further ‘heat and water stress’ in the vineyards wanted to get a taste of the wine and food of Piemonte (Piedmont) and see a cross-section of wine producers.  I suggested some wineries to visit as well as a couple of one-man-band food producers – a fella who makes cheese:

Yum…2 day-old, 6 day-old and 12 day-old sheep’s milk cheeses made by the fabulous Silvio – do a tour with me, and you can meet him…

…and a pasta maker:

Who wouldn’t want 3 plates of this for lunch…?

…both of whom are featured in this documentary

Being quite enterprising, as well as pretty focused, the Americans had their own list of producers all booked up and ready to go.  Though they did heed my advice not to try for 4 winery visits in a day – if you’re used to popping into a dedicated tasting room, downing a quick 3 or 4 wines and then going to the next producer, hold onto your hats when you do a wine tour here.  Producers in Barolo, Barbaresco and other points in the Langhe – to say nothing of the Roero, Monferrato, Asti and beyond (I’m thinking of Timorasso here, as well as the likes of Gattinara and Ghemme) – like to meet you personally, show you the winery and ageing cellar (cantina)…

…which might well look something like this…

…perhaps the vineyard and then give you a taste of their wines.  Like these:

Probably…

So we ended up seeing things like this…:

See if you can guess where we were…

…and this…:

Lovely wine. In lovely cellars. Just needs cool, damp, dark and time

…before we got to do this:

Spitoons are provided, spitting is optional…

We had a fun few days eating and drinking and deciding that Nebbiolo wines are not afraid to ask you some questions – pretty serious ones, on occasion.  Naturally, this is only a little slice of what Piemonte has to offer: Rona and the rest of the gang are already planning to return during the International Alba White Truffle Fair...

I’m sure that you don’t just want to read my blog post about that when they come back – you want to see it for yourself, right?  Well, now that Piemonte is up and running again, why not come and check it out in person?  We are so ready, we are more than willing, and some of us are even very able…

Contact me, or check out my Tours page, to see how I can help you with a wine and food tour of Piemonte (and beyond, if you like!)

Upon further reflection, Kitchener got more wrong than I originally thought.  What he actually meant was:

Piemonte Needs You!