Istria: A Franco Fasiolo Novel — Chapter 3

Tomaso De Giovanni

Chapter Three

In which Franco reviews the documents that Paolo sent him, contemplates the nature of vinography, and rediscovers a forgotten poem.

Read Chapter 1

Read Chapter 2

Franco found vineyards boring. Usually, all of the fun had been bred out of the vines, making them as dull as the people who drank the wine made from them. Still, the vintner seemed like a decent man, and Franco opened the list that Burolino from Burolini sent him with curiosity and optimism:

Malvasia Istriana

A variety that has a deep historical presence on the Istrian peninsula, Malvasia Odorosissima is, as suggested by its name, notable for its intense fragrance, which can range from green kiwi to ripe apricots to fresh roses, often with a top note of apples and almonds. The sweet floral and fruity scents would suggest the varietal’s use as a dessert wine, and the highly versatile grape is sometimes used to produce a sweet version, but the style is more typically rendered dry, making it suitable as an accompaniment to fish and other light offerings, as well as fruit and the mildest and freshest of cheeses, always trading slightly more on the fragrance rather than the sapidity of the pairing.

My goodness, thought Franco, and kept reading:

Cultivation on the Istrian peninsula is best executed in hilly landscape that is subjected to summer heat that is substantial but not exaggerated during the day, with at least mild relief in the evenings and at night. It is not an accident, therefore, that proximity to the sea, with its moderating effect on estival microclimates, with respect to both temperature and humidity, serves Malvasia Odorosissima, a daughter of the Adriatic, well.

Estival. Franco rolled the word in his mouth and felt himself being gently pulled into a narrative that had at first pushed him away.

With regard to terroir, Malvasia Istriana, particularly that of the peninsula’s northwestern region, proposes a motif of quattro terre, the four types of soil that are found in its remarkably varied and visually striking landscape. The extent to which soil type influences the growth of vines and ultimately the taste and texture of the wine is actively debated.

Franco imagined what such a conversation, debate even, might look like. Whoever wrote this was having quite a good time.

Anthropogenic climate change seems to be having limited effect on production, and vintners have so far not been forced to radically change their growing practices. Perhaps the most notable adjustment has been with respect to harvest times, which have arrived consistently earlier in the growing season for the past several years, now often in mid to late September.

Anthropogenesis, thought Franco, perhaps it was time to finally start adding new books to the Bible.

Clusters are unusually tight with small firm berries… 

Green grape clusters occupied a special space in Franco’s heart, always fresh but not always sweet, sometimes verging toward yellow and even brown if the vine is allowed to pursue its own agenda, which it seldom is, being a plant, and therefore always at the disposition of others, birds and bees and the small sticky fingers of small sticky children, with their fine nails and the liquid swirls of their pads.

Franco closed the varietal document and opened the one on the property.

Burolini Vineyards

Burolini Vineyards grew out of the holdings of the Burolino family, following the region’s practice of cognomic toponyms.

Cognomic? Was this written by the same author as the varietal piece? Franco was no stranger to making up words, but this one delighted him. Could it be Burolino himself who wrote these? Franco was smelling a similarity between them.

Originally hosting a mixed cultivation, the estate was divided into several fields which conformed to the holding’s topography, which was partly planar and partly collinar, but which was always well drained and was all contained within a fairly limited range of elevation.

He was getting a little sloppy now, but Franco still appreciated his style.

The entire estate, as well as surrounding properties, have historically struggled with infestations of phylloxera and cryptogram, particularly after periods of war and other disturbances of exogenous provenance.

Franco found the fancy writing to be endearing, whether it was done ironically or innocently. There was something old fashioned about it, earnest yet studied, like something that a bright but modestly educated farmer would write, someone who wrote rarely but when they did, could draw on sound skills and deep if somewhat delimited knowledge. It had to be Burolino himself, or someone in the family, maybe a brother or cousin or someone further removed, a visiting priest or the town’s piano teacher, who composed it over the course of two sleepy Sunday afternoons.

Franco thought of who these other farmers and families might be. Burattino of Burattini? Collodio of Collodi? Pinocchio of Pinocchi? Galileo of Galilei? Fasiolo of Fasioli? The possibilities seemed limitless.

Franco closed the vineyard document and clicked closed his email, which was almost always open, planning to shut down his computer for the night out of an instinctive impulse to quell his electronic dreams. He was surprised to find an open browser page that held the text of a poem that he must have searched for long ago and had forgotten about. He began to read it, dutifully at first, because poetry could never be disrespected or ignored, and then with genuine and warm excitement:

God’s Grandeur

Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Franco closed his laptop, slid it off of his chest and onto the bed beside him, and thought about the hole that he had dug, about the root that extended from the side, and about the boards and soil that he had put in place to protect it, and about the walk that he would soon take to Burolino of Burolini.

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