MAKING wine had never been our intention. Not only was it beyond our ken; the cost of building and equipping a winery was astronomical, and we were only too aware of the back-breaking labour it entailed. We knew, because we were told all about it by the last people to have worked the land here.

Having finished the building project within the limitations of our very tight budget we thought it might be a good idea to get to know them better and show them the changes we had made to the wreck of a farmhouse their landlord had sold us.  Show off would be a more honest way of putting it.

Patio.jpgloggia.jpgWe were in the bar (above) to welcome them: it used to be the old fodder store for the oxen that occupied the ground floor of the tower (as everywhere in medieval times, humans lived above the cattle, which generated warmth).

'Che meraviglia!' they said politely as our guided tour took them past what had been the room where the shepherd slept, the former chicken shed, pigsties, wine vaults, cow byre, the well (where a pig had once fallen in, we were to hear) and the terrace where their children skinned rabbits. Under new management now, these were Luxury Apartment Type A,  Reception, the Loggia, the Honeymoon Suite, Lounge (with satellite TV) and Library (a manger full of books) and Patio Rose Garden.

What we learned from them could have filled an entire book of marvels rather than the single chapter I have space for in Fireflies. These were people who had been true eye-witnesses to history. Their stories — far from being the romantic anecdotes we had been expecting in a fairytale kind of way — were of backbreaking work in all weather, from the crack of dawn to dusk. Up to 20 people from different families could have been living here at any given time.

It seemed they were talking about 1,000 years ago, though everything happened only a generation earlier, and when the sharecropping system collapsed in Italy after World War Two the little world of Chianti changed forever.

It wasn't all grim times, though. In some aspects the simple life held a particular charm, and we were captivated by one special story that our guests told us.  It was all to do with those fireflies we had encountered right at the beginning, and were still eluding us as we tried to catch them in the dark...

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