We got off the jeep and there she was staring at me. “A vineyard pest!” Alberto Graci commented, “We had problems with cows getting past our fences and eating our grapes this year.”
I can imagine that was frustrating for Alberto, as this is no simple vineyard to maintain. Contrada Barbabecchi – Solicchiata was the name of the vineyard at quota mille or “altitude 1,000.” The vineyard is 1,000 meters above sea level and in a fairly remote part of the Mt. Etna region. In order to get to the vineyard we had to take jeeps up a worn, lava stone path. At points I was sure the jeep was going to get stuck or bottom out, but our driver knew how to navigate the rugged path.
When we finally made it to the top, I was awestruck. Not by the cow, but by the wild beauty of the vineyard. The hundred-year-old vines look like little bushes, supported by chestnut stakes. Herbs, olive trees, grasses and apple trees are scattered throughout the vineyard. It almost looks overgrown, but it also reminds me of walking through my grandfather’s orchard when I was a child. A place where nature is allowed to do its thing, with a little nudge here and there, and it thanks you with the most flavorful fruit you can imagine.
Looking further down the mountain I could see another vineyard, perfectly groomed with the vines trellised and jam-packed into the limited space. A tractor was driving through the vineyard to take care of the grapes. I could tell at a glance that I would rather taste the wine from the vineyard where I stood than the sterile, manicured vineyard below. “This is what you pay for with a premium wine” I thought, it’s the time, energy and dedication the winemakers give to create something special.
I wandered off from the group to have a little conversation with that cow. “Why are you here? Why did you eat the grapes?” I asked. “Don’t you know that you’re robbing us of a great wine?” The cow didn’t care. She stared back at me and moo’d, but I couldn’t understand her because it was in Italian.
I could picture that cow earlier in the season, watching the Graci team from afar as they carefully tended to this vineyard. They did all the work in the vineyard by hand. They refused to use herbicides to allow a pure expression of nature to come to life through the grapes. She knew this vineyard was given some love. She knew how tasty the grapes would be. I couldn’t blame her for eating them. In fact, it’s surprising there aren’t more cows in Etna eating the grapes.
I wondered for a moment if she were a dairy cow. That certainly could give a new meaning to Etna Bianco. And I’ll bet it would be some tasty milk.
I kept thinking of this cow when I got home, and then I realized I know why a cow would eat the grapes: Because cows don’t drink wine.
Disclosure: I tasted the wines of Etna and met this cow as a part of a sponsored blogger tour of the region, organized by Consorzio Tutela Vini Etna D.O.C.. My travel and accommodations were provided by the sponsor.