n a sunny morning in Umbria I’m sitting in a horse carriage parked by an old and gorgeously overgrow vineyard that belongs to Cantina di Filippo, a local organic winery.
It’s a picture perfect day where a countryside carriage ride is all you need to be happy — along with a glass of wine and some cheese. Such sublime days are normal for those of us graced by bounteous Umbria’s rural beauty.
But this is no ordinary wine tour. Perched atop a second carriage, handsome Roberto Di Filippo explains how he manages his magical farm while trying to strike a harmonic but functional relationship between man and nature. “I’m no weirdo,” he tells us.
Yet he very much does things his way. He prunes his plants under the new moon to cut down on vegetation growth. Tying farm work to lunar phases is an ancient practice. Lunar cycles affect not only the tide but hair growth and even the timing of childbirth. Scoff all you want, but it’s not so strange that vine shoots should grow slower or faster at different times of the month.
Di Filippo is old school in every way. He tills his vineyards not with tractors but horses. They pull modern equipment specifically designed to reflect traditional farming practices. The old has basically been made more efficient. His methods help maintain the soil’s microflora and structure. As for weeds, they’re checked by some 400 beautiful white geese set free to roam until grapes near maturation (you don’t want them snacking). Later on, the grass-fed, free-ranging geese supply tasty, healthy meat (note to self: return for geese — to be roasted and served with Sagrantino wine.)
Di Filippo’s wines have earned a global reputation and sell well. What most strikes me, however, is his commitment to people. Di Filippo is proud to invest in them. “Modern agriculture is enslaving farmers,” he insists. “They’re pushed to use bigger machines and more chemicals. As a result, there’s been a drop-off in field jobs. Indebted farmers end up leaving the land to live miserable lives in cities.”
Di Filippo runs his relatively small farm with his sister Emma. They employ 30 people. To help create new jobs elsewhere, he and others are involved in Romania’s La Sapata vineyard, another natural winemaker. The wider goal is to get people to return to the land.
And that may be the true revelation of my visit, finding a successful agricultural businessman determined to put job creation ahead of buying new equipment.
I believe deeply in the idea of a shared economy. I want it to be a model for the future. No more farming by multinational combines, just normal people helping other normal people who respect the planet.
Is it possible? Is it too “weird?” I hope not. And I toast Di Filippo with a glass of his own wonderful wine.
Pesche con crema e vino (Peaches and custard with wine)
- 2 ripe peaches.
- 1 tablespoon dark brown suga.
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
- 4 tablespoons of red wine (e.g. Montefalco Rosso).
- 1 egg yolk.
- 1 tablespoon of cornstarch.
- 1 tablespoon of sugar.
- 250 ml. (1 cup) milk.
- Zest of 1/2 organic un-waxed lemon.
— Heat the milk and the lemon zest in a tall glass container until hot to the touch, about 2 minutes.
— In a separate container, apply an electric whisk to egg yolk, sugar and starch until the mix is smooth. Remove the lemon zest from the milk. While whisking the yolk, add the hot milk one tablespoon at the time until smooth. Then add the rest of the milk.
— Transfer the mixture into a microwave and heat for 1minute. Quickly stir, then microwave for an additional minute or until the mix nears boiling. Whisk again.
— At this point the custard should be thick and smooth. Set aside to cool and refrigerate.
When ready to serve, make the wine sauce.
— Slice the peaches thinly. In a small pan reduce the red wine and brown sugar until syrupy, about 5 minutes.
— Turn off the heat and add lemon juice. — Let it cool off slightly then place the peaches over the custard and cover with the wine sauce. Serve immediately.