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I Almost Bought An Italian Vineyard, But I Bottled It

It was a pour attempt.

23/08/2016 1:27 PM AEST | Updated August 23, 2016 18:18
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I'm drunk on the idea of starting a vineyard.

Just spent a month in Italy. Was going to send you a postcard but I couldn't bloody find one. Does anybody send postcards these digital days? Makers of revolving racks must be wondering where their next meal is coming from.

Anyway, had I sent you a postcard, the following is what it might have said: ALMOST BOUGHT A VINEYARD. WISH YOU WERE HERE (TO PAY FOR IT).

At my desk at HuffPost, when the daily grind grinds or my boss yells at me to get a haircut, I often imagine a life of leisure in my wife's fishing village, of buying a vineyard by the sea and making my very own Sauvignon Plonk. I call it the grape escape.

It's a pipe dream of course – like being yelled at to get a haircut. But while I was living la dolce vita over the past few weeks I decided to see how much that pipe dream would cost, and in doing so discovered I might be better off with the daily grind.

I don't know how to make wine. I know how to drink wine but I don't know how to make it. That's why I want to buy a vineyard – to learn. Sound reasonable? My wife doesn't think so, despite hailing from a southern Italian village in wonderful wine country. There's even a city called Brindisi, which literally means 'to raise a toast'. That's the Aussie equivalent of a city called Cheers. Can I be mayor?

Paul Williams - Funkystock
Ostuni, near Brindisi. A great place to drink wine.

The grapevine is more efficient than the internet in Italy and friends soon learnt of my daydream to start a vineyard. One pointed me in the direction of a potential property, to which I drove with my son standing on my knee steering the car, something that would get me arrested back in Oz but is nothing out of the ordinary in southern Italy.

It was love at first sight. The 16th century villa was elegant outside but destroyed within. An entrance arch for horses separated first-floor rooms, each with cross-arched roofs. A faded fresco adorned a rear wall. A stone staircase twisted to the second floor and terrace, from where a view of the garden and soon-to-be-vineyard could be savoured with my Sauvignon Plonk on a summer's eve.

Intoxicated, if not by alcohol, despite not being able to afford the house or having any intention of living in Italy again, I decided to indulge my curiosity. The following morning we rang the agent to discover that the purchase of the property would be more challenging than its restoration. Ownership was divided between two children and their widowed mamma, who unlike the children, refused to relinquish her two rooms on the second-floor. "Apparently she had a love affair in there," the agent explained, "and won't part with the rooms until she dies. The children have tried to convince her to sell but she won't budge."

I imagined the words 'over my dead body' featured in those negotiations.

"It's not nice to say it," the agent continued, "but she's a very old woman and probably won't be around for much longer, but until she dies I'm afraid the house is for sale minus her share."

It was the same story with the garden, aka my vineyard: only two thirds was up for grabs. We would own the vines but not the grapes.

"But don't worry," the agent sought to reassure us, "it will be written into the contract that when the mother dies her share will be sold to the buyer of the rest of the property, for a price to be agreed later."

Well, in that case where do I sign?

My wife thanked the agent and wished him luck with the improbable sale. Then our own negotiations began.

"Why don't we call the old woman's doctor and ask how long she's got?" I suggested. "Perhaps we could offer him a free bottle of my first vintage in exchange for the information."

"No, you couldn't do that," said my wife's mother, who is yet to embrace deadpan humour.

"We could restore the house," my wife hypothesised, "excluding those two rooms. Then when the woman dies we can finish it off."

Nothing wrong with her sense of humour, however.

"The only thing we need to finish off is this absurd conversation," I said. "Whoever buys that house buys a headache. I wouldn't touch it with a gondola pole." (Italians don't do barges.)

In some countries you buy houses with ghost stories. In Italy the horror story is the purchase itself. I put that in my pipe dream and smoked it. Back to the daily grind for me. Back to dreaming about making wine in southern Italy, while buying it from Cellarbrations.

Cheers.

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