Two summers ago, nearing the end of my year of travels, I arrived at Castello di Potentino. Up until then, I’d grown used to moving from bed to bed, city to city, without batting an eyelid. Overnight bus rides, cross-country train trips, dazed and aimless wanderings through airports — I’d been starting to feel completely transient, and though the feeling was sometimes liberating, it was hard not to also feel uprooted, or lonely.
I can’t really overstate how much my time at Potentino meant to me. Charlotte and Alexander — the sister + brother duo who own the castle — restored to me what it meant to be part of a home and a family.
All year round, they take on volunteers (called WWOOFers) to help around the castle, namely the vineyards, in exchange for room & board. I stayed for three weeks — a time-frame I’d originally thought of as excessively long — but, of course, once my time was up, I was not at all ready to leave.
Over the past two years, I thought about Potentino often, fantasizing about the food and the wine, missing the poppies and the laughter and even working in the vines. But with work and life and my endless apartment-switching, there never seemed to be a good time to visit. Charlotte and Alexander even came to Ontario this past May, on a trip to promote their wine. It was so wonderful to see them again, and I told myself that I would have to get back there, though I remained unsure of how soon.
In October, fate conspired on my behalf. There was going to be a month-long hiatus on my project, and I was free to do whatever I wanted in the meantime. Of course, I frantically emailed Charlotte & Alexander to ask if they had room for another volunteer, and they shot back that they could always use an extra hand at harvest time. I shrieked (actually), booked my ticket immediately, and was on the plane in less than a week.
It was a perfect three weeks. The castle was every bit as gorgeous as I’d remembered, and I loved being able to help reap in the fall what I’d once helped prune in the spring. There were so many reunions with others who’d made Potentino their home-away-from-home, as I had, two years ago. Being able to revisit those old friends — Natalie, Abby, and Karen — was such a pleasure. And the other WWOOFers, whom I was meeting for the first time, happened to be the most enthusiastic, supportive, and hilarious group of people I think I’ve ever met. The kitchen was usually populated with a bunch of us dancing while simultaneously trying to prepare dinner, or once in a while we’d burst into Disney classics in the vines. There’s nothing quite like hard work — and the well-earned meal that follows afterwards — to bring people together.
With the vendemmia — the Italian word for grape harvest — in full force while I was there, our days usually involved getting out into the vines as the last of the dew was evaporating (around 8 a.m.) and harvesting in pairs moving up and down the rows all day. We’d load our crates full, haul the crates onto the tractor, and once everything was harvested, we’d head to the cantina to de-stem and crush the grapes, load the juice into the barrels, and clean the equipment. On easier days, we’d be out removing excess leaves from the vines, and coming in early to help with lunch when there were visitors (sometimes forty or more!) joining us for a meal.
No matter what, each evening would finish with a late dinner in the castle, lots of wine, plenty of food, several singing performances, and even the occasional post-meal game of (highly inebriated) charades.
Enjoy the photos! I’ll post a few more in my next update.