Farm Visit: Adeline Maillard, Cinque Terre (Italy)

“I have earned the respect of the farmers in the area”
Adeline Maillard, winemaker, Cinque Terre (Italy)

Originally from the Paris region, Adeline Maillard did not grow up in the agricultural industry. Four years ago, this wine specialist and her partner decided to leave everything behind to buy a vineyard in northern Italy. Women in Ag spoke to her.

For Adeline Maillard, wine is a family affair. “My father is a wine merchant, and I spent 10 years in Bordeaux working in the classified Grands Crus . I was in charge of wine marketing and sales in Margaux, while my companion was an oenologist and cellar master of great wine châteaux in Sauternes”, she introduces herself.

From city to winegrower life
Four years ago, the couple fell in love with a vineyard for sale in the region where Adeline’s partner Riccardo was born. “So we left the comfort of stable contracts to embark on the adventure of owning a vineyard, and I traded in my French city girl heels for Italian winemaker boots.”

The couple bought the 1 hectare land in the Cinque Terre, in the heart of a Unesco National Park. “The park is very famour for its breathtaking view of mountains and sea, it small fishermen villages and the brightly coloured houses. Our direct environment is coloured green and blue.”

Heroic Viticulture
Situated between the sea and the mountains, with an altitude difference of 600 meters, the 80 to 130 year old vines and the winery are located on different hillsides of the Park, between 200 and 500 meters above sea level, in the heart of the Cinque Terre National Park. “This means having a good sports training, because here everything is done on foot. This is called “heroic viticulture”: only a few vineyards in the world have the characteristics of this label.”

“This means that the territory does not allow us to use tractors, and we can’t get to the vineyards by car. And so, every working day, we have to trek to get to our workplace. The harvest is very sporty business, because the grapes are picked and carried by hand.”

The winery and house are located in a small hamlet of 7 year-round inhabitants of whom Adeline is the youngest. The nearest large city is 40 minutes away by car.

“This close proximity to nature reinforces our environmental commitment, which is why we use only natural products: no insecticides and no weed killers.”

In this region, it gets very hot in the summer – up to 35°C – and the climate changes are noticeable in viticulture. “We prefer to work on terrains as high up as possible in order to benefit from the cooler conditions that preserve our grapes.”

Learning about being a farmer on the go
Adeline, who had never worked as a farmer before buying the vineyard, learned everything from her partner. “Every day I feel more and more comfortable with my picks, shovels and pruners! I even have a soft spot for tilling the soil and spreading manure,” she explains, explaining that the soil is fed with compost and that everything is done to preserve the estate’s biodiversity.

“To make my debut as a farmer in heroic viticulture has been a blessing for me. I realize that people who are used to working with tractors and mechanical tools would probably have a much harder time adapting to the slowness of working by hand. They would experience a frustration that I don’t, because for me the very slow, walking pace of our viticulture is the only one I have experienced.”

Besides the vineyard, the estate also has olive trees with which Adeline and Riccardo produce their Mediterranean olive oil. In addition to all this, Adeline is also training to become a beekeeper.

Two seasons
“There are two typical types of workdays for me: a spring or summer day, and then a fall or winter day.”

In spring-summer season, the days start very early: as soon as 4 or 5 am in order to be in the vineyard by 5.30 – 6. “We need to start very early because it’s already too hot out at 11-12am.” After taking care of the vines which means, depending on the season, grass cutting, biodynamic treatments, leaf removal, plowing or grape harvesting, Adeline and Riccardo go home to eat.

“After that, we work in the cellar and follow the fermentations and vinifications. Then we do the administrative tasks on the computer, and in the afternoon we welcome our customers for wine tasting and sales.”

In autumn, Adeline spends more time in the cellar where she has to follow the fermentations and wash the barrels, amphorae and vats. The days then start later, around 8 am. “In the afternoon, we take care of bottling and shipping the wines.” The commercial part of the business is developed during the winter, when restaurants are more available. Meetings with distributors in Italy or abroad are usually planned during this season.

Female winegrowers in the Cinque Terre
“Italy still has a very male culture in agriculture,” she says. In the Cinque Terre, women working in the vineyard are in the minority: less than 10 women out of a hundred winegrowers. “A very representative anecdote: during my first year as a farmer, the other men called my partner to ask him if he was sure he wanted to let me work in the vineyard and if he was not afraid I would make a mess!”

“Looking back, things have changed a lot sincethey saw that I am involved on a daily basis and that I am in the vineyard every day, whether it is 4 degrees or 35 degrees, rain or shine! So I have earned their respect, and I often hear now that they hope their daughters or nieces will find it in them to reconnect with nature as I do.”

According to Adeline, the change of mentality will only be observed with the new generations and the education that we will give to our children – girls and boys. “I think it’s pointless to try to fight with the adults who already have their opinions on the role of women in agriculture, because after all, they don’t matter anymore. They do not represent the future.”

A discourse that should not only change for men, but also and especially for women, she emphasizes. “Many times, the reluctance and misunderstanding I face comes from women who are complacent in a comfortable cage of being a woman in the office or at home. Contrary to what one might think, men change their view of women in agriculture much more quickly once they see us working. On the other hand, women who are not sensitive to nature and the agricultural environment have a much harsher view of my profession than the men.”

Agriculture, an under-appreciated sector
One difficulty that strikes Adeline is the general public’s view of agriculture, which she says is segmented. “People imagine that the farmer life is either romantic, idyllic and paradisiacal; or only hard work and exhaustion. The truth lies somewhere in between, but unfortunately agriculture is either idealized or marginalized.”

According to Adeline, the problem lies in education, which does not offer enough inspiring agricultural trainings. “Young people should not be ashamed to turn to a farm trade, and great studies are still too often opposed to manual trades.”

“I speak several languages, and I have worked in offices for over ten years. Too often I see farmers being belittled or diminished, as if they can’t work with their heads but only with their hands. I wish society would respect the people who feed them more.”

For Adeline, the cohesion and mutual support within a farming community is the greatest reward for the hard work, in addition to a life in the middle of nature. “The simple act of sowing and planting and seeing that grow is the most beautiful of rewards to me.”

“The most emotional moments of the year are concentrated at harvest time, because that is the birth of a new vintage. All the dearest members of our families gather around us and share a small part of our adventure. It’s like having a new wedding every year!”

Inspiring young Italian women
Adeline’s advice to women in agriculture? Don’t let people put you in a box! “One can have her hands in manure all day long, then change into a nice dress, put on some make up and go enjoy the city life by going to restaurants or museums in the nearby city. We cannot be reduced to one aspect of who we are and will not, should not, give up on any part of that life that makes us happy.”

“Don’t be afraid of how others will look at you. When you feel good about yourself, people will notice this and their attitude will change.”

“My inspirations of women in agriculture and nature come mainly from the French culture via my mother, whom I have always seen in the middle of plants and garden, as well as from the American and Northern European culture through the pages I follow on Instagram, but I still see too few of those in Italy. So, if I can inspire even one young girl in my adopted country it will make me very happy!”

About Cián du Giorgio’s
Adeline Maillard (33) and her partner Riccardo Giorgi left their city life in the wine industry in Bordeaux (France) four years ago to start a heroic viticulture in the heart of the Cinque Terre National Park.

In 2018, the couple founded the estate “Cián du Giorgi”, local dialect for “the terraces of Giorgi”. At the estate, everything is done on foot, without machines or pesticides, respecting the very fragile balance of the region.

Curious about all facets of agriculture, this industry she discovered along with the vineyard four years ago, Adeline is currently training to be a beekeeper. She shares her discoveries and her daily life in her winemaker’s diary on her instagram profile  as well as on the domain’sand on the cián du Giorgi’s website

Author: Antoon

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