'Bob Dylan asked us to make him his very own wine' - Georgina and Antonio Terni

HOW WE BEAT THE ODDS: Getting Italian men to take orders was just one of many challenges for a female wine-maker.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 24 Feb 2015

I was 38 when I married Antonio. It was 1984, and I'd lived in Numana in the Italian Marches for a few years after my first husband died in a plane crash, not far from our home. Antonio, an idealistic nuclear physicist and Bob Dylan fanatic, inherited a rickety old vineyard and asked me to help run it. He probably regretted it soon after. I always had a lot of zest, but never an outlet. Like many girls of my generation, I'd left home looking for a husband, not a job. Nobody thought we had any brains, and at first I'd been too indoctrinated to think differently. But by the time I met Antonio, I was restless to achieve something.

I stuck my finger into everything and, where necessary, massaged salt into the wound. I didn't know much about wine, but I didn't like ours. The grapes just weren't ripening, so I asked an agricultural professor why.

Our ploughs used to be pulled by oxen, but tractors had widened the gaps between vines, leaving too much space and sun. Grapes, I learned, needed hardship to thrive, so I narrowed the rows and pruned mercilessly.

The workers weren't impressed. The vestiges of feudalism and the post-war Communist Party had left an antagonism between employers and labourers. It was particularly difficult to give orders to Italian men, who assumed I should've been hosting dinner parties or playing bridge instead.

Despite this, our wines began to improve, and we found new national and international markets. Sales increased, and in 1993 we extended the vineyards and planted some rows of French grapes, such as merlot and syrah.

The fruits of this endeavour were Chaos and Visions of J, startling wines Antonio dedicated to his twin loves, chaos theory and Bob Dylan. Dylan heard about this in 2003, and asked us to make him his very own wine, which, as you can imagine, made Antonio's day. We're a good team because we're opposites in every way, but working together is hard. Antonio once described me as 'hatefully efficient', which I took as a compliment.

Last summer was the worst for 25 years. Many farmers didn't even bother to pick their grapes. I left the office and joined the workers in the vineyards, stripping leaves to fight off fungal infection. It was exhausting and costly, but losing the harvest would have been worse.

For the first time in years, I was out in the vineyards, and I loved it. The grapes responded well. It's exhilarating to produce a good wine in a bad year, but the best thing was my changed relationship with the workers. I see more smiling faces now. When I ask them to work on Saturday because a Sunday storm's coming, they don't complain any more. Sweating with them in the sun, I finally earned their respect.

Last year, we extended our farm shop, and its revenues rose 30%. I'd love my daughter Giulia to get involved, but I'd never press her.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Could coronavirus lead to gender equality?

Opinion: Enforced home-working and home-schooling could change the lives of working women, and the business...

Mike Ashley: Does it matter if the public hates you right now?

The Sports Direct founder’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has drawn criticism, but in the...

4 films to keep you sane during the coronavirus lockdown

Cirrus CEO Simon Hayward shares some choices to put things in perspective.

Pandemic ends public love affair with Richard Branson et al

Opinion: The larger-than-life corporate mavericks who rose to prominence in the 80s and 90s suddenly...

The Squiggly Career: How to be a chief strengths spotter

When leading remotely, it's more important than ever to make sure your people spend their...

"Blind CVs don't improve your access to talent"

Opinion: If you want to hire socially mobile go-getters, you need to know the context...