It would seem that nothing is plain sailing when you start your own business and I guess in part it’s my own fault for going into this with blind ignorance. I had an idea and that idea was something I believe in strongly, to be able to share what I love with friends and family. The what is wine, and wine is one of the most fundamental parts of life in Italy, so what better place to start than right here in Tuscany, the heart of one of the oldest living civilisations on earth.
There are many stories about wine and how it spread across the globe, but the one I believe in is that fact that Roman soldiers spread the seeds as they traveled the known earth. Well, I think they spread more than just wine seeds as they travelled, but we won’t go into that.
These past few weeks have been a real test of my patience, and also a little bit of reward for all the work I have been putting into this business.
The main issue came about when I went to one of my small producers and tried to collect some wine I had ordered. The producer told me that without a VAT number they could not create an invoice, well, they could, but they would just need to charge me 22% VAT on my order. I tried to explain that as a small business in the UK I do not need a VAT number as until my business turns over £86,000 per year I don’t need a VAT number.
It would seem I was wrong….
After speaking to three different people at the HMRC and getting three different responses, it transpires that I actually do need to be VAT registered in the UK to enable the producers in Italy to zero rate the VAT here on the invoices. This means that I have had to register for VAT with the HMRC, which they tell me can take 10 working days, and it’s a long 10 days to wait as if they say no, then I need to come up with an alternative solution, and finding alternative solutions is something I have become quite adept at since setting out on this journey.
With the news that I have to wait 10 days to hear if I have a VAT number so I can buy wine, I took the chance to go see a friend in Naples and try some wines and food from the South.
“It only takes about four hours to drive down to Naples” – Tuscan friends.
Seven hours after setting off and driving through a biblical hail and rain storm just South of Rome, we arrived in Napoli. The drive in is simply stunning as you follow the coast road down into Sorrento and the surrounding areas. The beautiful blue Mediterranean Sea stretching out into the distance, the jagged coastline and the winding tiny roads, it’s everything you imagine it to be.
While down South I took the opportunity to visit the girlfriend of one of the producers I work with in Tuscany. The winery is Capolino http://www.capolinoperlingieri.com/?lang=en which is one of the most beautiful settings I have encountered on all my travels. “The house is the big yellow house with the two towers” is how Alexia described it and she wasn’t wrong, after taking a wrong turn we found ourselves driving up the road to the house, only to be stopped by the railway crossing and having to wait for a train. Alexia called to say “is that you at the bottom of the road, why have you stopped, to take pictures?” Nope, we stopped for the train, haha!
The house is beautiful, a castle more than a house and the winery is so small and humble in comparison. Alexia told us a beautiful story of how the house originally belonged to her great grandmother who then lost the rights to it. In Italy there is a law that states that if you don’t occupy your house for more than twenty years you lose the house. Which is what happened to her grandmother. The house was given over to the workers who lived on the land and in one case one of the workers left a bedroom of the house to his five children. All of this was discovered by Alexia’s brother who spend fifteen years tracking everyone down and buying the house back for his family. Now back in the hands of the Perlingieri family the house has been restored to its former glory. One of my favourite moments was when we returned from a visit to the vineyard and Alexia’s mum was stood on the balcony and she greeted us with a big smile and an even bigger smile when we said we were going to have a tasting of the wines. She came down with a plate of salami and cheese and we drank wine and chatted, she also made a new friend in Jackson and she was secretly sneaking him salami while I was talking wine with Alexia. At 82 her mum was such a joy to be around, she said “these are the best years of your life, you get to eat and drink whatever you want and no one can tell you off” apart from her doctor who says she needs to drink more water, so her response “wine is mostly water, so I will just up my wine intake”. The day was finished perfectly with dinner in a local town of amazing pizza and local produce.
One of my favourite moments was when I stepped from the car and Alexia said “Mmmmm can you smell that?” In all honesty all I could smell was cow sh*t, but being polite I said “errrrr, pizza?” She looked down her nose at me and said “No you wally, its Buffalo sh*t!” Turns out we were having dinner in the middle of mozzarella making territory.
The rest of our time in Napoli we spent sight seeing and exploring, getting up as high as possible to see the beautiful views of the coast and going to picturesque little towns like Met and Positano. We ate too much (Jackson tried Neapolitan pizza) drank some great wine, went night swimming, ate by the sea, watched the sunset and basically had a well earned rest. One of the best moments for me was lying on the sofa in the garden, reading my book and listening to some Miles Davis, I think I needed a day like that to just unwind from the past seven months of chaos.
Before I forget, I also had the pleasure to catch up with my old friend Tony while in Napoli. Tony and I used to work together at O2 many years ago and we have stayed in touch through our passion of Italian wines and food. Tony was in Naples on a pizza making course as he wants to open his own place in Manchester. Once he is up an running we will be sure to let you know the details and we hope to be working with Tony to help him create his wine list, if he wants our help of course.
I loved the time down South and I will be heading back, I will actually make it into Naples next time and see if the city is as rough as everyone warned me about…