Nearly seven years ago, I married into a family with a small Tuscan vineyard. My winemaking skills being remarkably underdeveloped, my contributions to the family trade have so far been of the imbibing kind?although I prefer to call it product testing.

But I must admit a couple of weeks ago I felt slightly embarrassed at my agricultural shortcomings, when I came across three remarkable ladies who ditched Blighty to make wine and oil along the Mediterranean. I interviewed Patricia Atkinson of Chateau d’Yvigne, Peri Eagleton of Seggiano and Philippa Farrow of San Martino for Country Life International, a new publication on overseas living and property which is out with the May 18 issue of Country Life.

None of the ladies had been particularly familiar with vineyards or olive groves when they bought their landed properties in France and Italy. But they rolled up their sleeves, learned fast and made a success out of their estates.

Their secret was a mix of willingness to listen to local friends, determination to succeed and damned hard work, spiced up with just a dash of derring-do. Theirs is a lesson for aspiring Mediterranean farmers, who often underestimate the amount of effort it takes to make olive oil or wine. I am as guilty as anyone of this. And after talking to Mrs Atkinson, Ms Eagleton and Mrs Farrow I hung my head in shame at the thought of not pulling my weight, I truly did. For a whole whopping minute. Then I decided that product testing is just as vital a part of any agricultural business, and someone has got to do it. Plus, I have never been that good at listening anyway. And my energy levels are seriously low. But I think I’d better hide the magazine from my in-laws. Just in case they get strange ideas about expanding my role.

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