Driving past this vineyard, even driving up to it, nothing really remarkable stands out. It is so much more than the sum of its parts. And yet it is the details of these parts that hold the enchantment. It’s an invitation to time itself. Stop, slow down and notice how the jasmine vine nearly covers the doorway to the office. Accidentally uncover the gap between the hedge and the wall surrounding the property just wide enough for two people to walk side by side. Please, take the time to sit in every chair and enjoy every vista. Daydream. Kick pebbles. Sip wine. There’s no rush.
Our education begins in the fields by the giant head. We learn that for centuries this area was home only to churches and large villas, like this one. We are nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and the Apennines, creating the perfect growing conditions for almost anything. The soil that supports the grapes is pre-glacial, thousands of years old and nutrient rich. This is a bio-dynamic vineyard, one giant leap beyond organic. Every detail from what day to plant and what nutrients to add to the soil is planned. Cow horns are stuffed with manure from cows that have eaten only the best grasses, and specific grasses, then planted in a precise way by the phases of the moon. Nothing is overlooked.
And the wine reveals that. It is time for our tasting.
We begin with a light white wine and crudites. Not normally a fan of white wine I embrace it while in Italy and find their grapes most agreeable. The cool, crisp flavor is perfect on a warm summer afternoon.
We are clustered together around a small table under the filtered protection of a crudely crafted bamboo screen, emitting light in tiny shafts creating a dappled pattern on everything it touches. A few of us begin to disperse, wandering to the edges of the property with a vegetable topped crostini in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.
There are no wrong turns here. There is nowhere to sit that does not ask you to linger. The day is sunny and bright with the perfect amount of white cotton clouds, it must be somewhere in the mid 70s, and the breeze being delivered by the sea so far from here we can’t see it, brushes the hair out of my eyes and keeps the air fresh.This is lovely, I think, just as we’re called back for the main course.
Arriving at the table we take our seats to be served food that is so simple and so absolutely delicious. This is what homemade, fresh, organic, non-GMO food made with care and love tastes like! Fresh ravioli – and I mean, just made the pasta, fresh – stuffed with basil, fresh ricotta cheese, the kind that comes in a burnished wheel, not a plastic cup with a safety seal, and the center of fresh white bread, soaked in milk, then wrung out, added to the cheese mixture to thicken it.. There is only olive oil as a “sauce,” tomato sauce is ONLY used if the ravioli is filled with meat.
Following the ravioli are warm red beets and beet greens. Then fresh-from-the-garden peas, big and crisp, yet juicy. We are inhaling them as if they will imbue us with super powers. They are the first to disappear. The food keeps coming, delivered, one bowl or plate at a time by one of the kitchen sorceresses, across the pebbled expanse from the big house to our table.
Fresh bread makes its way to the table accompanied by the neighbor’s goat cheese – so soft it nearly spreads itself. But then there is raw honey from this property that is drizzled atop the goat cheese. Tiny little groans escape full mouths as eyes roll in food ecstasy. Wine is served throughout the meal, several different types, this time red. We receive more education on things like tannins and sulfites, all fascinating, I even asked questions, but all I remember is the shared experience.
It is never really about the wine being the star. It is about how the wine supports the food, and in this case, the event, and helps shape the whole experience.
Unbelievably satisfied, yet not stuffed, we meander once again. Sitting quietly behind us during our meal was a small building. It happens to be a small chapel, which is now wine storage. And occasionally a dog house. After we finish eating and the food has been taken away a beautiful, giant red dog is released from this house and introduced to us. He wants desperately to play with the awesome ambassadors of love we brought with us. But two small female poodles are no match for this mammoth, so they remain separated.
We linger on the couches and lounges, explore corners of the property, get lost. We are being called to the house. Laura, our host and the owner of this property and vineyard, has prepared espresso for us. It is being served in the grand salon of the home – her private home. The centerpiece of this room is the original Murano glass chandelier of many colors. It came with the home, as did the two truck-sized original paintings of dogs at play outside – dark now with age – on opposite walls. Beneath our feet is another inheritance of the home – a huge hand-knotted rug, a little thread-bare in spots, but more beautiful because of it. The rest she provided – sofas, tables, lamps. It is a completely grounded, welcoming space.
After our coffee we find our way to the office to pick up our purchases. Wine, honey, olive oil and slowly, feet dragging and quiet desperation to hold onto whatever it is we’ve just experienced, we head for our cars.
Our ride back is quiet. It is our last full day together and already our thoughts are on packing and checking flights. A welcome distraction from the reality that by tomorrow night all of this will be a memory.
We will all paint this day, and this entire trip, with a different brush, but I feel sure that each painting will have a soft glow of its own particular brand of joy.
If you should ever find yourself in Tuscany, or anywhere in Italy, I highly recommend trying this wine and even visiting the vineyard. Tenuto di Valgiano. I do believe that’s Italian for delicious!