I asked C.J. how many times he had been to Italy. He said 25 times. That was in 1971. I thought how amazing that someone could get there so many times. Now it is 2008 and I have passed that milestone.
Stefano Illuminati and I have been traveling around Texas with his importer and regional manager. We traveled 1,000 miles in four days, did wine dinners in three cities and consumed thousands and thousands of calories in food and wine. It was a bit like a rock concert blitz with wine. Instead of a bus we had a minivan.
Tonight Stefano is in Vancouver and I am back home. Very tired.
Looking back over my 25 trips in 37 years I have spent a lot of time with Stefano. We have grown up together. I met him first in 1984 when he was 20. Stefano was always overshadowed by the larger than life personality of his father, Dino. Big tree. But now Stefano is taking on more of the direction of the winery, steering it into the future until his son can come up and become involved.
Mandola family pictures
Another side to this story is the Mandola family in Houston. Brothers Vincent, Tony and Damian forged a lifelong friendship with the Illuminati family though Eugenio Spinozzi. Many trips to the winery, many dinners in the Luperia, the dining hall at the estate. Lots of laughs, some tears, many great memories. Eugenio, sadly, left us too soon, but destiny called him away from here. We talk about people who have died like it isn’t ever going to happen to us. Some day someone might talk about our passing as if it will never happen to them. And so on.
All this to say, through the vine we have made lifelong friendships with each other, the Illuminati and the Mandola families. And while sometimes it seems I am on the sidelines watching the unfolding of these two famous and powerful families, what can I do? Some of us observe and record the deeds of others. Am I diminished by their swath? Only if I think all this is about me.
The vine and the road leading to the vine have created bonds that ally us to Italy and the grape. And while it may seem we are out of Italy more than in it, I long ago realized the Italy that I refer to, daily, is embedded on a molecular level. Sure I am not an Italian like Stefano. And he is not an Italian like me. And most Italians are not precisely like each other. In fact there is sufficient evidence that we are all unique. All 6 billion of us. Comforting, no?
Food, wine, tomatoes, family, Italy, Texas, time, memories, love life and enduring amicizia.
Not something you can bid for on eBay or barter for on craigslist or find on some winery direct press release.
It is only something earned from time spent on the wine (and relationship) trail in Italy.
1984 ~ I'm on the far left and Stefano on the far right
1990 ~ Stefano on left and AC on right
2008 ~ AC on left and Stefano on right
Photos from the author