Friday, November 03, 2006

Want to Visit a Winery in Tuscany? Plan Ahead

I have just finished getting what I hope is the last of this kind of e-mails that I don’t want to get anymore. They went like this:

Dear Italian Wine Guy,
Thanks for setting us up at Castello di Greatness. Unfortunately we got delayed (read: saw the Prada outlet and just had to stop for an hour or two), and never made it. But I’m sure it would have been a great visit. I never realized that Piedmont was so far away from Tuscany. Anyway, thanks. We’ll look the wine up back in the states, and order it the next time we see it on a wine list.
Joe (the Ugly American) Consumer

A few hours later I got an e-mail from the winery:

Dear Italian Wine Guy,
Where are the people you asked us to give a tour and tasting for? We drove in from Milano, especially for this appointment, as we don’t live at the winery. We brought our mother with us to cook lunch. She made noodles for the afternoon meal. Are they not coming?
Please don’t ask us to entertain people for you if they don’t show up. Especially during the harvest.
Giuseppe (the Angry Italian) Winemaker

In my work, people often ask me to set them up to visit a winery. Sometimes, all they want is a tasting, and that’s fine. But some folks think we are travel agencies that have a plethora of what would be free food and wine and rooms at winery castles and estates. At their disposal. At a moment’s notice.

One fellow begged, at the last minute, for a place to stay in Tuscany. He was finishing a picture book on the region and needed to immerse himself in the wine country. He had left his cell phone at home, taken his blackberry for e-mail (note to last-minute guy: Blackberry’s have a phone function, and you can also buy neat, inexpensive cell phones that work in Europe), but didn’t check his e-mail often. When he did, he was slow to respond, if at all. He showed up late (3 days), stayed at the place (gratis), never asked to see the underground cellars (impressive), and then, as an act of (last minute, what else?) “kindness,” gave the estate owner a dog-eared copy of a book he’d done on the wines of Tasmania. Or the Okanagan. I don’t know if he ever took pictures there, for I never got a follow-up call from him. Or a thank-you. Nor did the winery owner.

Another group, right around the end of the high season, asked me to get them into a winery. Only, they didn’t show up for the first place (layover in Paris was delayed), and when they got to the second place, they didn’t stay the whole time. They abandoned the rooms that were “set aside” for them. Rooms that could have been used for other folks. I got a call on that one, too.

So what do you do if you are really a bonafide wine tourist, but want to get an insight into the workings of the Italian wine process? There are many wineries in Italy that have tour times. Castello di Gabbiano in Greve is a good example. They also have a good restaurant on site and wonderful accommodations in their newly restructured, 12th century castle.

Borgo Scopeto in Castelnuovo Berardenga also has an upper-end Relais, suites, tastefully done, and a wonderful restaurant on-site and a pool. This is a newer estate, dating from the 13th century. They can also arrange a visit down the hill to the winery.

Nearby, Borgo Monastero has a renovated 8th century monstery complete with underground wine cellars and a daily wine-tasting. The rates are very reasonable, and the rooms have their own kitchens in case you want to try your own hand at La Cucina Toscana. Their winery is also nearby.

Many towns in Tuscany, have places where the collective wine output is gathered. A fascinating example is in Greve, Le Cantine di Greve in Chianti. This place is wonderful in that you can put down 10 or 20 euros and they give you a card, charged, and you can go from wine to wine and taste some or many of the examples. They have wines from all over Tuscany, and olive oils, too. Their museum of wine is interesting to the novice or connoisseur alike.

The Enoteca Italiana in Siena is a great place to look at wines from all over Italy. It is not just a regional wine showplace, it is the National Wine Chapel.

Villa Nottola in Montepulciano is a complete wine experience. Wine tasting, restaurant, lodging, large groups, small groups.

Castello Banfi in Montalcino has it down to an art form. The founders, John and Pam Mariani really get it. They understand hospitality and American interest in all-things-wine. A fabulous tour (3 weeks in advance please- plan ahead) , a glass museum that is not to be missed and a great dining place, the Taverna. The Italians I saw there on my last stop were loving the wine shop and the restaurants. Not just for American tourists. The Italians were digging on it big time. For a virtual peek, go here.

So there are ways to get an inside look. It just takes a little advance planning. The Italians look upon this as hospitality, and anyone who knows the Italians know hospitality is a sacred thing.

When someone doesn’t show up for a visit, that person breaks the sacred link. Wine-touring is about friends and family, warmth and the hearth. It’s a way to get a glimpse of modern people in the age-old cycle of the harvest and the bounty of the earth. It’s a way to experience a way of living we seldom see. A time when time was slower and people were more thoughtful. That is something our wine-tourists can use a little of; to show consideration for the process and the feelings of the people, whose lives they are about to descend upon.After all, you are in their home.

A little light reading on the subject?
Too Much Tuscan Sun by Dario Castagno with Robert Rodi

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Travel Italy said...

Too Funny because too true. Many years ago I stopped setting things up for American friends. While not all Italians today still believe in the "your word is your bond" it can be found. With Americans it has been translated to "You must be getting something out of it, so I have no problem making you look like a fool!"

Juliette said...

I am outraged that Americans would treat another culture in such a despicable and careless manner. No wonder they think of us a as ugly" .

I can only hope that enough visit Italy and other countrys, with good manners, and dispel that picture.

As Nona used to say. "there's a bunch of Jackasses in this world, and you don't want to be one of them"

Good advice from the "old country"

Italian Wine Guy® said...

good to hear from you all

Tracie B. said...

is that damian mandola?

when i worked with the yacht people this summer, there was the royal family of the middle eastern country that starts with a "Q" (anonymity is SO important ;). they had arranged a private table at the local five star hotel(by the pool, therefore lots of arrangements to be made). at the last minute, il capo decided that he wanted to pranzare the next day at don alfonso in sant'agata dei goti, so they took off, 90 meter yacht in tow, and completely blew off the dinner. this offensive behavior was justifiably the talk of the village the next day.


if i were you i wouldn't do these BIG BIG FAVORS for people any more. it's YOUR rapporto with these wineries at stake and people obviously have no respect.

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