Sunday, June 02, 2019

An Epic Journey in Pursuit of the Evolution of Native Wine

Pt. loving memory of Al Pasquino

I was living in Florence for a brief time. And at the macrobiotic mensa a friend had made mention of this mythical figure of a winemaker in the nearby hills. He suggested we go visit this person, as they were old and who knew how much longer he or she would be alive. Yes, so fabled that we didn’t even know if it was a man or a woman!

We were young, which is to say we were broke. Why else would we be taking our meals in a mensa? Oh yes, we were not carnivores, that was a fact then. And the mensa provided us with what we took to be our daily nutritional needs during a meal, at the time. Imagine, being a vegetarian (albeit la lacto-ovo one) in a world of Bistecca alla Fiorentina! And those amazing roast chickens one gets out on the country tables. But, alas, we would have to be content with our fields of greens, cicoria and rucola, and the many types of squash. And of course, eggplant. And potatoes! And tomatoes! Yes, one could see it through the day without eating the flesh of another creature, even in Tuscany. And yes, one could have “regularity,” if one were so afflicted with the inability to “let go” of things. And there were always figs.

So, we borrowed a car and headed for the hills, on our journey, in search of the mage of the Colli Fiorentini.

Tuscan Hill Country is a twisty-turny sort of affair. These were the days before GPS, or even dependable Italian cars, and we had a map of sorts. And even though Italian cartography is renown, our little scribbles on a napkin were tantamount to a mystical joke in the search for our vinous bodhi-manda and the elusive master of the vines. But we persisted in our Quixotic pursuance and soon around a corner, we found a little break in the road, surrounded by bamboo long planted, maybe even by the sage we were in search of. So, we turned into the clearing and went down into it, following a road that kept getting smaller and smaller.

At one point, we had to leave the car. Thankfully it was mid-day and the mosquitos were napping, along with the rest of the country.

In what seemed like a death march of time, with sore muscles and even sorer feet, we came upon a duo of signs, each pointing in a different direction, with the words, Viti and Grotta. Our instincts told us to head for the grotta, and so we instead went the way of the direction towards the viti. It turned out to be a providential decision.

After a quarter of a mile or so, we came to a clearing, where there were vines. And another sign, timeworn by lifetimes of sun and rain, which looked like the two words, Viti Parodias, but the sign was so worn could it have been another name in its inception, perhaps Via (or Villa) Paradisa? The raucous drone of the cicadas announced our intrusion. And from the middle of the field, a head popped up and looked in our direction, only to have the head disappear in a nanosecond. Apparently, we were not a threat. And, as well, we did not appear to have communicated, via a friend of the winemaker, that we were coming to pay our respects. Nonetheless, we trudged on ahead in search of illumination.

As we approached nearer, we heard a voice, in what my friend said was a remote Tuscan dialect from before the time of Dante. My friend was part of a family who had lived in the region since the middle ages. The founding family member had a way station on the Via Francigena, with ties to the Aldobrandeschi dynasty. “What this person is asking, is what are we doing here? Have we come to help?” my friend translated.

We were tired, we were thirsty, and we were idiots. But we were here already, so why not help? We were young and who knows where this would lead? Of course, we were hoping to grab some enlightenment from this wise old winemaker, and maybe even taste the wine, which in Florence, was the stuff of legends. Only one restaurant had even had the wine on the list and in those days was reported to be on the list for ₤90,000 (with ₤880 = US $1.00 at the time). Of course, no one in our circle had ever seen the wine, let alone taste even a sip of it. We had to do whatever it took to get closer to that wine. We were so close; we didn’t even see the blood on the doorstep.

Pt. I - to be continued...

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