Friday, September 22, 2017

Of Switchbacks, Alfa Romeos, and The Alps

On Tuesday, Dr. C. and I were hoping to drive the Stelvio pass from Merano to Bormio, but the weather wasn't cooperating, with high winds, freezing temperatures, and what they call wintry mix, which is weather-speak for God awful rain and snow mix.  So it was on to plan B, we thought Wednesday would dawn with better weather, so we decided to drive around to Bormio which is at the end of the Stelvio pass, and we'd drive the Stelvio on Wednesday our last day in the Alfa.
Gorgeous scenery

As we began our drive, we could see that the higher altitudes were getting snow, and it was pretty cold in the Alfa as we were driving.
For this trip I'd been using Google maps for our navigation and done really well, that is until we got to the town of Male---male in Italian means bad, and we were in for a wild ride.  Google maps had us turning off onto SP29, a narrow road called Passo di Gavia that would take us into Bormio.  Click here to learn more about it on the website dangerous roads.
So we turned off the road we were on, and proceeded to climb from 2400 ft to 8955 ft, down a 1 1/2 lane road, with 15 switchbacks, and traffic coming the other way that included a camper, and lots of bicyclists.  Some times this road is used for the Giro di Italia, the Italian version of the Tour de France.

The cows come home

There is one in every crowd

barren landscape at this altitude

A lot of this was white knuckle riding and driving for Dr. C. in a 48 year old car, that wasn't happy in the high altitude, and cold temperatures, something to do with carburetors vs fuel injection.  It took us 2 hours to drive about 20 miles.  As we descended from the Passo I noticed signs saying we HAD to have chains if we wanted to drive the pass, and if the gate was closed, the road was closed---oh well.
The scenery in this part of Italy is spectacular

Looking for Heidi, goatherd Peter and Grandfather

Once we got back on the main road, we heaved a sigh of relief and headed for our hotel in Bormio. After driving Passo di Gavia we thought the Stelvio Pass would be a piece of cake.  We got to our hotel unloaded the Alfa and checked on the weather for the next day.
Beautiful morning in Bormio

The next day dawned clear in Bormio, but the Stelvio was at freezing temperatures, and the Alfa wasn't up to the climb or the temperatures.  We decided to call it a day especially after our hair raising drive the day before.  Driving south to Lake Garda to return the car, the Alfa loved descending from the high altitudes, and was running like a top by the time we reached the rental agency.
Like most Italian businesses they were closed for lunch so we headed for the lake and a delicious meal after our long drive.

Short macaroni with sausage, onion and tomato

Pasta alla vongole, Dr. C.'s go-to
Travel is all about learning new things, and meeting new people.  We thoroughly enjoyed this trip to Northern Italy, meeting wine makers, eating exceptional foods, and seeing this spectacular part of Italy.  We especially loved driving a classic Alfa Romeo which garnered lots of interest, and was a fun car.  Thank you to our friend Matteo at Discovery Your Italy for arranging the car rental.  His agency has just been named to the A-List at Travel and Leisure magazine, and it's well deserved.
We are now back in Spello and adjusting to life here in our beautiful hill town.  Ciao for Now.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Ferrari: It's Not Fast Cars, It's The Bubbles

Which one is the Ferrari?  The answer is both; Giulio Ferrari began his sparkling wine business in the town of Trento in Trentino Alto Adige, and Enzo Ferrari (no relation) began his automobile business in Maranello, in the province of Emilia Romagna.
Today, Dr. C. and I fired up the Alfa, drove south for a tour and tasting at the Ferrari winery in Trento.
Giulio Ferrari began his small winery in the Town of Trento in the 1902.  He set about making a sparkling wine to rival the champagnes of France.  He was the first to plant Chardonnay in the area, and soon was making sparkling wine in small quantities for select customers.
In 1952, without an heir to take over the business, he selected a small wine store owner in Trento to take over his winery, Bruno Lunelli.  Bruno expanded the winery, the vineyards, and the soul of the business, and now it is in the capable hands of the 3rd generation of the Lunelli family.  
All the Ferrari labels are Trentodoc, an appellation for white and rosé sparkling wine made in Trentino Alto Adige.  The vines are grown at a high altitude using sustainable and certified organic farming methods.   
We arrived, and were shown the stainless steel tanks, the aging rooms, and then were show the bottling process.  As the wines age, they are hand-turned to ensure perfect bubbles.  

 A museum with tools used by Giulio Ferrari

Transporting the casks
These displays welcome you to the winery

We tasted two wines form their Perle sparkling wine.  One a white and the other a rose.  They were both delicious, the white with notes of apple, and toasted almonds.  The rose had notes of raspberry and sweet almonds.  Both were delicious and we walked out with bottles of both, since they are so delicious, and who doesn't love a good sparkling wine.

Tiny bubbles
We left the winery having a new appreciation once again, for these Italian wine makers who want to put the best product possible on the market. We also loved that the family continues to support the business with new products, and methods.  The design elements that they incorporate in their cantina and their products and stunning.

We are hoping to drive the Stelvio Pass tomorrow, so I'll be back with video on that if the weather cooperates.  Ciao for now.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

An Afternoon with Il Marchese at Tenuta San Leonardo

When I describe the Italians, one word always comes to mind:  Passion, or as they say, passione.
This is never more evident to me than when meeting wine makers, or food producers, each is so passionate about what they do, it's hard not to be caught up in the joy and intensity of their labors.   No matter if they are descended from royalty, or farming the land, their passion, excitement and love for their labor is contagious.  This was certainly true as we drove out to Tenuta San Leonardo, to take a tour and do some wine tasting.  Our family had arranged the visit, so we started up the Alfa and headed to the valley between the Adige river and Mount Lessini.
We were greeted by Valentina and Il Marchese Carlo, and were advised to park the Alfa under the grape arbors.
The Alfa garners a lot of love and attention

Il Marchese offered to take us for a tour of the vineyards, and so we took off in his 4-wheel drive with his dog, a Jack Russel named Barrique. So named because of his size.
This little guy became my buddy on the tour
Driving under this canopy of trees, we were taken up the hill to see the vines, and the Villa Gresti. Some of the wines are planted in the pergola style, which shades the grapes, but the down side is they must be handpicked.  The grapes grown here are Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere, and Merlot. In higher elevations in another valley, white grapes are grown for Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.


Dr. C. and Il Marchese

Taking a sample

The Villa Gresti was built in the late 1800's, the grounds, and the surrounding vineyards are spectacular.

We drove through the vineyards, and then back to the production facilities.  All the while marveling at the beauty in this place.  As we drove along, Il Marchese told us that we were on one of the ancient Roman roads that went from Rome to Munich.  Now gravel and hidden away it was incredible to think that we were driving over paths the ancients walked on.
During World War I, the Austrians surrendered here, which marked the prelude to the ending of World War I.  During World War II, the Wehrmacht established a headquarters here, and eventually surrendered to the allies on the property.  According to Il Marchese, theWehrmacht had set up the HQ as their own POW camp, anticipating the allies advance, and surrendered with everything in place.  The family hid their wine from the Germans' bricking it over, but keeping several casks in front of the wall, for the Germans to enjoy. This kind of story is told many times in Italy, their wine was such a precious commodity, and they needed to preserve it.
The history of San Leonardo is almost as interesting as the wines that are produced here.  Over 1,000 years ago, monks lived on the land, producing grapes and wine establishing a hospital.  The church of San Leonardo was built and several years ago a discovery was made of frescos that they feel date to the 1200's.

Once back at the production facilities, we toured the ancient garden, which had been decimated by several recent hail storms, but was still gorgeous.  All the while Barrique was our companion.
Favorite car of all time!





We toured the cellars, and in keeping with the sacred theme of wine, monks and history, the cellars have chanting piped in to keep the wine happy.

Each varietal is pressed according to the vineyard that produced it, which type of grape, then fermented, then blended, keeping everything separated until the final blending process.  The wines have received many awards including the 'Oscar' for Italian wines.  Their most coveted is the San Leonardo.

The farm has a museum of farm machinery as well as a few leftover items from the War.  Of course for a guy like Dr. C. you are playing his song!  The USAF motorcycle was parachuted from planes into Italy.  Marchese Carlo's brother rode the cycle from Rome to San Leonardo---I can't even imagine.  Upstairs, is a beautiful museum of old farm implements and history of the estate.
Antique farm tools

Butter molds

Wine Press
Sewing Machine
As we walked out from the museum the mechanical grape picker was coming in to be cleaned for the day.  What a gorgeous piece of equipment, I'm sure it's the envy of every wine maker in the valley.
And now, it was time for the wine tasting.  Valentina led us in the tasting, but Il Marchese popped in to help out as well.  We were joined by 5 men from South Africa who were also there for a tour and wine tasting.

Remains of the day
A few other interesting facts about the winery.  Many of the workers are the fourth generation of families who have worked this land.  Proud of their heritage and that of the wines and products they produce, it is another reason that passion really does describe their work and their lives.  In 2015 the estate became biological, a huge investment for the estate, but one that will pay off in great vintages and recognition by the international community.
This is a family affair with sons and daughters helping to continue the success of the estate.  The San Leonardo is made in the Bordeaux style, and is often called the Sassicaia of the North.
When I speak with successful owners, like Il Marchese, they often tell me that they don't release a vintage if they feel it isn't up to their standards.  Wine making requires a huge investment of time, money and resources, and to take an economic hit if the vintage doesn't measure up is staggering, but necessary to maintain standards. Clearly, these wine makers only want to produce wine that is worthy of their name, and their reputation.
San Leonardo is in good hands, with Il Marchese and his family tending to the land and the vineyards ensuring its legacy in the Valley.  We were so honored to have spent this afternoon in the company of such a passionate wine maker.  Grazie Mille Tenuta San Leonardo.