Thursday, September 17, 2009

Winery Tour

When Mom, Dad, and Hannah first arrived in Italy, part of their welcome tour included a trip to a winery. The family that owns the vineyards supplies wine to all the American military bases in Europe, and it just so happens the estate is within minutes of my parents' house. During our visit, going to the vineyard was on our list of things to do. But with all the traveling and other sightseeing escapades, we almost decided to skip it. I am sooooooo glad we didn't. It was seriously one of the most exciting things we did all week!

We started our tour in the winery, where they were in the full swing of things. Let me stop to mention that this was basically a private, casual tour with the Italian owner leading our family around while his staff just worked around us and he did his best to explain the process in English. He was great and totally hospitable. If you look closely at the picture, the third receptacle from the right may appear blurry. This is because the entire thing is covered in a thin film of water, which you can see spilling off towards the bottom. The owner explained that this piece of machinery was older than the others and therefore used a different, more antiquated cooling system.

We saw a machine that separated the grapes from their stems at an insanely quick speed and with what appeared to be incredible ease. It churned away, pumping the grapes towards a separate machine that removed the pulp and juice. The picture below is a truckbed filled entirely with grape skins. The owner explained that these skins were the byproduct of just 12 hours of work! He sells the skins to another company that makes grappa, a fragrant grape-based pomace brandy of between 37.5% and 60% alcohol by volume (according to Wikipedia).

Then he casually asked if we wanted to see the grapes. Of course we wanted to see the grapes! We followed him to basically what was his family's back yard. Rows and rows of grapevine, full of ripe fruit with the Alps creating a backdrop. It was so beautiful words cannot do it justice.

We strolled through the rows as he pointed out grapes calling them by name - Merlot, Chardonnay, and the vines that his wife had insisted on planting that grew table grapes! He would pluck a grape and eat it, comment on its flavor, and encourage us to do the same.

It was harvesting time and field workers were plucking grapes by hand. Our guide said picking by hand allows for a higher quality wine because the staff can discern between a good and bad bunch and leave the bad fruit on the vine. Most winemakers are using a more current process where a machine pulls the fruit, which is faster but does lower the quality of the end product. This particular vineyard had vines that were picked by hand and vines that used a machine for harvesting.

One of the really amazing facts he shared was the motivation behind planting these rose bushes at the end of each row. He said if there are any issues with soil quality, bugs, or any other potentially damaging variables they will affect the rose bushes around two days before they begin to affect the grapevines. For this reason they refer to the rose bushes as alarms!

At the end of the tour we did a small taste testing. The wines were all so delicious that I ended up buying 4 bottles! Do you know how much it cost me? 12 Euro. That's it!!! When I climbed back into the minivan excited about my purchase Andreas was quick to remind me that I probably wasn't going to be able to stow those bottles in my carry-on. Woops! So, our family came together in true Italian-American fashion. We solved the problem over the course of the next week with delicious Asiago and peppered cheeses alongside freshly marinated olives, while watching Harry Potter, during family game night playing Apples to Apples, and with dinners. I didn't have any wine at the end of that week to worry about bringing back home, but I sure am looking forward to my next visit so I can enjoy that local wine during relaxed evenings together as a family. Hopefully next time that can include you too Kirk!

Disclaimer: Some of the 'facts' in this post may be a litttttle off. The owner spoke English pretty well, but it's been a couple of weeks since our visit and I am not totally confident in my memory of the process.

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