Tag Archives: wine

Wine Museum

3 Nov

Having spent the harvest season in the “green heart of Italy” as Umbria is loving known, Ev and Claudia thought it only appropriate to take us to the wine museum of Italy in Torgiano. Let it be known that not everyone has such gracious hosts when participating in a work-exchange program. We have been incredibly lucky to have bosses/hosts parents that take us with them to see the country and encourage our learning about Italy through experiencing it. Although the museum was initially funded and continues to be supported by a local winery, Lungarotti, the museum provides completely independent information on when and how wine came to be the delicious nectar of the gods that we enjoy today.

The Roman god of wine, Dionysus

Most likely having origins similar to humanity in the middle east, it is believed that wine was discovered by accident while trying to save grapes. After discovering the pleasant drink that crushed and fermented grapes turn into, the rest is history. All cultures from the Ming Dynasty to the Romans have cultivated grapes for the production of wine. Wine was not only used socially as we enjoy it today, but often used as a tonic or medicine and as the only pure thing to drink, as water was often contaminated.

 

Wine “flasks” shaped with holes in the middle to be strung on a rope and carried by your animal

We were able to see ancient practices of trellising the vines, presses, tanks and barrels. It was cool to see the way of trellising grapes that we still have examples of on the farm here in Todi. The practice has been given up for more practical ways of grape-growing, but for centuries vineyard owners would plant apple or other fruit trees in rows as in an orchard and than plant the vine right next to the trunk of the tree. The grape vine would grow up the tree and through the branches. It’s funny because it has the illusion of a grape tree, and was practical because you were harvesting two crops in one space, but the quality of wine was being hindered by too much shade from the leaves and only half the nutrients because sharing the soil with the tree. Most now use the wire trellising system in some capacity and have a higher quality grape.

 

Huge wine press continuously used in Italy since the 1600s!

As much as it was a wine museum, it was also a ceramics museum. The reason for all the ceramics was to feature how wine has been stored, poured and carried for thousands of years. It was magnificent to see the ingenuity of thousand year old flasks (see picture above) and what fun the artists had when making pitchers with trick holes so the wine would only come out by holding it in a very particular way. They had so many examples of these “trick” pictures. I told Mitch that being on this trip has helped me get a grasp on dates. Since the U.S. has such a recent exploration it’s easy to think that 1776 is a long time ago, and you always hear “This bla bla bla was built in bla bla bla BC” but it never registered in my head until recently that I was looking at a wine vase in perfect condition, crafted beautifully and that’s 2 thousand years old! I have finally gotten a grasp on the backward counting of BC and have a much better appreciation for everything from pottery to architecture.

Wine is amazing, just when you think you’re finally starting to get a grasp on it you visit the wine museum and your brain is flooded with information again! Wine is agricultural yet classy, fun yet sophisticated and ancient but ever-changing…basically awesome. It was very educational and enjoyable to see how wine went from an accident to grapes being the most cultivated crop in the world and it only continues to grow. This is definitely a site to see if you are planning on a trip to Italy.

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Life is our playground

8 Oct

After a wonderful day of wine and food tasting we were having a meal with friends when the topic of recess was brought up. We were talking about how unfair and ironic it is that recess is taken away in adulthood when a break to run around and play with your friends is exactly what you need to break the monotony of everyday life. It reminded me of speaking with someone before we came that said, “Italy is amazing! It’s a wine-lovers playground.” Ahh the playground, where children are spinning on the merry-go-’round, flying on swings and laughing playing tag. This is the memory we all have of our idealist playground. But how true to fact are these memories? What about when you’re the kid sweating like a dog pushing your “light as a feather” (or so they would have you believe!) friends. Or the kid getting kicked by not-paying-attention to Suzie on the swing. Or my personal favorite, the poor kid who is awful at sports and doesn’t want to play but is forced into the humiliating process of being picked last. We seem to forget that the playground is not all it’s cracked up to be.

“The world is a playground, and life is pushing my swing.”

-Natalie Korcis

How different is this from everyday life when you are living a life of love, beauty and experience? I’m pretty sure most people think we are here drinking wine floating through Venice on a gondola taking in the scenery. Not hardly! We work like dogs 6 days a week to enjoy small pleasure. It is funny how one minute we are slaving away in the vineyard hoeing all the weeds away from acres of vines, and the next we’re relaxing, overlooking the Italian countryside enjoying a glass of wine from these same grapes. We will be moving rocks, dare I say boulders, from a new field destined for vines convinced this is what living in the desert feels like and the next walking through a medieval town saving drips off of our gelato and smooching with no shame. Everyday is a roll coaster of fabulous highs and rough lows. Of moments in which you are  questioning if you will make it through and ones that you are hoping will never end.

My friend Allie and were discussing on a recent trip if our study abroad experience in Ecuador was really as spectacular and eventful as we have saved in our minds and hearts. We used to say “Our lives” because it seemed like the gods were always smiling on us and our lives just seemed unusually perfect. But were we looking back and pushing aside the times we got lost in Guayaquil at night, couldn’t order what we wanted at a restaurant because we couldn’t remember the words and couldn’t get anyone to understand us and ended up in a brothel (a story for another time)? Do we only remember the good times? And how quickly do we forget the bad? We decided it was a combination.  Of course things weren’t always being handed to us on a silver platter, although sometimes it felt like that. But we took the good with that bad, always focusing on and drawing from the good so that is what stuck.

Peruvian playground

I’m guilty of this with my college experience. I’m a Bobcat through and through. I bleed green and white, love our ridiculously easy fight song and believe Athens is the happiest place on the planet. I find myself mourning my days of Pawpurrs, sorority sisters and PRSSA vs Ad club kickball games. You would be hard pressed to get me to choose anything over Homecoming and when I see another Bobcat anywhere in the world I find myself in a bear hug in seconds. What I have forgotten is term papers, exams and Morton hill. Many of us look at the past with rose colored glasses, which is great! Why shouldn’t we remember the good, but why shouldn’t we also see the good in the present? Throw on those glasses usually used for the past and see today as you might look back on it in 40 years. Take it all in. Laugh when you’re frustrated, smile when you’re sad and experience the beauty of your playground.

Life is the same way. It can be our playground in every sense of the word. What it can’t be is our magical, enchanting playground with butterflies and rainbows. Sometimes we fell and scrapped our knees and fell of the jungle gym and everyone saw our ‘Today is Monday’ undies (Just me??). If we can remember that life is not always as perfect as our memories allow we can stop pining for what used to be and start experiencing what is. Allow yourselves to wake up and be on the playground, our playground. Laugh and sing and smile, but when you do cry, hurt or anger- remember this is your playground!

Familiar faces

26 Sep

In Perugia with Aunt Vicki and Uncle Randy!

Just shy of a month here and we have been graced with visitors! My Uncle Randy and Aunt Vicki were in Europe for business and decided to come say hi to us for a few days. Getting here from Rome took 3 hours, where it would have taken an Italian 1 and 1/2, but they made it! Saturday we went to Perugia for a nice dinner on the Piazza. Mitch and I have always been there during the day, so we were shocked to see people of all ages thronging to the city center. Many college aged students, but also families and older couples all enjoying the beautiful fall evening. As I’ve mentioned before, our family owns a bed and breakfast outside of Perugia, so that is where we all stayed. Ev and Claudia were nice enough to give my aunt and uncle the suite, and we got stay there with them. After a delicious breakfast at the Casale we headed to Tuscany for some wine tasting. A unique aspect of wine tasting in Italy is that most wineries require an appointment and they can be very costly. Ranging from free to 40 Euros a person, the latter had better be some pretty amazing wine! We went to a very nice organic winery in Montalcino, Le Potazzine. The area is famous for their Brunellos and we tasted three very nice wines; Rosso di Montalcino 2010 made from a 5 star harvest with fruity and floral scents and light in body, Brunello di Montalcino 2007 from a 5 star harvest and the newest release with a medium body and scents of black pepper and black cherry and the Brunello di Montalcino 2005 from a 4 star harvest thus they let it age a little longer before release which gave it a deeper color than the first 2 wines and with much the same scent as the ’07. Yum! We loved them all, but the 05 was great. The set-up at Le Potizzne was really gorgeous and Michele, our tour guide and wine expert shared some really cool wine knowledge we had never heard before:

The mouth requires a full 11 seconds with the wine in it for tasting
The first sip essentially doesn’t count and it’s the second sip that tells you everything about the wine
Opening the wine bottle during a different weather pattern can change the taste of the wine

At Antonelli with our new friends Cindy and Leslie!

It was very nice and afterword we enjoyed walking around and had lunch in Montealcino.We took at bit of a “detour” shall we say on the way back, ending up in Orvieto. But we got straitened out and went to a cafe in Perugia for dinner. It was great getting to spend some fun, relaxing time with family. They had to leave early Monday morning, so we went to a wine and lunch pairing at Antonelli Winery in Montefalco just the two of us. They are off to Ireland- happy travels you guys and thanks so much for coming to see us- it meant SO much! Antonelli is one of the biggest wineries in Italy, producing over 300,000 bottles a year. We tasted their Grechetti 2011, a very crisp young wine wine scents of peach and hawthorn flower, Montefalci Rosso DOC 2009 a medium to light bodied red that was a little harsh on the tongue but has great balance and is their #1 selling wine, Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG a full bodied well balanced wine that was heavy on the tongue with flavors of black berries and pepper and their Pasito 2007 which they dry the grapes for 3 months before pressing, making it a thicker wine that they can get 14.5% abv. It tastes like a Port but is not fortified and it is great as a dessert wine. All the wines were paired with their delicious food that was all organically grown on their property! Right up our alley! The wheat for the pasta, tomatoes for the bruschetta, it was incredible! We sat with Cindy and Leslie, mother and daughter from Houston, Texas, and we loved them! They were so nice, we had a great time swapping travel stories and ideas! They were leaving the next day, so hopefully they had safe travels back to the US! Making new friends while trying new wine is definitely one of the things I love about Italy. I can’t wait to try and find their wines at home! This was our busiest but at the same time the most relaxing weekend we’ve had, I think the familiar faces had something to do with that!

To our beloved fans

16 Sep

Italian front porch

The title of this post is very sarcastic, sorry but I couldn’t help myself! I know that we’re developing a readership and right now many of you are still family and dear friends. However, the other day I got a facebook message from my best friend’s mom, Mrs. Linda Berg, with a few questions that I wanted to address. If there are any fans out there with questions be sure to let us know! If there’s anything you’re curious about Italy, our journey or us specifically our e-mails are marandasaling@gmail.com and mpramsey7@gmail.com or comment here! It’s great just knowing people and are reading and (dare I say?!) enjoying the blog! With that being said let me get to the aforementioned questions!

Do you miss air conditioning, or are you high enough in the hills that it is comfortable?

Todi sits at 410 meters (1,350 ft) above seas level, a little less than 300 feet higher than the altitude where we are from in Ohio (323 m(1,060 ft)) so it’s not as though the altitude keeps us cool, but we haven’t really been too hot. We got here at the end of August and it had apparently been a very hot and dry summer. Had we been here in the summer I would have missed air conditioning for sure, but we haven’t had it the last two summers so I’m sure I would have lived! Our first couple days were really the only days that felt like summer and then a cooler breeze has fallen on us. The temperature most days is between 70-80 degreed farenhent which is absolutely perfect in my book!

I noticed that you have never mentioned having a problem communicating. We (my best friend, Erika, Linda and her other daughter Ilsa) found that many spoke English; have you found this the same?

No! I guess I should have mentioned this before 🙂 Umbria is not the most touristy region of Italy so everyone doesn’t know English as much as if we were in the big cities of Venice, Naples, Florence or Rome. The biggest city in Umbria is Perugia. With a population of 168,066 people, it has close to half the inhabitants of Florence’s 370,702. When we visit the little touristy town squares the shop owners and employees know the English that they need to get you in their door and purchasing their products, but that’s all. Around town we most likely look like monkey’s playing charades trying to get our point across! The wonderful part of few people speaking English is it has forced us into rapid “learn Italian mode” and we are picking up bits and pieces everyday.

Has your family hosted American workers before, or is this a first for both you and them?

Our family has hosted “helpers” before. For about four years they have invited a variety of people from around the world  United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and of course Italy! to help at the farm. We are their longest stay at three months, as most people stay for usually two weeks to one month. As for us, I have one similar experience doing a alternative spring break in Costa Rica. Two friends and I did a work exchange at an animal sanctuary for about a week and it was a great learning opportunity! It was the first time I meditated on a daily basis, ate a vegan diet, bottle feed a baby leopard whose mother had been poached! It was fabulous, and thus far this trip is holding it’s own also!

Is Mitch finding the wine operations much different from the wineries in northern Ohio?

Oh my yes! Our operation is rather small as I mentioned in the last post, but only a bit smaller than most wineries here. Many here believe in having fewer vines, creating a higher quality wine and selling it at a slighter higher price to compensate for the smaller size operation. That is our mentality here also. A winery with many acres simply couldn’t do things such as hand pick. Many complications such as timeliness, grapes need harvested when they have a very specific sugar and pH reading, finding workers and more importantly if you can find knowledgable people to hand-pick the price of each bottle has just gone from $10 to $50 because you have to pay all those people. I will never again think “Yea, but what’s really the difference in machine harvesting?” Because the answer is everything! We literally chose each and every berry that went into that wine barrel. You just can’t beat that. So the size of the vineyard, the process of harvesting and the quality of wine is just… different. We absolutely loved our wine experience in Northeast Ohio and learned so much. That’s what’s great about wine, every person and every taste for wine is different. Many in Ohio prefer a sweeter, fruitier wine so that is what the industry provides. Here, people are willing to pay more for the wine to be exactly how they want it so that is what is provided. Learning to open your mind about wine is extremely important and seeing how different and unique the preparation process is has been beautiful. But yes, very different.

Thanks so much for the questions, I hope I answered them thoroughly! Keep the questions and comments coming!

Wine is in the air

13 Sep

In the vineyard !

Today we harvested! Vendemia, ‘harvest’ in English came a bit earlier this year because of the unusually hot and dry summer. I have to say, they may have been some of the most pleasant hours I have ever spent. Up at dawn and yoga practice done, we began bright and early. Having a small vineyard here, only one hectare or about two and a half acres we  were able to pick all our red grapes (Sangiovese) in one day. From my cute basket, to the birds chirping, to the rolling hills all around us- it was a nature lovers dream. I never had a full appreciation for hand picked grapes, but after today I know there is no comparison. We picked each bundle, hand selected each and every berry- only the best. There are no split grapes, half-eatten by birds, or shall we say “extras” caught up in the harvesting machine.

It is crazy just how much you can truly smell the wine in the air as soon as the grapes are harvested. This is because as the grapes are picked we incidentally make juice and as we work down the vine, the sun heats the juice and it begins to ferment before we can even get it in the fermentation tanks. With wine on our noses and hands sticky from the sugar, the hours flew by as we worked with our hands and allowed our thoughts to wonder.

After all the grapes are harvested and stacked on the tractor, we take them to the cellar. We dump them into the hopper and they fall down into the de-stemmer. Pumped from there into the fermentation tank where the yeast is added, the grapes begin the transformation from yummy snack to even yummier adult beverage! Not only is the finished product delicious, but the process by which it comes about is rather lovely itself. Wine may by my new favorite scent!

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