Everyone falls in love with Toscana. What’s not to love – fortressed towns perched on hills, vineyards with world class wines, beautiful churches, the cradle of the Renaissance. I, personally, love Tuscany. But, my favorite piece of Toscana (so far) is the Val d’Orcia. This UNESCO world heritage site is the valley that sits just south of such gorgeous hill towns as Montepulciano, Pienza, and Montalcino. It is a bit more mountainous and rugged than areas farther north. It feels more remote. And, it’s simply gorgeous.
In our past couple of days here, staying just outside of the village of Castiglione d’Orcia, we’ve had some incredible experiences. I’ll start with our first full day here.
Our lovely hostess here at Le Case, Valerie, arranged a visit to very small, family-run vineyard near the town of Bagno Vignoni. Sante Marie di Vignoni is in the Val d’Orcia DOC. It’s a gorgeous setting with views over to Pienza and across the Val d’Orcia. I was met by Pricilla, the daughter, who speaks some English. She showed me the cellar and the vineyards. I tasted the wines as well as two varieties of olive oil. All were very good. My favorite was Curzio, the wine made of 100% Sangiovese. 2008 is the current vintage which blows me away when I think of Napa pushing the 2012 Cabs out the door! Anyway, I digress. Then, I met Franco, her father, and the patriarch of the vineyard. Franco doesn’t speak English, yet off I went with him to see the fermentation process. He rambled on in Italian, and, surprisingly enough, I understood most of what he was telling me. I climbed up the ladder beside the fermentation tank and saw the grapes and their juice, just beginning to ferment. He opened the spigot into a bucket and I tasted the juice, at this point grape juice, that would soon become the wine. As he talked, I sensed a passion in him – a passion for the land, the grapes, the wine. A true Italian winemaker. I met Pricilla’s nonna, working in the vineyard – it is the vendemmia (grape harvest) and it is a family operation. All hands on deck! A beautiful lady who did let me photograph her, but reluctantly. We laughed as I told her in my rudimentary Italian that she is beautiful. She replied “un po’ bella” – a little beautiful. I thought her “bella” as I could sense a wonderful spirit in her as I did her granddaughter who seemed so close with her nonna.
As I said my goodbyes to Franco and Pricilla, it was with the kiss on each cheek and with the feeling that I had made new friends. Sante Marie di Vignoni is indeed one of those special places with exceptional people. It’s those special people – Franco, Pricilla, Nonna – that make Italy the incredible country it is.