A Day Off in the Tuscan Countryside

Howard W. Hewitt – San Casciano, Tuscany, Italy – New Year’s Eve and Day are days off for Bill Cook’s Florence immersion learning trip. We had guys talking about excursions to Venice and Pisa, but won’t be sure until Saturday about their exploits.

One of the reasons I’m along on this trip is because Wabash College will be offering an Alumni trip to Italy in June of 2010 led by Bill Cook. So I’m keeping this separate blog from what the students are writing to share a little more about Bill Cook’s Italy, the culture and what alumni might see and do if they decide to make the journey. See more details here.

Since mid-October I have worked to organize a day trip to Tuscany to visit a couple of wineries. Being the holidays, and with changing “days off,” it wasn’t easy.

I have had a serious interest in wine for three or more years. It has crept up from time to time on the Wabash website. I write a newspaper column, wine blog, and contribute to a national online wine magazine – mostly about value wine. Through those contacts I found a former New Jersey guy who has been making his life in Italy with a wife and two children while running a travel website. Anthony Finta is working to deliver small winery wines to the U.S. through an online site. He hopes to get the business up and running early in 2010.

Two Wabash seniors, Brad Jones and Colin Ridenour, have been active leaders in the Wabash Cooking Club. Jones, featured on our home page, is off to the Culinary Institute of America after graduation. The two 22-year-olds really wanted to accompany me to Tuscany and their presence just added to the learning experience and fun.

So that’s the set up, but let’s not deviate from the previous days’ format. My favorite photo from today is at the top of the blog – me tasting wine with Corzano e Paterno’s Arianna (also in photo below left). She is the daughter of the late Wendel Gelpke, a successful Swiss architect, who bought the Italian estate in the 70s. Today up to 20 family members contribute through the course of the year.

Frankly, it doesn’t get much better than tasting wine in Tuscany. Well, maybe it does. Corzano also makes amazing sheep’s milk cheese. The cheese maker is Arianna’s sister Sibilla (at right). I like cheese but my knowledge base isn’t as good as my wine background. I have tasted a lot of cheese I didn’t like but can honestly say the sheep’s milk cheese was surprisingly smooth and delicious.

The wines were classic Italian Rosso, Chianti, Chianti Riserva and a Super Tuscan. The Rosso (or table wine) was the most full-flavored I have tasted. It is what you’ll frequently get at Italian restaurants that serve a lot of wine. It retails for just six euro, or about nine dollars.

We arrived late at Fattoria di Rignana but marketing specialist and assistant manager Susanne was kind enough to give us a quick tour of the fourteenth century estate, answer a few questions, and taste the wines. Anthony’s friend and owner Cosimo Gericke was out of town. Rignana makes its Chianti in a very traditional style with no additives and simple wine-making process. (Susanne at right with Jones, Ridenour in the cellar talking wine.)

Corzano e Paterno and Rignana are small producers. Corzano produces about 80,000 bottles a year to Rignana’s 40,000. A comparison for non-wine junkies, is some of the big labels you see in wine stores and supermarkets make hundreds of thousands of cases from industrial operations.
These are wines you’ve never heard of at prices you can’t beat for quality you won’t believe.
There are hundreds of small wineries throughout Tuscany. Cook promises a picnic at a Tuscan castle and perhaps some organized wine tasting during the alumni trip. Red wine and Italy are a little like America and apple pie.
To wrap up the day we had lunch in a small restaurant in Greve, Italy, the heart – and tourist center in the Chianti region. Greve sits about an hour south of Florence. (photo of the town center at left.)
We had a gray rainy day again, and the leaves are off the vines and there was considerable brown and gray, but the Tuscan countryside was stunning. It’s every bit as beautiful as any romanticized version you’ve ever seen.
The top learning and cultural moments of the day, just read above.
No “Bill-ism’s today, but more of a quote. Susanne at Rignana was talking to us about their three wines, specifically their light Sangiovese Rose when it just happened.
“I’ll just have to make you taste it,” she said, then realized “make” might have been the wrong choice of English words when we joked about it. We assured her we could be persuaded.
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One Response to A Day Off in the Tuscan Countryside

  1. Kathy Day says:

    Reading the blogs and entries has been amazing… each writer is giving a special view on his experience. VERY interesting.