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The Harvest of the Grapes

Posted on www.gourmetstation.com
Posted: January 2, 2009
by: Dave, Edie & Simonetta

My wife Edie and I awoke to yet another beautiful Tuscan sunrise. A light early morning mist nestled in the valley between Casa Bellavista and the hill town of Cortona. There was a feeling of excitement for today was the day we would begin our adventure into the world of vendemmia , the harvest of the grapes!

Following a delicious buffet breakfast at Casa Bellavista , our day of experiencing vendemmia took us to the hill town of Montalcino , a small medieval village located just west of San Quirico. The short drive from Casa Bellavista to Montalcino, took us past some of the beautiful midieval hill towns of the Val d` Orcia. Their majestic appearance combined with the picturesque vineyards and olive groves surrounding them heightened our anticipation of celebrating vendemmia in Montalcino.

The vineyards of Tenuta La Fuga , makers of one of Tuscany's finest wines, Brunello di Montalcino, was our destination. After meeting our friend, Signor Volpi near the Fortezza in Montalcino, we drove through the countryside southeast of this hill town heading to La Fuga. Upon approaching the vineyard, we noticed it was surrounded with electric fencing. For us, this raised an interesting question. According to Signor Volpi, the cinghiale (i.e. wild boar) had developed a taste for the sangiovese grape, the grape used to make Brunello wine. La Fuga's vineyards are planted on approximately 10 hectars of the estate. The remaining hectars are used to house the family villa, the wine production center and the wine cellars filled with large oak casks used to age their wine to its full, rich flavors.

As we walked through the vineyards with Signor Volpi, we learned of the “ green harvest ”, the process of removing grapes while they are still green in order to allow the remaining grapes to enjoy the full warmth of the Tuscan sun so they grow to fullness in flavor and juice quality.

We learned also that leaves are pruned or tied up to allow the sun to help the flavors in the remaining grapes mature. A proper climate is very important to a successful growing season. Montalcino's climate enjoys the added warmth of sea breezes from the Mediterranean Sea while at the same time being protected on the south by Monte Amiata which mediates the climate and rainfall.

This area combines all the necessary ingredients; climate, sun and soil to afford the proper location to grow the sangiovese grape.

As we watched the men harvesting the grapes, we noticed that on occasion, some grapes would be cut from the bunches being harvested. At La Fuga, grapes are harvested by hand, and removal of some grapes from those being harvested was simply the culling of grapes that had not matured to the standard required by the vintner for their Brunello wine.

Following our time in the vineyard, we went to see the wine production center and visited with the vintner. It was interesting to learn that the wine being produced this year would age for five years before it would be shipped to our wine shop back in Connecticut. As we talked about the production process, we toured the wine cellars complete with their huge casks filled with Brunello di Montalcino.

After a brief tasting of wine in the tasting room, we decided it was appropriate to conduct further taste tests of the Brunello di` Montalcino as well as their Riserva with some food. Returning to Montalcino, we dined “al fresco” in the Palazzo Publico and could not help but marvel at how well the wine, with its full rich taste complimented our lunch of tagliatelle with a bolognese alla chingale sauce and caprese con mozzarella di bufula.

After thanking Signor Volpi for his kindness, Edie and I enjoyed a walk through the streets of this quintessential Tuscan hill town, knowing full well that we would return once again to enjoy its beauty and culture. The return trip to Casa Bellavista was restful as we traveled the winding roads through the vineyards and olive groves casting shadows of the setting sun. We rode by fields filled with grazing sheep. Their bells, hanging like musical chimes from their necks, produced an enchanting melody which cascaded down the valley.

As we continued our ride, we couldn't help but look forward to a relaxing evening at Casa Bellavista over yet another dinner of traditional Tuscan dishes which Simonetta would be preparing for us...but that's a story for another blog.

Buon Natale

Edie and Dave


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