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June 13, 2011 / TAB

A Franco Day

I always enjoy spending a day roaming the Tuscan countryside with Franco and he happened to have a joinable tour on the day I was near Siena. I drove up to Siena, giving myself extra “just in case” time. That allowed me to stop into a TIM office and pick up an internet key. I met Franco and his new VW van at the steps of San Dominico across from the convenient Stadio parking (€1,60/hr which worked out to ~ €18 for the all day tour).

Another couple was there and the 4 of us set out for Montalcino and Montepulciano. The nice thing about joinable tours is sometimes it works out to be almost a private tour depending on who shows up.

We started out in Montalcino by picking up a menu at our lunch stop and looking it over for our choices. Then we headed to a small organic wine producer, San Carlo, where we were met by Gemma, the third generation to work the land. And work the land she does! She explained how much work is done in every season and they need to plan ahead for replanting and even equipment purchase. It takes 10 years for a vine to produce good grapes and the vines are replanted every 20 to 30 years depending on type. Because they are small, they know their vines and work by hand to carefully prune and trim them and keep the leaves in just the right position to shield the grapes from intense sun but still let them ripen. Gemma’s dad was out in the field spraying sulfur on the leaves for insect and disease prevention. They also use copper and no other chemicals or pesticides. I remember using sulfur as a child to prevent chiggers in the summer.

Gemma explained how the altitude, soil content, and microclimate were all important to each grower and that just a few changes can make a big difference to the quality of the harvest. Anyone who does not believe in the global climate change of the last 20 years needs to spend some time with someone with multi-generation experience on the land. Gemma said that in her grandfather’s time and up to 20 years ago, the harvests were stable and predictable but now the climate is so unpredictable that they go day by day making adjustments when they can.

For those with the Tuscan dream of having a little place and making wine, be aware that it is very labor intensive. Gemma also explained all the rules that have to be followed for being able to call the wine “Brunello” or  “Rosso”. The inspections start before the first vine is planted and continue through bottling. Even the type of bottle used is regulated.

After a tour of the vineyard and garden (I wish I had the growing season they do), we had the chance to taste 3 of their wines. A Rosso and 2 Brunellos (2005 & 2006). It’s all wine to me but the other couple was impressed and bought some for home.

Then we headed back to Montalcino for a mouth watering lunch of hand-made pasta and various sauces and other items. I’ll need to check the restaurant name but it’s near the Fortezza and has an open well in the middle of the restaurant covered with clear plexiglass so you can look down.

On the drive towards Montepulciano, we went through the classic Tuscan countryside. there are photo ops everywhere you turn. We made a quick stop and an agriturismo in a former castle out in the middle of nowhere, Agriturismo Castello di Spedaletto. The huge bee hive on one wall was a yuck factor for me but the rest of the place was impressive.

Next stop, Monticchiello, a classic hill town with winding streets and flowers everywhere and a view from the main gate of the Orcia Valley. The church has some interesting frescos. In one of the piazzas, they hold a Festival of the Poor each year and feed the pilgrims who come to visit. There was a commemorative plaque in the piazza showing the famous battle of 1553.

Our final wine tasting and vineyard tour was outside Montepulciano at the Boscarelli winery where Roberta lead the way through the vineyards and cellar. One of the owners has carved old grapevines into interesting shapes and they decorate the cellar. I loved a carved hand but didn’t take a photo. The tasting of Nobile and Nocio wines and their olive oil was supervised by the charming (until she drew blood) cat, Penelope.

The car was very quiet on the drive back to Siena. We were very content with our wine and beautiful lunch and letting Franco worry about roads and traffic.

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