Friday, September 21st

Life is a highway …

Driving in Tuscany is an experience all in itself!  The roads are narrow one or two-lane affairs full of curves and hairpin turns up and down the mountain sides.  It is, in fact, somewhat difficult to find a straight stretch of more than a few hundred meters!  I find that you are not only watching as much of the road ahead as you can see but you try to see as far around curves or through the trees on hairpin turns to get as much advance warning of oncoming traffic as you can.  On the one-lane roads you hope to have enough warning that you can find a spot to pull as far to the right as you can so the oncoming vehicle can squeeze by you on the left.  The first couple of days we were here I found I was a little tense, slowing down quite a bit on every curve with a lot of shifting of gears up and down.  But after a couple of days I found I was getting used to the roads and was becoming much more relaxed.  While naturally still being as observant as possible I find I am becoming better able to gauge which turns you need to slow to a crawl on and which you only need to slow a bit (and often using the uphill to slow you rather than having to brake) with the result that I am not having to be shifting gears quite as much.  Never-the-less you really can’t get any great speed up except on the rare occasion when you have a bit of a straight stretch of road.

An interesting drive is the “shortcut” we take if we are heading westerly towards Gaiole or beyond.  Instead of turning left towards Montegonzi at the end of our driveway (which I talked about earlier) you turn right.  The one-lane paved road only runs about another kilometer where it turns to an equally narrow gravel road.  A short distance further there is a “Y” around a tree growing in the middle of the road.

Tree in road

We bear right onto a slightly wider gravel road.  From this “ridge road” you can look down into valleys on both sides.  While the road does get to be almost the width of two lanes it also gets significantly rougher.  From here it narrows down to a very narrow one lane road through the trees before widening slightly as you approach the hamlet of Montegrossi. As you squeeze through the narrow opening between two buildings on a short, steep uphill section of road you find yourself once again on a nice smooth paved road.  The road quickly widens to pretty much a two-lane road the last couple of kilometers to the crossroads.  It takes about 15 minutes to get to this point from the barn.  At the crossroads you can turn left onto SP408 towards Gaiole in Chianti or go straight onto SP429 past Badia a Coltibuono and onwards to Radda in Chianti.  While you need to proceed very slowly on this shortcut, particularly from the “tree in the middle of the road” to Montegrossi, the reward is some spectacular scenery.

We took the shortcut today (as we have most days so far) to the Geografico winery just outside of Gaiole.  The first people we met at the winery were Chan and Lois Hawkins … from Edmonton!

Chan, Lois, Susan, Marco

They are fellow Opimian member who just joined about a year and a half ago.  Although Opimians from Edmonton, we had never met them before (as they had not been out to any tasting events yet).

In the office we first met Benedetta Carloni (Marketing and Communications) who then introduced us to Marco Toti (General Manager).  Geografico is a cooperative of vineyards that started with 17 members in 1961 who were determined to improve the quality and good name of Chianti.  It has grown to about 200 partners with 4 wineries throughout Tuscany.  All told they produce about 2 million bottles a year with the bulk of that coming from the winery we were at.

Marco took us on a tour of the winery starting with the hopper that a truck was dumping grapes in.  Unlike the other wineries we had visited, here the grapes are virtually all machine picked.  We carried on into the warehouse with the large stainless steel fermentation tanks.  Here we had an opportunity to taste some partially fermented juice that was being run through a large tub to aerate it.

Aeration

The foam on top certainly did not taste like it was quite ready for bottling yet!!  From here we moved along to the aging cellar with its various sized barrels and casks to the bottling plant (capable of bottling 50,000 bottles an hour).

Next it was into our cars for a procession, led by Marco, through Gaiole up to the hilltop fortified medieval hamlet of Barbischio, total population 28.  Here there is a guest house, a restaurant, and a private dining room where we were about to have lunch.  The view from here was marvellous.  As Lois commented at lunch, you simply run out of adjectives to describe the scenery.  Lunch started with some anti-pasta and a tasting of several Geographico wines along with a couple of their olive oils.

Our sampling of Geografico wines

And the food kept coming until we finished up with desert, vinsanto and some grappa.  We had a thoroughly delightful lunch visiting with Marco, Benedetta, Chan and Lois.  You meet the nicest people over a glass of wine!

We arrived home at the barn early enough in the afternoon that we were able to relax by the pool with a book for a while before dinner.  I even tried going in the pool for the second time.  The water was marginally warmer than the other day and equally “refreshing”.

Cauliflower & Bacon soup

For dinner we returned along the “shortcut” to Badia a Coltibuono to their restaurant.

We enjoyed a very good meal in very nice surroundings.

We returned the “long” way through Montegonzi as I have opted not to drive the shortcut in darkness.

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