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Hunting the Elusive Funghi

Mushroom hunting is definitely my kind of hunting and here, in Piedmont, it is a competitive sport. No, I’m not kidding. Serious mushroom hunters wear camouflage, have special mushroom collecting baskets and wake up extra early in order to beat everyone else to the mushroom hot spots. We heard a number of stories from Summer, Fabrizio and their friends about their many mushroom hunting shenanigans and were dying to go. So on Saturday we woke up early, finished some crushing/destemming at the winery and headed to the forests of Alberola and Sassello to rustle up some funghi.

You have to purchase a license at a little sandwich shop in the town at the mouth of the forest in order to ‘hunt’ the mushroom. This is the place where you size up your competition over a focacia sandwich and an espresso, eavesdrop on people chatting about spots in the forest where their friend’s, uncle’s, daughter-in-law hit the funghi jackpot, and hope that no one notices the two American’s sitting in the corner because our kind is apparently prone to running excitedly when we find one mushroom, inadvertently crushing many others in our haste. This is also an amazing place for people watching. I wish I had pictures I could show you of some of the outfits but I didn’t think that would go over so well with the hunters. Just believe me when I say that some of these people are hardcore.

So after our sandwiches we were off to the forest. We were totally clueless and excited all at the same time. Within our first five minutes of searching, Fabrizio found a nice sized porcini mushroom. It was perfect, now we knew what we were looking for. Within 15 minutes I found 3 more porcini’s and my plan B in life, if my winemaking plan went bust. I quickly realized how this could become an addiction. Everything in the forest is the same color and the mushrooms aren’t easy to spot, so when you actually find one, you feel like you just hit the jackpot and are determined to find more.

We ended up with two baskets full of different varieties of mushrooms at the end of the day, which is apparently a pretty meager load (due to the lack of rain not our skill level, of course). We’ve heard stories of having so many mushrooms that you can’t fit the people back into the car. Matt and I only ended up finding 6 edible mushrooms between the two of us and Fabrizio found the rest. We were completely impressed by his 6th sense for finding mushrooms. That fact that he was able to spot some of these mushrooms was pretty unbelievable.

That evening we ended the day the way mushroom hunters should, by enjoyed two amazingly fresh mushroom salads with dinner and a magnum of Iuli Nino pinot noir. Perfecto!

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Harvesting

Working at Iuli is our second “harvest” experience, but our first experience actually harvesting grapes –  i.e.. the clipping and picking of fruit.  The labor was intensive, the heat oppressive, and the work – incredibly rewarding. Meghan and I agreed that this would count as our workout for the day. We started around 10AM, after the dew had dried from the vines and worked in the vineyards until around 4PM. It doesn’t sound like much from that description, but out in the sun, bent over at weird angles, hauling heavy baskets up; down; & across steep slopes, the hours add up quick. After bringing the Pinot Noir grapes in from the vines, we put the clusters through the crusher/destemmer and into tanks in the comfort and cool of the Iuli Cellar.

I can understand why wineries would choose to harvest with machinery rather than by hand, but I for one am glad that Iuli still does it the old fashioned way. It’s certainly better for the grapes, soil, vines, and wine, but also – for some primitive reason, as long as my body allows, I’ll always take a certain amount of pleasure from a hard day’s work.

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Newest Addition to the Team

Meet Jim, the newest addition to the Iuli/Indie Wineries team. He’s a Lab, Setter mix and pushing the record for most photographed puppy on the face of the planet. His palate is limited to shoes, a toy pig and grass but he’s working hard to expand it. We all agree he’s a keeper.

The Art of…

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting our dear friend Artur Podniesinski, well – we sincerely hope you do someday. He’s a one-of-a-kind, unforgettable character who has been both a huge inspiration and a great help as we’ve transitioned into the wine industry. Starting out by working at his parents’ wine shop in Long Island, Art has since launched his own line of incredible wines called “The Intern.” And when we began this crazy adventure, he was one of only a handful of “wine insiders” that we knew. More than just sharing ideas and providing advice, Art actually put us in touch with Summer and Fabrizio of Iuli Winery where we’re currently working, so THANK YOU ART!

And what an experience it’s shaping up to be! With the relatively small production, we’re really able to participate in every stage of the winemaking process. In just two short weeks, we’ve helped with the actual harvest, crushing/de-stemming, and have even bottled some previous vintages. On top of getting all this production experience, we’ve also had the opportunity to taste a number of extraordinary wines from Summer and Fabrizio’s personal cellar. Cheers to you Art, we wouldn’t be here without you!

Hittin’ the road!

It’s been about two months since our last post. During our time away we caught up with friends and family, attended a wedding in Canada, went to Washington for our anniversary to do some wine tasting, I got a new camera, we climbed two 14er’s in Colorado, traveled to Copenhagen to visit really good friends, visited post-apocolympic London, and hung out with another set of good friends in Ireland’s countryside. Now we are in Italy for the harvest in Piedmont and really excited to be back in action. We have a soft spot for Italy as we spent our honeymoon here and, let’s be honest, what’s not to like? The people are friendly, the food is out of this world and the wine is divine. Not to mention the beautiful countryside and rich history.

We are working at a small organic winery called Iuli in Montaldo di Cerrina, Italy. I am in love with this winery already and we’ve only been here for 5 days. When Matt and I open a winery, Iuli is what I want to model it after. The winemaker Fabrizio Iuli and his fiancé Summer Wolff, founder of Indie Wineries, are so passionate about what they are doing. They are supporting the small farmer and farming organically not because it’s en vogue, but because it’s what they truly believe in.

Working at this winery will be a much different experience than our time spent in Chile at Lapostolle. Because it’s a smaller scale production, we will have the opportunity to be involved with everything from picking the grapes, to cellar work, to bottling wine from past vintages. Here Fabrizio doesn’t use a laboratory to test when the wine has completed a specific stage of fermentation, he judges based on the taste. We will also be working directly with the winemaker, which is fortunate for us at this stage of our “wine education”.

If you are looking to try a new wine, check out Indie Wineries. Summer and her crew have a great philosophy and support unique, small production wine makers in the States and Europe. You are sure to get a bottle that someone poured their heart into, although I will say that they sell out quickly based on high quality and smaller quantity. Iuli is on the Indie Wineries list and we found it in Colorado at a great price. Look on the list of National Distributors on the Indie Wineries web page to see if your state carries these wines. Then call up your local wine shop and ask if they carry the distributor’s wines from your state (for example, in Colorado Indie Wines are distributed by Natural Wine Company) and if they don’t, ask them why not?

We are only going to be here for about 3 weeks before we head to Bordeaux for a harvest at a different winery. Even though our time here is short I have a feeling we will be leaving with a wealth of knowledge. We feel very fortunate to be doing what we love and to be learning by doing.

In future posts we will try to introduce you to some other winemakers in this region, tell you about our connection to Iuli and Indie Wineries and touch on organic farming. I’m also going to try to throw in a short tutorial with tips on packing light. I can’t say we’ve mastered this concept, but we’ve come a long way since our last trip. Salute!!