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Goodbye Italy, Hello France!

Meghan and I were both more than a little sad to say goodbye to Iuli winery; our new friends, Summer & Fabrizio; and Italy in general but we were also very excited to work a harvest in Bordeaux, France. Though other regions may claim comparable quality, no other wine region has the same worldwide name recognition as Bordeaux. The region is famously divided into the Left Bank and the Right Bank. Our positions with the Rolland Collection, brought us to the merlot-heavy, Left Bank – specifically to Pomerol’s Le Bon Pasteur and Fronsac’s Fontenil wineries. And despite the studying that we did before we left for Europe, we seemed to have forgotten all of our French. Over the last couple weeks, we’ve re-learned a lot of the basics and we are making slow, but steady progress. Sometimes our Spanish and limited Italian come in handy, other times it all gets mixed up and makes us revert to sign language. Progess at the winery is proceeding more quickly than our language skills; over the last two weeks all the grapes came in from the fields and are now resting comfortably in stainless steel tanks, oak tanks, and barrels. The rest of our season will be spent managing the vinification at Fontenil. Conveniently, we’re also living in a charming guest house on the Fontenil property, just steps from our work.

We’ve befriended other young winemakers from around the world (Argentina, Spain, United States, India, and of course – France) who are working the season with the Rolland Collection. If/when the schedule lightens up, we hope to visit some other chateaux. Like the wines from Piedmont and Bordeaux, our experiences in each country will be different – but we couldn’t have asked for two better opportunities to learn!

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Slow Food…

There are a number of things we love about Italy. The food for one is delicious. It’s not just what they eat, but how they eat. They take their lunches and dinners seriously. Food is to be enjoyed. Everyone sits down, enjoys multiple courses of fresh, homemade cuisine and there is no microwave, television or work e-mail cram session. No one is rushing you to finish and get back to work. No one feels pressure to prove to the boss that lunch is not as important as business because he’s sitting right next to you. It’s beautiful, it’s relaxing and it’s the norm.

The Piedmont region is where the Slow Food revolution started. It’s the anti-venom for fast food and it is becoming a global movement. They encourage commitment to the environment, community and food heritage. They are the original ‘Farm to Table’ that has become increasingly popular in the States. Fabrizio’s mother Mariuca, up until last year when his father passed away, ran a tiny restaurant a few doors down from the winery. It was a Slow Food restaurant and she received multiple awards for her cooking. So when she offered to show us how she makes her homemade ravioli we answered with an enthusiastic, “Si, per favore!” Of course, our Italian being what it is, we weren’t 100% sure what we had said yes to.

Mariuca makes everything by hand. She grinds the meat for the filling, makes her own dough for the noodles and picks most of the veggies and herbs out of her own backyard for the sauce. She doesn’t hunt but she knows the hunters that she buys her meat from. I love the idea of knowing exactly where your food is coming from and what is in it. No mystery meat or additives you can’t pronounce, what a novel idea!

The machine she uses to roll the dough and fill/press the ravioli together is about 100 years old and just amazing. Hopefully the pictures I took will do it justice.  Of course this process takes longer than tossing frozen ravioli in the microwave but it is a million times tastier and healthier when it’s fresh.

Do yourself a favor if you aren’t used to enjoying a sit down meal and make something from scratch, cook with a glass of wine and friends or family, tell everyone to forget their diet and schedule for the evening and enjoy the good food and good company. You’ll be glad you did. Here is one of my favorite Italian soup recipes from The Barefoot Contessa and a good place to start. Buon Appetito!

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Our first real bottling

Bottling was relatively simple in our home winemaking days. Our friends saved their old bottles for us, we soaked them, scraped off the labels, cleaned, sanitized, filled, corked, and then slapped a computer-printed label them. It took a couple hours and we ended up with 10-12 cases of our very own moonshine wine.

When it comes to bottling on a commercial scale, even at a smaller production winery such as Iuli, it’s a whole ‘nuther ball game. The mobile bottling truck is scheduled, then boxes of tape, shrink-wrap, labels, foil, and corks are pre-ordered. Pallets and pallets of bottles stacked 7 high arrive, thousands of boxes are pre-made & marked according to expected production, and game faces are readied. After some test bottles, tweaking the machine, and roles are assigned, the madness begins with bottles flying through the truck as fast as (or faster than) we can keep up with them. At Iuli, this craziness lasted for three glorious days.

The machine itself is just plain fun to see in action with all its gears and belts and other thing-a-ma-jigs, but more than that, it was great to be a part of the process of taking the wines from their large tanks and put them into the bottles that will be opened at homes, restaurants, and gatherings around the world.

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