Wine always tastes better on holidays, that’s a scientific fact*, isn’t it? When that holiday tasting is also in the middle of a vineyard the effect is multiplied exponentially.
The concept of terroir- the characteristics which come from the environment in which the wine is produced- is very important in winemaking, and this extends to the food of the region. As much as the winemaker is fiercely proud of his or her wine, so too are they eager to show you their local culinary specialities which perfectly compliment their wine. No surprise that wine tourism has become an important part of the business for many producers.
My first visit to a vineyard was to Colutta in Friuli in Italy, and I stayed in Giorgio Colutta’s beautifully restored apartments above the cellar. An old barn has been converted into holiday suites and guests can swim in the outdoor pool, sipping a cool Ribolla Gialla surrounded by the vines from which it came. When we visited, Giorgio, also a fine cook, shared many local treats with us, including cheese from Fagagna, San Daniele ham, a potato and cheese pie called Frico, and wild boar which he also shot.
Now, not all vineyards offer all of these experiences, and I’m not expecting Giorgio to head out hunting for every guest, but you can be sure of a very personal welcome when you visit independent wine producers like this.
We visited Laura Rizzotto, of Balestri Valda in Soave, earlier this year and she was completing a renovation project on an old farmhouse, which now houses holiday apartments. Looking over her rolling vineyards, an infinity pool flowing out into the hills, this is a little patch of heaven. Laura farms organically and is a beekeeper, very committed to biodiversity, so along with vines, they are also surrounded by olive, apple, pomegranate and pear trees. And bees, Laura and her husband Federico’s real obsession. Her aim in moving into agriturismo is to show guests the importance of biodiversity, how important the bees are to our survival, and that it is possible to be sustainable while also being beautiful and luxurious. Her wonderful Soave wine, olive oil and honey are also on hand, along with local organic produce, to nurture body and soul.
My husband likes to drink wine, but he isn’t interested in spending hours slurping and spitting, definitely not the spitting! The great advantage of wine tourism, or agriturismo, as any farm tourism is called in Italy, is that there is plenty to do, or not do, for the non-wine-nut. That pool, for starters, then a stroll or cycle to the town of Soave for some lunchtime pasta. This is hilly country, so Laura sensibly has e-bikes available for guests.
About an hour from Soave is the beautiful vineyard of Tiziano Accordini and family, who have also ventured into the world of agriturismo. If you want to move from white wines to red, this is the spot. From the juicy lunchtime Valpollicella to the rich and powerful Amarone for dinner, you can relax by the pool looking over the vineyards rolling out to the horizon. Their very luxurious accommodation also comes with a high environmental ethos, being self-sufficient for energy. Their local food is celebrated at breakfast, along with their desire to share the cultural wealth which surrounds them.
What sets these experiences apart is the direct connection with the producers who have lovingly put them together. All of these vineyard stays have about 5 rooms and are run by the family. To give a glimpse into the life of a winemaker, and to share the fruits of the land, both vinous and culinary, is their aim. How deeply you want to immerse yourself in wine is your choice, after which, the pool is waiting.
*yes – we’re the scientists!