“Isabela, you are living ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’” said a friend of mine this week as a reply to a Whatsapp spam of food photos. Well, it’s more like, “Eat, Speak broken Italian, Drink Wine,” but Sandro was close.
This weekend It was essentially my greatly anticipated, impromptu, “Wine 101” workshop. And I loved every second of it.
Saturday, my friends Rosie, Amanda, and I were walking through Piazza Matteotti, when we stumbled upon (almost literally, as tripping in Perugia’s ancient cobblestone streets is a daily occurrence) Umbria Strade del Vino, a wine festival dedicated to all the local vineyards of Umbria. The festival worked like this: you bought a wine glass for €10 ($11), and it came with 5 tickets to try 5 different glasses of typical Umbrian wine. You’d walk around to the different booths, give a ticket, try some wine, and then of course, if you’d like, purchase the wine.
That night we returned to the Strade — bellies full of pizza — to start our walk. We made our way to the first booth where we tried a Grechetto, a sparkling white wine. I instantly fell in love. Actually, it was the one of the two wines that stood out to me out of the seven (spread out over two days!) that we ended up trying.
We stood and chatted with the woman at this booth for a long time, in Italian of course. We asked her loads of questions on wine making, on Umbria’s vineyards, DOCs versus IGTs (basically the blend/region/non-blend regulations), and on how to just learn wine. She was very patient with us, and was appreciative of our curiosity and our attempts at doing everything in Italian. Not only did she let us try another complimentary red wine, but she also gave us the best advice on learning wines: practice, practice, practice. Sounds like the best homework assignment ever.
After trying a sparkling rosé at the booth our new wine professor had sent us, we decided to go back home and prepare ourselves for the farm trip our university had set up for us the next day. “The Strade will be here tomorrow, too,” we were told, so we planned to continue our tour then.
Azienda Agraria Orsini
Sunday was an absolutely spectacular day at the Orsini Farm. A seriously unforgettable experience.
When we arrived, our whole group’s breath was taken away, first by the steep uphill we had to walk to reach the farm, and then again by the gorgeous view of Lake Trasimeno, nestled between the hills and mountains, serving as the backdrop to the farm.
The Orsini Farm is special not only for its gorgeous views, but also because it is 100% sustainable, and was the pioneer farm of the “Slow Food” movement here in Italy. “Slow Food” is basically the anti-fast food reaction. The movement promotes sustainability, anti-GMO, and well, the classic Italian tradition of enjoying the process and nature of growing and preparing food just as much as eating the food itself. It’s quite a beautiful movement, really.
What does this farm adventure have to do with wine? Well, we were told that we’d visit this farm, do some workshops and activities and then eat a home grown traditional meal. Can you guess what our workshop was? You got it! Winemaking.
We were introduced to the old-fashioned, traditional, sustainable practice of winemaking. Flavio, Mr. Orsini, led us through his vineyards where he was growing Gamay Perugina grapes to make wine. We were told to, “Mangia! Mangia!” the grapes fresh from the vines. This was no problem at all since they were all organic.
Then, we were led to a giant bucket where we got to do the classic, only-seen-in-movies stepping of the grapes. Serving as Flavio’s personal translators, Amanda and I were told (and then translated) the story of how women and children would do this activity, and it was by no means a chore. He explained that it was a type of party! They would sing and dance while squishing the grapes. So, of course, we were told to do the same! What did we sing? Why, none other than the Hokey Pokey!
(Me, Amanda, & Rosie)
Flavio then led is through the next steps of winemaking. He showed us the manual machine that replaced the grape-stepping, then the juicer, and the vats where the grape juice is left to ferment. Flavio also then showed us how to measure sugar in the juice, and taught us the rough conversion rate for degrees-of-sugar-to-alcohol content (roughly 18 degree of sugar equals 11% alcohol). Another sugar-to-alcohol fun fact I learned this weekend is that the wines in Italy have much higher alcohol contents than the ones in the USA because the sun shines more and is stronger here in Italy. This means the chemical composition of the soil and the grapes change, producing more sugar than grapes in the USA.
After our winemaking ventures, we were served a traditional Italian meal, complete with appetizers, a pasta first course, a “protein” second course, and dessert. Oh, and naturally, water and wine. The meal was completely homemade, and left all of us nearly comatose at the end. Food Coma: best way to end a Sunday.
Alas, the time came to bid the Orsini family arrivederci. They invited us back for the grape and olive harvests, bribing us with talks of another fresh, home cooked meal. Uh, is it harvest time yet?
Back to the Strade
After Amanda, Rosie, and I slept off our food comas, we met again for the last bit of our Umbria wine tour. Once more we arrived at a table with our curiosity and broken Italian. This is where we tried the second wine that really stuck with me. It is an orange wine called Vin Santo. The first thing that came to mind was, “Caramel.” It was sweet and delicious, and the tradition is to have it with a type of biscotto that you dip into the wine and eat.
The last booth we visited was also very special. We met the mother, father, and daughter of this family vineyard. They were all so very sweet, curious about us, and hospitable. The daughter works at the Galleria here in Perugia, and gave us her number to meet with her again. After Amanda found her perfect red wine, we were gifted a wine jam try. Then, after a million “Grazie” later, we returned home, chatting about our perfect weekend.
This was my first official weekend living here in Perugia, and I really don’t think there was a better way it could have gone. Just goes to show that spontaneity, as well as curiosity, and trying your best to respect and understand a culture has a seriously rewarding outcome.
Love & light,
All photos: Isabela Arena, 2015