Four years ago I knew little about wine except that I loved to drink it and that Rosé was not a blend of white and red! I showed little interest in
the world of wine, struggling through a restaurant wine list choosing basically by price. I am sure I am not alone in this.
How things have changed for me. Through the passionate wine growers I’ve met in Italy, my fascination with the grape has grown. I’ve met a chap who
plays Mozart to his vines and his yield has increased so much that Bose (a world leader in speakers) has placed their speakers throughout his vineyard,
and they are now studying this phenomenon in several universities. I befriended an elegant Italian woman who’d discovered words carved on ancient pillars
in the cellar in her Tuscan villa. These turned out to be the scribblings of a worker in the 13th century who moaned about his boss. She named her
wine after him. I have visited numerous wineries that are run entirely by women, a growing trend, I am happy to report. It is being finally recognized
that female wine makers have an enormous talent for the grape. There is even a restaurant in London, Daphne’s, that offers in its wine list a category
of wines produced by women.
When we bought our property in Tuscany it included a small vineyard that produced a foul red wine that left you with a three-day hangover. Luckily,
we also had a large acreage that had already been signed off by the Italian organic agricultural society for a vineyard, so we planted fourteen rows
of Sangiovese, the typical Tuscan grape and a few rows of Merlot. That was five years ago and we now produce a reasonable, rustic red wine.
The vineyard yields enough bottles to fill the glasses of all our Tuscan guests. It also planted the wine bug in us. We have become fascinated by wine
production around the world.
Through pure serendipity, at the same time as our interest grew in Tuscany, we partnered with a marvelous family-run winery in Niagara, Canada – The
Pillitteri Estate winery. Together, we launched a Canadian Pinot Grigio. This is available on-line and at the LCBO and the wine is so delicious that
we ship forty cases each year to Tuscany for our guests and friends to enjoy. We often share a glass with our Italian neighbours who typically fall
into fits of laughter at the thought of Canadian wine but the smirks are soon replaced with signs of surprised appreciation. The locals love this Pinot
and we are thrilled that so many others do too. We’ve just won four international awards, three from the UK and one from the US. So proud.
In fact, the Pinot has sold so well that this year our partners at Pillitteri decided to take the leap and search for the ideal red wine that I could
partner with from Tuscany. The team arrived at our place in the spring. It may sound like a dream task – a week of wine tasting – but I must tell you
that even for me it was a grueling week. We hurtled across the Tuscan countryside tackling the different regions. First came Chianti, famous for, yes
you guessed it, Chianti wines. Once renowned for the plonk we drank in cheap wine bars (remember the bottles used as wax dripped candle holders?),
Chianti is now producing some awesome wines. We then headed to the area around our property which is known for the famous Nobile di Montepulciano,
one of my favorite Tuscan wines. We ventured into Bolgheri and down its breathtaking cypress tree lined avenues. We drove up and down the famous white
gravel roads of Montalcino sampling the stupendous Brunellos. Poor me, you’re thinking. I know life is tough but it wasn’t easy. The week resembled
the fairytale, The Three Bears. We covered about thirty wineries – some were too big, some too small, some too cheap, some too expensive, some too
dirty. The Pillitteri family have been in the wine business for over six decades and they know their stuff – they were looking for the perfect red
wine from the right winery, at an affordable price and a superb wine. It was not easy. First of all, we tasted about ten wines at each winery. Of course,
they are professionals and after sniffing and slurping, spat the nectar into buckets. I am a lady and I don’t spit, so by the end of each day I was
legless. Happy though. In typical Tuscan hospitality copious amounts of food was laid out, whatever the time of day, for us to eat with the tastings.
Not wanting to be impolite since some hardworking ‘nonna’ had probably prepared everything fresh for us, we tucked in. Plates of salami, olives, focaccia,
ham and a variety of cheeses filled long tables along with row upon row of glasses waiting to be filled. We nibbled, tasted, spat (not me) for a week.
What a job. Finally, visiting the penultimate winery, we arrived in the hilly commune of Montalcino.
Several miles from the town, famous for the rich and expensive Brunellos, stands the Abbey of Sant Antimo. Legend has it that in 781 Charlemagne, the
king, fell ill alongside many of his army. He made teas from the herbs that surrounded them and he and his soldiers were miraculously cured. To thank
God for the return for his life, he built the abbey on this lush soil, or so the story goes. Here we had found our winery. Small in comparison to some
of the others we’d visited, it sits high on a hill with rows of vines spilling down to the magical Abbey of Sant Antimo in the valley below. We were
greeted by three generations of wine makers and proudly given a tour of the spotlessly clean cantina where the wines are made. As we tasted their Rosso
di Montalcino, our team beamed with joy, as we were happy to have found the perfect winery to produce the next Debbie Travis vino. This week, the first
sample bottles arrived in Canada. I designed the label myself, and the gold embossed cypress tree is symbolic of the richness of Tuscany that I adore.
On March 22nd, 2018 we will hold a celebration of the Debbie Travis Rosso di Montalcino in Toronto. Francesco, our chef from Italy
will be there and he will cook for this special evening of fabulous gifts, wine tasting and fantastic food. If you have ever visited Tuscany come and
walk down memory lane and share a great evening with me. If not, join us anyway for a delicious taste of Tuscany.