My Italian Excursion: Part I

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The best part of this year so far in regards to myself and the world of wine was making it to this year’s VinItaly, which is the largest trade show for Italian wines in the world.  It is held in the beautiful city of Verona, in the Veneto region, which also contains the city of Venice in its eastern end.  I was fortunate enough to make it there three years ago as an early present from a then-girlfriend, and unfortunately missed it the next two years; each time it was so close to me making it that I wanted to cry and go crazy.

Well, this year I bit the bullet and ponied up myself in order to make it.  This year was more special because I was slated to meet with several producers I will be using for my own wine label.  I had to move heaven and earth to do it, and of course I would be befallen with a furnace that gave up the ghost just two weeks before I was supposed to go, and the weather was still in full cold!  But by then I had already purchased my ticket and the next thing for me was to book my reservations, and let it be known that trying to get a place in or right near Verona at a reasonable rate late in the game for VinItaly is almost impossible.

One day before I was supposed to leave, my friend and classmate from high school, Doctor Vicki Caldwell, DDS [and gum goddess] was giving me a tooth cleaning when I got an email that my flight information had changed.  I literally was on hold for about thirty minutes when I finally discovered that my flight had been cancelled and they put me on a United flight that was leaving an hour later.  As it turned out, Lufthansa pilots were striking from Wednesday through Friday.  

The day of my departure, I headed over to Target to get some last minute things, and headed over to the AT&T store to upgrade my second cell phone and got a lovely Samsung Galaxy Note S3; I still am waiting to get my $50 bonus for the American Express Isis Wallet, though.  

The shuttle van picked me up on time and the ride was interesting.  There was already one passenger in the van when I got in, and as I said hello to her, she delivered the traditional Islamic hello; I know that one because my sister’s uncles were Muslim.  As we added more passenger, I was the only non-Muslim but that didn’t faze me in the least.  What was interesting was learning about the other people in the van, and then having to correct the my initial co-passenger’s ignorance in regards to what the US has and has not done in the world.  She was from Gambia, but grew up in England or the Netherlands and also had an uncle who was living in Sweden.  He had just passed and so she was going there for the ceremonies; it was obvious that she had lived there before.  As she talked about “all of the actions and subsequent outcomes that she thought that US was behind,” I had to explain to her the history of colonialism and how countries such as Spain, Portugal, Belgium and England had more of a hand in shaping the world that we live in, especially the once huge English empire.  It was very interesting to be there engaged in that conversation, but it was comfortable as two of the passengers who were originally from Pakistan – let’s be real, that is and was India – also agreed with me and pointed things out to her as well.  Aside from the driver taking a curve a little too fast, the ride was very enjoyable.

Upon arriving in the airport, my check in was quick and I decided to pay more money to upgrade my seat to Economy Plus.  I figured that I might as well be comfortable and I chose a seat that was in the first row after the business class seats.

While in the airport, I grabbed an overpriced slice of pizza and then wound up realizing that there was a Vino Volo in this airport.  I had previously met two people who were at the upper management level of that company and so I decided to give it a try.  When I arrived there, I found it inviting and nice, and I garnered a seat at the bar, my favorite place.  Soon, I wound up connecting with the person on my left and the two people on my right, one of whom actually comes to and through Philadelphia quite often and whom we share the industry of big pharma.  Oh, I was flying out of Newark International.  While there I couldn’t create a Vino Volo account through their app, but I did have a wonderful Zinfandel which surprised me; actually, it might have been a Merlot.

When I boarded the plane, I had a great seat with good legroom in front of me.  There was only me and another person in our section of three seats and we had a free seat between us.  As it turned out, there were a lot of empty seats and I probably could have just found a better seat while staying in Economy as my rowmate found a group of three seats that she could lay out in.

We actually left two hours late.  The first was a mechanical issue that needed to be sorted out; we were flying a 777 and the latter was a first class passenger who had too much to drink and had to be kicked off the plane.  I didn’t even see it happen, but that’s probably because I couldn’t see the second set of doors.  I started with two different splits of white wines – different ones – and then I chose a nice half bottle of Meiomi Pinot Noir.  Dinner was great and I can’t remember the first movie that I watched, but I did go to sleep on “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” with Ben Stiller, which is an excellent movie.  I tried to watch it in the morning but we landed while I still had about twenty minutes left.

I must say that the Germans keep Frankfurt airport clean, especially the bathrooms!  Since Lufthansa was on strike, the airport was almost like a ghost town, but they have some lovely spaces to work and recline in, with free Wifi and also free power outlets.  Oh, the funny thing that I did when I landed was to go the wrong way and so I had to enter through security again.  The customs agent was surprised because I came through the same gate on the same day exactly three years prior. 

The next phase of things was my Air Dolomiti flight into Verona.  This flight was nice and I remembered their flights being nice before.  I had my own two seats and I must say that I could not keep my eyes off the first class stewardess Francesca, who reminded me of a younger and more attractive Darryl Hannah.

As I arrived in the airport, everything was fine but I forgot a lesson I learned my first time there, which was not to use the currency trading service as they are a damned ripoff; use the ATM instead.  I passed through Customs and chose to take the bus to Verona which is only six euros.  I wound up having a conversation with an Irishman, or was he Scottish, who lives outside of Milan with his Italian wife, but who just came back from working in Texas.  Also funny was that there was a guy who was in the business class section right across from me on the United flight who kept remarking on what Lufthansa did better; he wound up having to catch the train to Milan because his flight directly there was also cancelled.  The bus ride took no more than fifteen minutes, and from there I took a cab to the place I had rented; I found a spot through AirBnB.com.

While waiting for the guy who was renting it to me, I chose to get a nice bottle of Prosecco and order a pizza from the place next door.  They gave me a knife and fork!  It was interesting and Giulio arrived soon on his moped/scooter.  The place was a lot smaller than I wanted, but I was in Verona and in fact in the town center and it was only costing me one thousand dollars for seven days.  Giulio gave me a quick tour so that I would know where I was, how to get back, where to go and what not, but as I told him that after the Prosecco I had, I probably wouldn’t remember much and in fact I didn’t. 

The next day had me being picked up in the morning by a driver to take me out to visit Cesari Winery in Cavaion Veronese though we first wound up at their other property in Valpolicella.  The ride was great and while my Italian wasn’t there at all and my driver didn’t speak English, we had a wonderful time bonding over types of wine and food that I would mention.  I toured where they initially dry the grapes and handle the first stages of the wine making process with a manager who also didn’t speak English, but we were able to connect.  It was funny when I met him because his ringtone was that weird whistle on the Sergio Leone spaghetti Western classics.  After this tour, we drove to the cellar and I met up with Ms. Viviana.  She gave me a tour of the cellar and then allowed me to sample all of their wines over a nice plate of cured meats and cheese, and some Grappa.  I had a lovely time there and learned a lot.  Much props to Alessandra, the US Brand Manager for Cesari who put this all together for me.  They sent me off with a nice bottle of the Amarone Classico.

Later on in that evening, Giulio came back with his girlfriend to take me out for a glass of wine and he introduced me to two spots down there, one of which is the vaunted Bottega del Vini which is just about one hundred and twenty five years old and is known for their wines.  Of course, I wound up running into a champagne producer I met before and also another person who used to work for Winebow.  I would spend more time in that place over the next few days and when they see me, they say “Philly!”

Next: Saturday and the next two days.

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