My Italian Excursion: Part II
Wednesday, May 07, 2014
Well, Saturday was the second day that I woke up in Verona and I had the morning to myself, so I puttered around town for a bit, checking out what was there. I can say that Verona is an interesting and beautiful city, and if you are in the town center, you can move through it pretty quickly. However, I was also doing work as well, since I can work from anywhere in the world where I can get an internet connection. I believe that I had lunch down the street from the flat I was staying in and also had a nice glass of 930 Grappa, which has a smoky feel to it.
Around 3ish, I went back to Bottega del Vini and had two glasses. There, I met a guy named Elwar who is from the town of Graz, in Austria. Pretty soon we were getting kicked out, as many places in Italy close for several hours during the day and reopen during the day and reopen around seven o’clock. As we struck up a nice conversation, I directed him to the place where I had the Grappa, which stays open all day, but they weren’t letting anyone in, so we went to the other place right next to the flat, which I had pizza at when I arrived. As I wanted to be fresh for my dinner that evening, I both called my contact to see if we could add one more and when that was fine, I told Elwar to meet me in front of the spot at seven.
After a brief rest, and some games on Facebook, I hit the shower, got dressed and came down. I didn’t see Elwar at first, but then I noticed him at a table at the restaurant. We were met by Giovanni, who is a producer of Amarone and we loaded into the minivan. The drive was great, and we went to pick up my contact who was representing him; Gabriella. Then we were off to restaurant north in Valpolicella where feasted, talked, and sampled three of Giovanni’s wines; a Ripasso, an Amarone and a Recioto. This would be the first of many repeating conversations in which I would explain to Italian wine producers that the American market is not as magnificent as they would imagine it to be, and that Italian Americans really have no knowledge of Italian wines nor drink them as much as they would think. I also had to set the precedent that it will take me some time to build up a nice following amongst my demographic and that then, and only then, could I start to introduce more robust wines and sell them quickly. But he does have an Amarone that I want, and I only want it in the 1.5 liter bottles!
So, after dinner I looked out on to the lights of Verona and it was beautiful. Then, we went back to town. I think I might have stopped real quick with Elwar in Bottega del Vini, and by now when they each saw me, they yelled out “Philly” like I was Norm in Cheers. I wound up making some new friends and also meeting two gorgeous women. One of the guys joked that as VinItaly progresses, the women get more and more gorgeous. I can’t remember when Elwar left, but I then went to Piano Bar, which has existed since the seventies and is right around the corner from where I stayed. Again, I believe that this was all on Saturday. As I entered the establishment, it definitely threw me back to the seventies and reminded me immediately of “Three’s Company.” I was basically there early and wound up ordered a Prosecco as that’s the only thing you can order a glass of beside a cocktail; all wines have to be ordered by the bottle. As I talked to the owner of the place, I was telling her that Giulio told me about it, but she had no idea who I was talking about and offered me to sit with her daughter and an old friend.
The friend turned out to be an anesthesiologist who was there in Vatican City for the President’s visit with the pope. As conversation progressed and I told her where I was staying, she immediately knew who Giulio was and told me that she sometimes used to hold him as a baby. As our conversation turned to just life, “Mama” told me that one of her granddaughters worked at Bottega del Vini and also pointed out another woman who was both a dental technician and a sommelier. I told her that both women were much too young for me, and she did a very interesting gesture in which she intimated to me all that I would receive with her. She had us all dying with laughter. After reviewing many of the pictures and mementos in the restaurant, I asked what was in the one huge gorgeous glass container, and she told me that it was Grappa di Prosecco. You know that I had to have some. That impressed the hell out of them and then I asked for the check, gave half of it as a tip and then retired back to the flat.
Now, the next day was the first day of VinItaly and I probably got there around ten or eleven in the morning. While there is a shuttle that runs from Piazza Bra, I chose to just take a taxi on the first day. As I wound up getting directed to the right place to enter, it took quite a minute for the scanner to register the QR code on my cellphone, but I got through. To say that VinItaly is huge is an understatement; there will be thousands of producers spread out through a good eleven convention buildings.
My first stop was the section housing Lombardia, where they make both Franciacorta (a sparkling wine made just like Champagne with the only difference is that they use Pinot Blanc instead of Pinot Meunier), vin Bianco (white style) Pinot Noir, and a host of other great sparkling wines using Pinot Noir and/or Chardonnay made in either the Champenoise/Traditional method or the Charmat method. One of the first stands I stopped in belonged to Fiamberti, and the person there remembered me almost instantly. Well, it’s not too hard as I tend to be a snazzy dresser, but also one of the only persons of African descent, is African American, and also knows wine. I sampled some of his wines and we talked for a few minutes. The one thing that he remembered about me is that I cannot be swayed away to something else; I know what I want and that’s all I want.
As I moved around to several other producers, I wound up stopping in at Torti Tenimenti Castelrotto. The reason was simply because I was enthralled by one of the women working at the booth which happened to be one of the daughters. As I stood there a little mesmerized, another woman [who turned out to be a family friend and looked like Virginia Madsen in the face] gave me some wines to sample and then directed me to Patrizia Torti who sat me down to talk with me. As we talked and I sampled some of the wines, she showed me who her father and mother was and joked that he was the only man there, so he definitely had a hard life. As we joked and talked, a friend of hers from Brazil stopped in and in a brief exchange of conversation, I had to prove that I could both dance and play the samba, of which I can both. Well, that changed the tide somewhat, and she told me to now call her Patri, as I am now a friend.
The rest of my time in Lombardia was me sampling other wines and then I wound up helping someone open a bottle and as they were there temporarily by themselves, I helped them pour. I then jetted to a couple more buildings to sample wines from Veneto and at least one other region. As this was my second VinItaly and I had more business to attend to, I was more careful in what I was drinking and how much. I also had to meet with Pietro, one of the producers I will be using. Near the end of the day, I finally found where they were at, talked briefly, and our intermediary gave me a ride back into the Verona town center. I do believe the rest of that night I was chilling in the flat and had started listening to the radio at night.
Monday was more or less a repeat of the prior day, but to tell you the truth, I can’t tell you much of who I met on each day, meaning between Monday and Tuesday. I did visit some more producers that I knew and Monday I visited Banfi, where Luciano Castiello works. I first met Luciano at Vino New York several years ago and he was pouring Banfi Brachetto, and we then got into a conversation. I was telling him that it is served in a friend’s restaurant in Philly and he was telling me that his cousins had a couple of restaurants in Philly and it wound up being the same family. So from there, that established the foundations of our friendship. Luciano is one of those people that make life worth living, and if you ever get the chance to hang with him, you will have a great time. While at the Banfi stand, which is actually a two-story work of art, I wound up having an interesting conversation with a woman who wound up being one of the owners, and it opened the door for some business with them… with my label!
What I can tell you is that the end of Monday, I wound up walking back to the town center because the lines were too long for the shuttle busses and most cabs were taken. On the way, I wound up meeting a couple guys who needed to get back to the train station ASAP because one of them had a woman waiting for him in Milan. I had also wound up talking to a woman from Indiana who has been in Italy for the past thirty years. Now, me and the guys were trying to bribe folks who were driving away from the town center to drive us back into it, but as that didn’t happen, me and the woman just continued to walk into town. As we came upon one of the major stretches in Verona, I wound up spotting the Tortis having some drinks and we sat down with them. I ordered a bottle of Trento (sparkling wine made in the Trentino region using the traditional method) and she ordered a mixed drink; yes, I cannot remember her name. Anyway, I gave my talk again in regards to the American wine market and what I am trying to do, and I showed everyone Virginia Madsen’s picture so that they could see how much Silvia looked like her. We all laughed and talked, and then they had to leave to meet with a potential importer. Well, I still had to finish my bottle on wine! Anyway, when I was done, I asked the waiter for the check and he told me that it was already taken care of. That made me feel warm inside.
So, after bidding adieu to my new friend, I walked into town and of course stopped at Bottega del Vini for a drink. Oh, all the while I was supposed to meet up with Luciano at a bar and store called “The Wine Store” but it was really “The Wine Shoppe” and was literally one block away from where I was.
If you notice, I don’t talk much about eating because I just usually wound up purchasing packs of cured meats from the smaller supermarket and eating them along with some effervescent water.
Next, we have Tuesday, Wednesday and going home.
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