My Italian Excursion: Part III

Monday, May 19, 2014

You know, I really should write my travels more frequently, but honestly I have been busy between work, freelance clients, and good old-fashioned gold-bricking.  Anyway, I left off with the end of Monday, which brings us to Tuesday.

I believe that I had made plans to meet my new buddy Ewald in the morning at the Sicily section of VinItaly.  We found each other easily enough [though he did not bring a cellphone to VinItaly with him] and we proceeded to sample some of what the Sicilian producers have to offer.  I will note to you that they make sparkling wine all over Italy, and from different types of grapes as well; you can find some great and interesting wines from just about everyone.  I wound up stopping at the stand of Donnafugata, which is a wonderful producer with properties in Sicily, Pantelleria, and Marsala. 

I came across this producer by trying their Ben Rye, a dessert wine made from the Zibibbo grape.  After trying it, I then wrote the producer and wound up connecting with a local rep of the importer here (Scott Finaly of Folio Wine) and also Laura Ellwanger, who is in their PR and Marketing department.  Anyway, the way that some of these stands are set up is that they sometimes have a bar where people passing by can try their wines, and then another restricted access area where buyers and potential buyers can taste the wines while seated.  We wound up starting on the outside and then being on the inside, and I garnered the attention of Silvio de Silvio, the US Brand and Export Manager for Donnafugata.  As he was busy but was interested in talking with me, he told me to come back in forty five minutes, and so in the meantime I explored some more wines from various producers.

Now, if you’ve noticed, I haven’t mentioned all of the various producers whose wines I have tried and the reason for that is that many aren’t widely distributed in the US if they are distributed at all.  What happens sometimes when they are distributed here is that you only get several wines from the producer’s portfolio, and in some cases, you’re missing the wines that are the best or are the ones which would easily sell in this market.  Donnafuguta suffers from this problem as well.  Upon coming back to meet him, we must have spoken for a good thirty minutes; as the future unfolds, I am sure that he and I will be talking many more times.

From there, I believe that I then ventured around to the Tuscany section, meeting with a maker of Barolo and then trying a number of passito (dessert) wines and a few Grappas as well.  I touched base real quick with Anna Cotella, how is the export manager from Manfredi, a medium sized producer in the Piemonte region.  The rest of the day was spent on more meetings and tastings, and I think one of my contacts gave me a lift back into town. 

So this is where it gets interesting.

Normally, there are events held at the Palazzo Barbieri in the center of Verona each night during VinItaly.  They are extensions of the event itself and usually free to get into.  On this day, I happened to be wearing my grey tux jacket, black jeans, black shoes, a dress shirt with French cuffs and of course, some cufflinks; appropriate attire in Italy to go to a black tie affair.  Well, I happened inside the building to see what was occurring this day and while I saw people talking to someone with a laptop open, I just walked in and took the elevator to the third floor.  As I got off, I checked my bag and then picked up a drink from the bartender.  I wound up having a conversation with one of the pretty waitresses, and then someone who turned out to be the rep for VinItaly to India.  I then was wondering what was next at this event and then two huge doors opened up to a room set up for a banquet.  Well, I ambled in, picking a table which was neither in the last row, nor the last column nor at the center of the room. 

Some people walked up and one (Massimiliano) asked me if I was there by myself, and so he and his group all sat with me.  The gentleman to his left, Furio, asked me if I didn’t mind moving down so that they all could sit together, but Massimiliano said I was fine right there.  Throughout dinner, I got to know my table mates and as it turns out, they were all producers and association members of a trade association and cooperative in the Riva del Garda region, which is the area surrounding Lake Garda.

Well, once during the meal, I heard a “how are you doing Mr. Harris” which came from the voice of Giulio who I was renting the flat from; he was making extra money working the event.  As it turned out, I had innocently happened into an awards banquet for the top olive oil producers in Italy!  As we bonded over talking about wine and food, they were truly delighted when I told them that I like Grappa.  At this point, Furio became excited and told me that I had to come to his stand the next day and he would have wine and Grappa for me.  One of the people at our table won an award and the rest of that event was great.

From there, I went into town and then I of course stopped at Bottega del Vini again, and I believe that this was the night that a guy had a full bottle of Krug in a glass and offered me some.  Of course I took it.  Then from there, I believe that I went into Osteria Sottoriva and had a nice glass of wine.  But the music was good and a great song came on, which then had me dancing with a woman there for a couple of songs.  So, after making another statement that “Zach was here,” I retired to the flat and crashed, fully clothed. 

Wednesday was the last day of the festival, and I still had some more conversation to have with a number of people.  This actually turned out to be one of the most serious days, as I first went to Furio’s both, and he had three bottles of wine and two different Grappas for me.  He told me that he would keep it there for me so that I wouldn’t have to carry it with me through the day.  I then went and met with Dario of Canus Wines who was in a Veneto section.  I made met Dario at VinItaly US Tour/Slow Wine earlier in the year in New York, and I had loved his Refosco.  This time, I got to taste all of his wines and get a lovely bottle of one of his wines which I hope to export in the next year.  I went back to meet with Gabby and Pietro, and when I left there they sent me off with a couple of bottles as well (they actually might have given me bottles on Monday, but I really don’t remember). 

I then met Ca De Sole, who produce Prosecco wines.  They did something that no one has done in fifty years, which was to have their Prosecco wine overall the first time it was entered.  Phrasing this a little better, this was their first time releasing their wine and it won overall, meaning over every other Prosecco that was released by producers with decades of experience. 

I then went and sat with Anna Cotella (Manfredi) and we sat and talked for about thirty minutes.  Anna was one of the people I was introduced to the first time I attended VinItaly and what she liked about me then was that I was more cautious and practical when it came to the issue of carrying a wine.  You see, I was also looking for wines for a friend’s firm my first time around, and his company not being flush with money, I talked about only starting with a couple of pallets of their wine.  She liked this because she has met tons of people with money who can easily purchase a container of wine, but producers are not in the business of one-time deals; they are in the business of long term relationships.  We enjoyed some nice wines and looked towards the future.

I then made my way over to try some Franciacorta from Terra Moretti.  Weirdly enough, I would meet the owner, managing director and brand ambassador of this company at a favorite restaurant of mine in Philly a few weeks later.  I then sought out Anna Spinato, whom I might my first time there and makes some fabulous Prosecco wines.  This time around I met her son and sat with them for about a half hour as well.  As the day was winding down, I made my way over to another Amarone producer’s stand and wound up meeting a guy named Alberto.  Well, we talked for a minute – he was just sampling the wines as well – and he directed me to go to his cousin Umberto’s stand.  Umberto makes cured meats, but his are soaked in either Amarone or Ripasso.  I had a good time there, and I didn’t realize that my watch had stopped.  Luckily, I made it back to the Riva del Garda stand when they were about to pull out and so I helped Massimiliano with getting things out to the car.  He added another bottle of wine to the box that was put together for me and gave me a ride into Verona.

The rest of the day, I chose to relax.  I got a little something to eat in Piazza Bra but before that, I wound up finally stopping into a little place I spotted several times which was a print museum.  As I entered and talked to the proprietor, Rossana Conte, I noticed an old Macintosh computer and started laughing.  I started talking about my history with the Mac and she then gave me a tour of the space and showed me all of the Mac computers that were there.  We talked about a number of different things and she told me about her son who does both Drum and Bass and Dubstep music. He and I are now Facebook friends.

The next morning, I woke up early to go to the bank and wound up exploring the other side of the Verona’s center.  I wound up spending forty five minutes to find a bank that I could have gotten into in just fifteen; damn those Google maps!  I then went on a scavenger hunt to find two wine shippers to be able to bring my wine back with me.  I wound up having to take a cab to the Mailboxes, Etc. location and back and picked up two bottles from the local supermarket.  Now, what is funny is that several of the spots that Giulio told me about I didn’t find until my last day in Verona.  I found the place to buy rotisserie chicken at that morning as well; I picked up one.

Took a cab to the airport, and then had to go to an ATM again because I needed to not only pay cash for my wine box getting shrink-wrapped, but also pay cash for the second checked luggage, because the terminal was down for processing credit cards.  The flight leaving Verona was late, and so when we exited the plane in Frankfurt, we got whisked in a van to the next plane and got to go through an expedited customs checkpoint.  I would there make some more connections in the wine game and then we boarded.  Oh, I had one of the worst seats for flying, which was seat 58A of an Airbus A340-600.  However, my seatmate and I had great conversation and the meals were great; I flew Lufthansa. I don’t know how much wine I had, but I got to finish “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” see something else, and also see much of “Last Vegas.”  My high school classmate Karen Mauldin Ceesay has a small role in the latter; she also has a small role in “The Internship” and has played in “Army Wives.”  Landed, and another crazy shuttle ride back home.

I can’t wait to do it again!


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