The memories of my early years in Italy remain vivid. I remember my first holiday celebrations, the special foods that were shared during those times, the various planting seasons. Abundance in Spring. Harvest time in the Fall. Festa! This period, in particular, is a time of hard work, excitement and joy for wine producers, their families and every single person involved in the creative, arduous yet joyful process of making wine.
Fall Grape Harvest. It's an Event.
In September and October, the days are still filled with lots of warm, bright sunshine and we are ready to soak up every minute we can.
Soon, it'll be that time again. When the sun is still high in the sky, but setting earlier. There are squash, pumpkins, poricini mushrooms and truffles, all kinds of apple varieties, pears, persimmon and other fall treats in the market stalls. The pickers are in the vineyards with their buckets and clippers. Tractors chug along the roads, causing traffic back-ups. Hooked up to their backs are bins full to the brim with ripe grapes, all heading to the cellar for their delightful future transformation. Early autumn is harvest time in Tuscany, Puglia, Sicily, Piedmont and Provence, too!
Autumn---similar but different in its own right---is all about food. In Italy, the focus is on wine, olive oil and truffles. Seasonal vegetables and fruits (including "forgotten fruits" another upcoming article). The golden sun reflecting on terracotta rooftops and intensely colorful sunsets leaves you breathless. Roads wide open for cycling...very little traffic as the Summer crowds have disappeared. Later in September, and through October the crisp, cool air is in the early mornings, followed by intensely warm mid afternoons---provides the most perfect weather conditions for cycling. Add to the list othere wonderful activities such as simply sitting at outdoor cafès to people watch, tasting wonderful wines and Fall-focused produce as well as special dishes only made this time of year. In late October we begin to enjoy sipping vino novello (the new wine), with roasted chestnuts and the freshly pressed olive oil. The frantoi (olive producers/mills) begin pressing as early as late October and press through the month of November and early December.
Wine and high quality, fresh food are intertwined with daily life in Italy and France. But, in Italy in particular there is a focus (ok, let's call it an obsession) with anything and everything that is fresh today and made now. From classic soups such as pappa al pomodoro and ribollita to the various squashes used as filling for pasta, to truffles and other mushrooms--it's an endless potpourri of intensely fresh foods literally cultivated or found spontaneously growing out in the countryside--brought to the table or kitchen and cooked up immediately. You can smell earth.
Regarding wine, the level of consumption has been high in Italy since Medieval times....along with traditional staples such as bread, pasta, fresh vegetables and olive oil (here Tuscan olive oil, the one produced locally). Historically, wine seen as a part of our daily eating and drinking habits and was consumed copiously by the lower classes. Today Italians drink for special occasions, a phenonmenon closely related to the evolution of wine production and quality. The shape of the bottle and wine glasses followed Bordeax tradition and because Italy caught up in the last decades, viticulture in Tuscany has been of enormous renewal and innovation. Today's wines here in Tuscany are the result of increased study and experimentation; bringing back old vines, the fermentation and aging processes. This "cultural" development has stimulated the consolidation of regional cuisine (i.e.cucina rustica as its called in Tuscany) coupled with a sensitivity for the value of the immense, endless countryside here and the patrimony of art, history and yes, la cucina!
Luigi Cappellini, wine maker, Castello di Verrazzano (Greve in Chianti)
Italy's regional vines now have a strategic role in the agricultural landscape and we are fully immersed in all of this -- especially during harvest season (Sept/Oct) in Italy: from Northern Italy including the Dolomites/Piedmont all the way down to the furthest points South on the island of Sicily.
Fall anywhere--in both Italy and France--boasts loads of organic and antique markets! Arts and crafts. Sporting events (bike and running races everywhere, in every village and city), festivals, all kinds of music, ceramics, pastries, fried sweets, roasted chestnuts, mulled wine and so much more. This is what autumn is for me and once experienced you'll be planning your return trip to do it all over again...
So, what's happening on our Ciclismo Classico trips during HARVEST SEASON?
On our Assaggio Toscana trip, one might get the chance to attend one of these amazing wine festivals--before or after our very popular "taste of Tuscany" adventure.
Piedmont: Barolo and Truffles, is "king" wine region. Our daily regimen involves sitting (and eating and drinking) amongst the most refined, elegant, knowledgeable makers of great wine, food and everything surrounding that. This is top notch, guys. This is an experience not to be missed: harvest in Piemonte.
La Bella Sicilia is magic and so are her wines. Harvest season in Sicily is almost a primordial experience. Ancient vines, wine-making methods, long, beautiful tastings where we lose track of time...this is the place to be during harvest season. It couldn't be more true and we've said it countless times: "You’ll never forget the warm welcome you’ll receive from the local islanders as they embrace your with open arms."
Provence: elegant, simple, civil and sophisticated--all at once. On our Divine Provence trip you experience La Vendange as well as the general harvest of all things we hope to find on the French Fall table. One curiousity I love is the cuvé du Pape - wine made for the Pope and many traditional wineries have it "blessed". And, let's not forget our favorite dry pink passion: Rosè wine.
Lastly, I want to share a wonderful Italian harvest song from the 1930s called Com è bella l'uva fogarina that we often sing on tour during harvest trips---if we happen to have a talented musician/guide on tour or find a guitar player nearby. It's very fun to sing along to and it's a story about an long-forgotten grape called the fogarina (once grown in Emilia Romagna) and of course, young love. The song also addresses the group effort and solidarity involved in completing the vendemmia or grape harvest. The entire family, including children, friends--everyone participated. This song is a classic example of the unity between work, family, friends, love and celebration.
There's still time to sign on to any Fall departure of our great Tuscany, Piedmont, Sicily, Puglia and Provence cycling trips. But, do keep in mind spots are going...going....going...fast!