Thursday, April 14, 2016

Day 7: Winery, Hiking, and Death by Pizza

"Great is the fortune of he who possesses a good bottle, a good book and a good friend.
The Devils Bridge
From the villa today, we wound down the valley for the reason that snapped Paul up from the beginning--wine tasting. Most of the wineries in Italy are very small and family owned. In fact, most just make wine for the family. The tasting rooms are mostly by appointment only.
On the way to Podere Concori

To visit today's  winery,  we passed the Devils Bridge seen above. It's arched  and the arch isn't symmetric. The locals also refer to it as the donkeys back. The story is that the Builder paid the devil to teach him how to make the arch. The price that the devil exactly was that he wanted the first soul to cross the bridge. The architect agreed. Then he made a beautiful arched Bridge. Unfortunately the first soul passing there was a pig. This made the devil very angry, but instead of destroying the bridge he shifted the arch to make everyone who crossed it labor walking uphill over the crooked cobblestones. Maybe the real story is something different? Like two Italian tool time Bubbas  built it? It became a very important bridge in the area, because the others were controlled by the archbishop of Lucca who collected a toll. This one was free to cross. I don't  think the devil would have objected.  :)

On modern times, it is still used, pedestrian only, and very scenic.
Paul couldn't keep his hands off the Syrah.

From here we traveled narrow one lane roads to the winery, Podere Concori. This is a small family-owned Winery. The original owner only made it for the family and his restaurant. The sun has taken over now, and he's making it for the General Public. They specialize in the old vines which are nearly 70 years on the property and have planted new grapes such as Syrah and Pinot Noir which do well and a slightly wetter climate. They only produced about 6,000 bottles per year. Most of the sales are export at this point. The tour guide at the winery told us that about 30% of their sales are also at the Cellar Door. They ferment in French Oak and also a second fermentation in steel tanks. All the great pickng is done by hand and it's a very Hands-On Family Affair from The Vineyard to the bottle.
They served us a really nice lunch.
The table was as pretty as the food

The welcome banner is out
We were able to sample their white blend which is mostly chenin blanc. We also sampled a blend that was 70% Syrah and 30% of old vines mixture. This was a big favorite among this group. Several of them comment that it tasted like wine from Walla Walla. We also tasted the syrah 100%. They make an award-winning Pinot Noir but they would not give out samples. Fortunately, one of the ladies on the tour bought a bottle to enjoy at dinner.
Wines are fermented in French oak and stainless steel

Library wines

Lunch. YUM

Thank heaven we only visited one winery because it was noon and I don't really enjoy it drinking in the middle of the day.

We returned to Villa Leonidas and from there Paul and I decided to walk to the Cross which is built at the top of the hill from the Villa. It's about a two and a half miles all uphill excursion, but all downhill thankfully on the way back. The road grade was actually pretty gentle for climbing.

A plaque recognizing US military during WWII is seen on the way to the Croce di Brancoli

Beautiful views on the way to the cross
Something that we were surprised to discover along the way is that the Germans had actually dug in here during World War II. We even saw some bunkers and a plaque dedicated to the allies.
Remains of a German bunker

That's a big cross!

A different perspective
There was not a battle here. Apparently the Germans were being surrounded in this area and retreated. However, the original cross erected in 1900 was razed by the Wermacht because it could serve as a marker for Allied Forces. The current cross was built in 1958. As you will see from the pictures, it's not too cute of a cross. But I'm sure the people who made it put a lot of labor, love and effort into its construction and into bringing it up this mountain which is no small feat.

There are Stations of the Cross all the way up from the Villa to the top of the mountain. One additional attraction is that once on the grounds of the Cross you get a 360 degree view of various parts of Italy including the Alps. The View alone made it worth walking up there.
We are told that on a clear day , you can see the French and Italian Alps

When we got back to the Villa, we discovered that we sorely needed to be walking up that hill because a man named Ivano had fired up the wood pizza oven external to the kitchen and was about to stuff us for the slaughter.
Ivano stokes the oven

Getting ready for pizza

Sunset view. We ate outdoors, but who wouldn't if this is what you are looking at!

Vegetarian pizza. One of about 10 that he made including dessert pizza

My favorite---grilled veggies. This had a spicy sauce sort of like chimchurri.
I don't know how many pizzas he made but I can say with confidence that it was way too many and included all sorts of meat pizzas, vegetarian pizzas and even a pear and gorgonzola pizza and a chocolate pizza. Unfortunately, I didn't have the gonadal fortitude to sample all of them. But the ones I did were really good. He also grilled Florentine steak, ribs, and a spicy grilled vegetable. Apparently he was expecting the American Army to eat this. I think we did a reasonable dent in it but there were plenty of leftovers. Death by pizza. What a way to go!

"Really all I care about in this life is pizza and about four people."

Paul's ponderings:   A varied day out with a visit to a very small winery, some hiking, and lots of food at the end!   The winery facility seemed like it was about the size of our house and they make only a few thousand bottles per year.   The white we tasted was quite good and I liked one of the reds better than the other (blend better than Syrah).   As noted above, we did a up/down hike once we got back to the villa.   My father was in WWII in Italy, spending time in these types of mountain areas in the Army Air Force, so it's nice to see some of what he might have seen 70 years ago.   The Germans had what was called the "gothic line" here with a series of bunkers and such that was to be their last line of defense to hold Italy.  Obviously and thankfully it did not work out, but seeing the scale of it is interesting.   Finally, we continue to be blessed with great weather here.   Thursday and Friday we are off to a couple more small wineries and no doubt more eating and such.   

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