We were all quite ready to NOT drive so much after the long travels the day before, and Doumina had seen that coming after trying this part of our itinerary on another group. As beautiful and paradisical (yes, I made that word up, why not?) as Mamma Franca’s place is at Podere Ciona, it is very remote. I am used to a sort of remoteness but this is really far from anything. It took 30 minutes on narrow, windy roads, just to get to a main road, so we needed to keep the driving to a minimum. We went to Le Rote, one of our Small Vineyards, and the grounds were some of the most beautiful thus far. Hard to believe that every place is amazingly beautiful, I know, and even harder to believe when you are there! I would think to myself ah yes, another vineyard, another tasting room… and then we would be in another completely different setting, each one beautiful, unique and amazing.

Le Rote is near the small hill town of San Gemignano (“san gem-in-NYAH-no). This region had even more vineyards than we had seen and this estate made me think of Tara. I half expected Ashley & Melanie Wilkes to float down the massive staircase to greet us… instead we were treated to a meeting with Paolo, the enologist on the estate. He had very little English, so we all had to follow along and figure things out together: luckily this was not our first vineyard tour. As we walked into the tank room everyone grew quiet. Instead of the usual stainless steel tanks that we had been seeing, this place had walls of concrete tanks. From the ceiling to the floor, running along 2 different walls, these tanks were mammoth! The opening was big enough for a small man to fit through for cleaning purposes! The cellar where they keep the barriques was one of the most beautiful we had seen, with bricks that had to be as old as the 19th century villa.

Here they cultivate their 35+ year old vines to make the white wine of the region, Vernaccia, and they make it beautifully. It is one of my favorite whites that we had, to be sure. They also make Chianti Colli Senesi, and they have played with the sangiovese grape far more than their neighbors have, and make ‘Cosimo’, named after one of their sons. This winery puts out about 2500 cases per year and here we were sitting around yet another wonderful table, enjoying the bread, olive oil, and cheeses of the region, tasting some of the best wine in the world! And it wasn’t even noon yet! Yes, we know how to live it up in Italy!

We bid farewell to this, our last estate winery, and piled back into Fabio’s beautiful machine to journey on to the town of San Gemignano. The drive was wonderful and glimpses of the massive towers could be gathered through the hills as we wound our way around the vineyards of the area. We had to check the bus in at the base of the hill and walk up to the gates of the town, as no buses were allowed in or near the gates. This town was hands down the most touristy that we had experienced and I have to say it is my least favorite. The very reason I did not have it on the itinerary in the first place is the touristy vibe that I heard so much about. On the walk up to the main square there are many shops filled with beautiful things…and the prices are outrageous. We had our first bad meal here, and I mean we could have gotten better food and certainly nicer service at an ‘Italian’ restaurant in Kitsap. All that said, I must admit that the architecture of this town is nothing less than stunning. San Gemignano got wealthy in the middle ages, with many towers built between the 11th and 13th centuries. If you are in the area I have to encourage you to check out this beautiful spot. Just be prepared for throngs of tourists and opportunistic shops.

We got back to Podere Ciona in time to start organizing our packing and rest up a bit for dinner. Well, everyone else could anyway, I had to hand write out notes for the wine tasting at that evening’s farewell dinner, since I could not hook up to a printer. I am such a technology junky! Fabio picked us up and we headed over to Mamma Mimma’s estate (Franca’s sister) which was about a half an hour away. Mimma’s amazing home was built in 1437!!! 1437!!! Seriously. And we get all misty eyed over 100 year old barns at home. There were tables out on the patio that had tops made from bricks, it was pretty neat looking. We started sipping wine right away of course, as we milled about and checked out our host’s digs. We began to get seated around yet another massive table, as they were bringing out the first course.

The antipasti was a pinwheel, with a ‘biscuity’ outer layer, rolled with ham, cheese, and a special homemade style of mayonnaise. The pasta course was a fresh lasagna made with arugula pesto and mom says that was one of her favorite dishes of the whole trip. For the secondi we had dark meat chicken fashioned into ‘drumsticks’ and served with a creamy ‘fricassee’ sauce, and mashed carrots on the side. Mashed carrots, you say? How weird! Well yes… until you tasted them! Lightly gingery and every bit as satisfying as mashed potatoes, these pillows of orange were rather sublime! The whisked away our plates and everyone was chatting and laughing and suddenly the room got quiet. The mammas had brought dessert in and it was a masterpiece. Something to behold!

Called ‘Dolce Bianca ai Frutti’, or sweet white with fruit, you must see this to believe it. Centered on a huge serving platter was a lovely round of pure white. It turns out that it was a mixture of unsweetened, homemade yogurt, and whipped cream. This cloud of white was surrounded by an abundance of stunning fruit: Kiwi, banana, dried apricots, figs, prunes, pear, grapes, and hazelnuts. We served the Tre Donne Moscato D’Asti with this dessert and it was really fun to compare the differences between that moscato, and the one we enjoyed from Podere Elia on the prior Saturday. We enjoyed Small Vineyards wines for each course, some new and some we had already had, and everyone seemed to have a great time.

The mammas of course poured limoncello and home made Vin Santo. Fabio had joined us for our farewell dinner (he didn’t drink, he never does!) and we all showered him with appreciation … I think he felt the love. At the third course Antonio joined us, having raced from a meeting in Rome to join us on our last night of the tour. He talked about the wines and winemakers and got his picture taken with some of the randier gals at the table (mom!). It was all in all a very fun night and a fabulous way to end the trip.

Wednesday October 14-Fabio took us all to Siena to catch our various modes of transportation out of the area. We had planned to see the center, taste some pan forte, get a tour of the duomo and do a little shopping, but it was a total bust. Partly because we got out late due to a little snafu, and mostly because there was a huge market going on and the roads were closed. We are talking about a flea market of fantasy proportions for people my friend Manny who owns an antique stall at the Pike Place Antique Mall. It was all very hectic and we really wish we had known it would be there because it would have been worth the trip alone! Unfortunately, due to these circumstances, we were unable to see any of Siena. I was very upset, I felt like I had let the group down and since the Duomo in Siena is my favorite in all of Italy (I haven’t seen them all yet, but I will some day) I really wanted my family to see it. And I wanted to see it again. I knew we had to get going to make our train connection to the Cinque Terre, and it would be great there, but it was my only moment of true disappointment in the whole trip.

Everyone said goodbye at either the train or the bus station and a couple of folks when with the tour guide to see the duomo, which did make me happy for them. Mom, dad, Mark and I got on the rapido bus to Florence, walked over to the train station, and paid 30 euro to store our bigger luggage until we got back on Friday. Thank GOODNESS we did that! It was my MOST brilliant thought ever to do that! I cannot even IMAGINE all those stairs to the apartment with even more luggage than the one bag each we had. No way. I would still be there, lying in a heap at the foot of the 86 stairs, sucking in my dying breath. Travel light my friends, it is totally worth it.

You already know the highlights from the Cinque Terre so I have only the last night, our last fabulous meal to tell you about, and a few random thoughts. I will make that a separate post so as to break it up a bit for you. Mark is right this very minute loading pictures from his camera to the computer and we will get more of those for you very soon. Thank you for travelling with us!

Ciao for now,