They are often the high points of the year each year, these trips.
I guess you could call them my ‘sabbaticals’, but each year I pack up my bicycle and take off for a few months off to bicycle Southern Italian wine country. I meet lots of producers, hear their stories, taste their wine. Those that I’ve connected with often invite me to cook lunch or dinner with them. We go fishing together, head out to local and folksy food festivals held in circus tents in the countryside, the boom-tank-tank-boom-tank-tank accordian music infectious enough to make all the chubby women get up and dance.
And while the goal of these trips is based on my talks with producers, they do tend to ask me a lot of questions of their own, mostly about, well, you.
We’ll be scaling a fish or cutting a loaf of bread when they’ll ask, so why do your students dedicate a week of their lives to study Southern Italian wine?
It’s a question that I’ve only lately been able to answer: for those of us passionate about great wine, it’s often the tool we use to conceive of the world.
My school’s library floor is covered tonight, covered with bike bags, tools, cycling clothing, maps and electric gadgets whose cables and instruction manuals I’ll never see again. Each year I pack and repack my bags, each year slightly better prepared for the trip: my diving mask, my fins, my tiny clotheslines to dry my undergarments, washed in hotel sinks, in hotel rooms I no longer remember. My Mac, my Ipad, my Cannon, my Flip. My notebook soon to be filled with my impossible hand writing.
My favourite cork screw that I bought 20 years ago in Dijon.
Perhaps the hardest part of the trip each year is finding a partner. To date I’ve done this trip with a doctor, an acupuncturist, another doctor, a marketer for large pharmaceutical company, a writer, and this year, a Greek, a professor of Classics (we spoke for a few hours on a flight and haven’t seen each other since). She arrives the day before we depart together. I consider myself lucky each year to find anyone to go with me, so impossible to create, the seemingly in-congruent cocktail of 1) time off, 2) the economic means) 3) the physical ability, 4) the desire. (If you have all four write me regarding next year’s trip).
And of course I have favourite zones- I’m giddy the entire time I’m up Etna, and find il Gargano peninsula one of the prettiest parts of the planet- and favourite grapes (il nerello mascalese, l’aglianico del Vulture, il negroamaro), but also favourite producers, who tend to be very, very generous with their time (here cooking lunch with Arianna Occhipinti)
But I think if anything it would be the pace that would surprise those that have never taken extended bicycle rides over large tracks of land. It’s slow. I stop nearly every farmer we pass. I ask a lot of questions. In the cities I study wine bar shelves and restaurant wine lists, I write a lot, and this year, I’ll be adding video. There is a lot of time to think, to readjust our mental maps of the world, to rearrange our prejudices. I’d love these trips even if Southern Italy weren’t the prettiest place on earth, even if I didn’t love the food and people.
But above all I interview and interview and I interview producers, finding the whole thing magical, wine’s ability to tell the story of a soil, of a place, of a specific year’s weather, of a climate, of a cultural history, of the person who planted, pruned, picked, fermented and then finally released it to outside world. (Here with ‘Pigi’, Pierluigi Cosenza, a favourite producer of Cerasuala di Vittoria, Sicily’s first DOCG). Last year we spoke for 6 hours in a single sitting, the conversation so enthralling that I had to end it to make it back to the hotel before dark.
If you come to our wine programme this year you’ll taste all these wines, hear the stories of these producers, even meet a few of them. First-hand, you’ll get to see why Southern Italy is such a magical place, and why la Sicilia, Calabria, Basilicata and la Puglia produce some of the most intriguing wines being made today, anywhere.
There is so much to learn.
To learn more about our approach to teaching wine
To our 2013 calendar