Friday, December 14, 2012

Great Xmas present idea for someone who loves wine

Just a quick note from the rather cold Tuscany. The past week has been freezing with snowflakes (nothing big though), however it's definitely the right setting for Xmas. We're squeezing our own brains to figure out presents, so I thought I come with a good idea for those of you who are still looking to give something to someone important to you who loves wine...

Monday, November 26, 2012

Process of making and paradox of Balsamic Vinegar from Modena

Balsamic vinegar is traditional to the province of Modena where it was made already hundreds of years ago, a region just North of the Apennine Mountain ridge at the beginning of the Pianura Padana -
a very flat and fertile area famous for anything but wine (rice fields, cows for cheese, pigs for ham, etc).

7 kinds of grapes are allowed in the production of the balsamic, the most noteworthy being white Trebbiano and red Lambrusco (above). The grapes don't have to come from the region, but any good producer with self respect will make sure that they do.

Balsamic vinegar differs from wine vinegar as it doesn't undergo an alcoholic fermentation. The vinegar is made directly from the grape juice which is heated to allow an initial concentration (picture below "mosto cotto" grape juice before aging process).

Thanks to the addition of a "ceppo" (mother) the acidification occurs and ensures a sweeter sensation at the end. The aging takes place in small wooden barrels made out of different sorts of sweet woods (oak, cherry, walnut, etc) where no air-conditioning nor heating is allowed - traditionally under the roof tops of the houses in Modena.

This allows the bacteria to thrive in the summer when it's hot and an evaporation occurs, and in the winter the vinegar has time to rest and deposit. Year after year this process is allowed to take place, but because the product always looses in volume, the barrels used need to become smaller and smaller. It can easily take a decade to obtain a decent balsamic vinegar with the proper density and complexity, hence there will be barrels of many different sizes in an "Acetaia" in Modena - these series of barrels from bigger to smaller are called "batterie" and are often dedicated to a person in the family.

To be classified "Tradizionale" or "Tradizionale Extra Vecchio" (always bottled in the same 100 ml and packaged in brown boxes as you can see on picture above) is a DOP regulation and requires a min of 12 yrs or 25 yrs of aging in the barrels (if you want to read more: We balsamic vinegar snobs consider this stuff to the be the "real" balsamic vinegar - but problematic is the cost of these bottles, often starting at around 50 euros a bottle.

So balsamic vinegar takes years to make and once it reaches the shelves of very special stores the cost is exuberant. In fact, most people have never tasted "real" balsamic.
A commercial product was created to simulate the original one but beware, this sort of balsamic vinegar doesn't refer to a PROCESS, it is made up from wine vinegar with addition of coloring, caramel, arabic gum and corn starch - so it is a pure IMITATION. This product could take a few days in making and sell cheaply and is exported around the world as Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, even though it really FAKE.

So what to do if you want to get your hands on the real stuff but don't want to break the bank? Luckily a lot of balsamic vinegar producers have understood the problematic for the end consumer and hence produce something that's labelled as "condimento" or "aceto balsamico di modena IGP" (if the bottle is at least 250ml) and to cut costs this stuff can be one of these 4 things:
1) made by the producers of the "Tradizionale" and in the same way, but not under the supervision and approval of the DOP Consortium which is costly.
2) made by the producers of the "Tradizionale,  but not aged as long so could not be approved by the Consortium.
3) made the same way as the "Tradizionale", but outside the region recognized for DOP (Modena & Reggio Emilia)
4) made by a mixture of cheap FAKE balsamic vinegar of blended with some concentrated grape must in various proportions.

It just isn't easy to be a consumer nowadays because how the hell are you supposed to know all of these things - and still when you know it, it isn't the easiest of things to navigate the label! It's almost hopeless, however, don't give up because once you taste the real stuff you'll be in heaven.
We have sourced the most fantastic balsamic vinegar made from a producer just outside Modena who also produces the Tradizionale (all the pictures are from the farm of our producer). We sell it in our shop in Siena and can ship it, too ( It is the stuff that goes under point no 1) and it is beautifully rich, and is of course perfect on salads, but this balsamic is totally amazing on pasta as well, or try it on parmesan cheese shavings, steak, or why not on fresh fruit as strawberries and peaches or even on vanilla ice cream (wow!). So just like great olive oil, you don't cook with great balsamic. It just sits on the table at all times and you add it at your pleasure to anything you like!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Truffles - mushrooms or chocolates?

Truffles - the mushroom
When we speak about black, brown or white truffles in Tuscany we're most likely talking about an underground fungus. Sounds a bit funky the first time around, until you understand it's simply a mushroom that's rare and only to be found around oak trees in special climatic conditions. Different kinds of truffles can be found year around and "hunting" is done with the help of specially trained dogs. Autumn is when the precious white truffle can be found that demands skyrocketing prices. If you've never tasted a truffle the only way I can describe it...a mixture of garlic, dirt and autumn mists. I know that sounds totally rabbling but really that's what it tastes like. Apparently truffles ooze "umami" - the 5th taste that we don't all recognize very well....

Truffles applied in the Tuscan kitchen
Best combination of a truffle from any season is on pasta, in my opinion. However, you'll find it applied all sorts of ways in areas that have the fresh truffles available (I've had it on eggs, pizza and in desserts). If you're not adventurous stick to the classic "tagliatelle con scaglie di tartufo" - fresh strips of egg pasta with truffle shavings on top.

So white truffles are seasonal to November. When traveling to Tuscany other times of the year you can still have the delight of trying truffles, either the fresh spring or summer truffles - or infused ones. For example in Tuscany it's common to find pecorino cheese with truffle, honey with truffle, truffle salt - and maybe you've heard you should try truffle olive oil? Keep in mind that most "truffle oils" have added aroma or essence of truffle! So look for some real infused truffle in there, and if you can't find it, don't buy it!

Truffles - the chocolate praline
For a long time I was really confused about the double use of the truffle word. It's international so I've encountered it in every language I could possibly need to use. Because "truffle" is also a word used to describe a chocolate that has the shape and the look of a real live truffle, but of couse it doesn't have any real truffle in it! I was puzzled for years...not to the point of irritation...just to the point of "oh well, I still have lots to learn..." Finally, I bothered to look up the history of the chocolate version to discover why it carries the homonymous name. Chocolate truffles got their name in France inspired by their resemblance to black mushroomy truffles. The latter were reserved exclusively for the rich, chocolate truffles were more popular and hence truffles have become more renowned by the public in their coco version!

Truffle mushrooms & Coco
And then of course you could be lucky to find the combination of cioccolate and truffles - this one is stuffed with white truffles and was so delicious that I had to taste not just one, but two just to make sure I liked it :) A very strong and intense truffle taste, but very nicely packed into to milky chocolate.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Olive Oil Cake

Yeah, it's olive oil harvest season and that means that our fantabulous fresh, green, Tuscan IGP extra virgin olive oil is just about to hit the shelves! I can't decide if the grape harvest or the olive oil harvest excites me the most, but it's a close run up. As always, we are willing to share the goodness of our Tuscan Olive Oil and can ship it around the world. Just check out our web-site
Our olive oil is hand picked from green olives, pressed the same day, the press is one of the most sophisticated presses in Tuscany providing us prime quality olive oil full of goodness (vitamins, antioxidants and green aromas). We collaborate with Franco Bardi who's a renowned producer in the area of Siena.

In the theme of olive oil, I wanted to share the ingredients of the Tuscan Olive Oil Cake which is made and served daily at Dario Cecchini (the famous butcher in Panzano):
White flour (1 kg)
White sugar (1 kg)
10 eggs
Lots of great olive oil (!)
Baking powder
Pine nuts
Raisins (soak them in grappa first)
1 organic orange chopped in really fine pieces (peel inclusive)
By the way, I don't have the exact quantities on everything so you'll have to try your way to perfection - however, these are the ingredients revealed. ViolĂ !

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Oh, when the grapes go marching in....

Finally harvest has arrived after an arid summer. During a short visit to Southern Tuscany we've seen vineyards that went into hydric stress to preserve themselves, leaving their fruit unripened or dried out. We've had sleepless nights worrying about our vines, the deer and boars who've been helping themselves to the best of our grapes, furthermore the wine tours have been plentiful this year and add this to a teething baby - we're pretty tired about now ;)
But harvesting is exciting! A year comes to its culmination and each vintner tries to make the best of it.
Pierre harvested last Saturday. I was on turn at the wine school in Siena so I didn't get to participate :( But I certainly was with him in spirit! The vineyard is small and as mentioned this year we've lost quite a bit of crop to our natural neighbors. Can't complain though because despite the heat of the summer, we've not had problems of hydric stress.
Our wine Jollie 2012 presently made by Pierre (my wonderful husband) at the Colombaia winery in Colle Val d'Elsa will be of about a 1000 bottle edition - now starts the maturation process and we'll keep you posted on is progress. Jollie 2011 is now maturing in the bottle and will be ready to ship towards January 2013 so if you want to pre-order it go on our website:!

Enjoy these pictures from the harvest (our own harvest and that of our friends' wineries around here):

Last days of maturation of Sangiovese on the vines:
 Michael bringing in his grapes dropping them in the vibrating destemmer:
Stomping the grapes at Fattoria Corzano & Paterno:
 First day of fermentation:
 Arianna smells the results of the fermenting wine together with her 2 month old son:
 After the harvest of Jollie 2012 at the Colombaia winery with the help of great wwoof'ers.
Jollie is fermenting and the sons are getting to know their future wines.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Today was a FRUIT day in the Biodynamic calendar, so my husband went to bottle our Jollie 2011 wine at our friends' biodynamic winery here in Colle Val d'Elsa. The wine is ready to be bottled and we need to empty our barrels for the '12 harvest in about 2 weeks or so...
Pierre has lived up to my challenge that I gave him when we first met. And I'm as curious as can be!
He was the leading wine maker of a huge cellar in Bordeaux when we met and made award winning wines. I asked him if he felt up to making a wine by hand and without the use of excessive additives. Indeed, he's worked the vineyard totally by hand, spraying only copper and sulfer in tiny amounts when necessary (all allowed by organic methods) and in the wine the only additive was a few sulfites - the total quantity in the wine is less than 50 mg per liter (less than half of what is allowed by organic certifications). And the wine is totally delicious and stable for aging. I'm so excited!!!
Here are the numbers:
Total of regular size bottles produced: 1350 (112 cases) - plus about 10 magnums (reserved for our sons).
It's hard to say when the wine is going to be ready for selling. We definitely need to wait for the bottle aging which may take months. I estimate Christmas time, but of course it's up to my husband's better judgement when the wine will be ready to come out. In the meanwhile, I'll be testing it for you every week to see how it evolves :)

Friday, August 17, 2012

A midsummer evaluation of the Grape Life in Tuscany

Growing grapes is certainly a noble pursuit which I respect in every way. Now, it's true that we grow a small vineyard ourselves, but it's a part-time occupation, a hobby-passion, and hardly something that we will rely on economically. So we can be quite cool about it. But every year at about this time my thoughts go out to the many vintners that we know and work with. Will they have a good harvest and will they be able to make great wines for us in the future?
In the wine school the other day a young Belgian guy asked me a tricky question - he was convinced that it could by no means cost more than 2 euros to produce a wine. I would say that's a bit too low, but there is something about it. How come wines that come from classified vineyards in Bordeaux, Napa and certain areas in Tuscany cost much much more than the usual 5-10 euro which is what most people are willing to spend on a bottle of fermented grape juice?
Firstly the cost of land is to be considered. In Montalcino a production ready hectare of vineyard can cost half a million euro. The maximum yield is 7 tons per hectare, translating to about 7000 bottles per hectare, which furthermore has to age almost 5 years in the winery before it can be sold. Not calculating cellar, equipment (tractors, barrels, bottling, etc), work force (inclusive hot-shot wine maker if you have one), weather risks (drought, hail, mold, frost), deer and wild boars who will have a party in your vineyard if they can access. Then you've got marketing of your product, which you can do by yourself if you produce less than 1500 bottles like we do, but if you add a zero or two to this number you'll need agents, distributors and importers who all will want to take a piece of the pie. 
Wine could cost less than 2 euros to produce if you don't have all these variables to consider and you would be making a no name table wine, but in any higher quality wine region the price depends on many many factors.
So the fundamental question probably is if a wine is better tasting if it is expensive? Well, of course, taste is relative to the taster, however, the answer in most cases is yes - up until a certain level. When the price succeeds the 45-50 euro a bottle you are no longer paying for cost of production (inclusive of all of the above in the most important regions), you are starting to pay for other factors such as supply and demand, high points given by certain wine critics that if high influence supply and demand. Value can be pumped up by reputation or name as well (just think of Sassicaia, Tua Rita, Soldera, Trinoro amongst Tuscan wines, or the first growths of Bordeaux). Myth of great vintages also can contribute to higher prices, or if a wine has been aged by the vendor...

2012 is a dry year in Tuscany - at least thus far. We had almost no rain-reserve from the winter, and very little rain during the season. Certain areas are drying out, others are doing fine. We were visiting in Southern Tuscany last week where the situation generally didn't look too good. We were told that a winery was watering a vineyard manually otherwise they would fear not harvesting (irrigation is not common in Tuscany because water is expensive and not allowed for regulated wines). Our vineyard close to Casole d'Elsa is doing fine, but it's a 45 year-old vineyard with deep roots. We're lucky. In the weekend Pierre and Dante are going to fence the vineyard against wild boar midnight parties at our loss. I think our new slogan might be "Eat Boar - Save a Vintner"! No, ok a bit too vendicative maybe. I'll keep you posted on the progress in Casa Goccianera. Until then "Smile - Life is Grape"! 

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tripadvisor - loving it and hating it at the same time

100% customer satisfaction or you can return it to the shop. That's something we all like to hear and when we buy an object that's usually how it goes…we take things home, try them again (or for the first time - LOL) and then if we don't like them we have a certain time frame to take things back. No cost involved, just time and perhaps gas for the car to go back. That's a nice insurance.
Other things have guarantees that if they don't work we can get free assistance. In Italy, almost free. Our less than two year old washing machine broke about a month ago (we use it super often because of the babies, so it had probably done its best). Lots of phone calls, 2 technician visits, washing at the laundry mat and 3 weeks later our washing machine finally worked again. Almost free, because had to pay a 25 euro as a calling fee to the technician. Huh…?! Oh well, never mind… When you're not obliged to hand wash baby clothes you are willing to pay almost anything to get the commodity back…

We are in the service business and like to give some sort of guarantee to our customers also. In fact, the best way nowadays is to get the opinion of other customers displayed to new potential guests. Easy would be to copy and paste the best feedback and selectively display them on their sites. That's not the whole truth though. In the travel business the best site to have your business rated by your customers on is Tripadvisor. However, you become vulnerable to the real opinions of people - all sorts of people!
I think as most hotel owners, restaurant owners and other tourist operation owners we now wake up, have our coffee and read the latest tripadvisor reviews. Most mornings we are pleasantly awoken by nice comments, some mornings take the opposite direction where a customer writes in with a complaint or not just positive review. First you ask yourself in disbelief if it could be true?! Then you realize that it's almost impossible to satisfy 100% even if you try ever so hard. People are just different and expect different different things. Of course, you ask yourself what you could do better? But sometimes it wouldn't matter if you were to take all your clothes off, stand on your head while singing Oh Sole Mio - some people would still be completely bored.

Luckily Tripadvisor gives you a chance to write a response to every review, to give your side of the story. But of course that doesn't make the unhappy guest more happy…and it doesn't really give you a better feeling either. Your activity drops in popularity and you now have to work extra hard to receive more positive ones to improve your ranking and credibility with future guests. It's like running after the carrot endlessly…

However, we wouldn't do without it. It's a great tool for us to promote our business and it is likewise a great tool for our guests to tell their story. We hope to give always the best and under most circumstances we succeed as statistically we have around 98% happy guests. And to tell you the truth, some people are just hard to make happy. It's like when you buy a ford and you're disappointed it doesn't sound or speed like a Lamborghini... Then of course if the Lamborghini sounds or speeds like a Ford I would get upset.
I always try to go into experiences with the right expectations - that way I usually only get pleasantly surprised.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


As we go through life this is a word and a relationship we all have to come to odds with...what it means to us and what may lie within. When I was a little girl I thought that it was an everlasting bond, now I realize it's a relationship between people which can be more or less intense. Friends are people who can rely on each other. Friends come and some go, some stay, some are paused and come back... Friends are people who come to your rescue should you need it.

Moving to Italy for me years ago and for my husband recently meant to say goodbye and put friends back home on stand by - and to start over in Italy.
I always joke that I'm not in Italy to gain friendships - it's not an easy place to get real friends.
Girls here have a different relationship to each other, and men are usually interested in going one step further from friendship.
So for me at least most of my girlfriends are other expats.

The other day we had an Opening party at the Tuscan Wine School in Florence. This made me think of friends, because so many came by and it was just wonderful to see how we do indeed have friends around us who came to support our new endeavor. Thanks to all for that!
Here are the pictures to be seen.

Me with Italian (exceptionally) girl friends - LOL!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dario Cecchini @ the Tuscan Wine School in Florence - Opening Party July 2nd

Who is Dario Cecchini?
If you are a foodie perhaps you've already heard of him...
Dario Cecchini is a third generation butcher with a small butcher shop in the heart of Chianti Classico. But what's so special is that he's actually considered a sort of celebrity Butcher!
Beginning in his own workshop in the village of Panzano, Dario preaches the art of his craftsmanship...but not only...Dario will share his insight on many an argument... It is, in fact, the combination of his great quality meat and his life philosophy that has made him into an attraction and people will travel from far to meet him.
When you walk into Dario's place it feels like stepping into another world (the soon to be Good Food Nation). I call it the Happy Meat Sphere, where food is respected and happiness is on the order of the day, no matter what is going on in the World around us.
That's Dario.
We take our guests there all the time to help Dario spread the word of Good Food.
Over the years Dario and his wife Kim have become friends.
One day Dario says to me "Ma ci vuole una festa!" (we need to do a party! - as if life would be too dull without partying!)
So here we go! A late opening party for the new Tuscan Wine School in Florence on July 2nd 2012 and anybody who's interested can pass by for a glass of wine and a taste of Dario's meat.
Restaurant Officina della Cucina Popolare is going to bring some "pappa", so typical Tuscan bread soup.
Wineries will also be represented such as Poggerino (fantastic Chianti Classico wines) and Cesani (our great friends of San Gimignano)...
If you are in town - pop by - take lots of pictures and throw them on facebook to help us spread the word of Good Tuscan Wine!!!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Life is grape!

The days are getting longer, the vines have started to grow, the poppies are coloring everything in red, the olives are just about to flower...this is what Tuscany looks like in May!

I haven't got a whole lot on my heart for this blog post - just to share the joy of life, accentuated by fantastic scenery and lovely weather :) The picture above was taken at one of our favorite wine estates in Chianti Classico - Montecalvi, producer of great organic wines (that of course you can buy on our site

And then a picture of my adopted hometown Colle di Val d'Elsa...just because it's pretty! Not a lot of tourists make it to our town because Tuscany has so much to offer and some towns are simply overlooked. If you do decide to come here, I highly recommend the Hotel Palazzo San Lorenzo - which lies strategically across from our restaurant Officina della Cucina Popolare.

Here's a picture taken on a wine tour yesterday. You can't really see it, but Radda in Chianti is on one of the hilltops in the middle of the picture.

Happy spring to you wherever you are from Tuscany where life is really grape!!!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Trinity - the Sister, the Brother and the New Baby

Happy Spring to everyone! Here in central Tuscany the poppy flowers are going crazy painting the green countryside with red - it's so beautiful. A lot of people ask when the best time to come to Tuscany is... It's always beautiful, but May really has a special color scheme and the temperatures are still pretty mild.
Anyway, today is Sunday and we are relaxing a bit before heading in to the new Wine School in Florence.
I promised you a photo of the new one, and so finally I got all 3 lined up (even if just for a second). I'm not crazy about showing my kids on the internet, so this is all you'll get!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Confessions of a wine tour guide

RIDDLE: Is this or is this not a JOKE?!

"How many Italians does it take to do a wine tour?
1. Tour Operator / Travel agent to organise the day and write the invoice.
2. Technical director. No purpose, just every T.O./T.A. has to have one. By law.
3. Driver. To drive.
4. Tour leader, to make sure nobody gets lost and to facilitate toilet breaks."

ANSWER: To find out read on...

This post is a bit more serious than my usual posts. But I want to write something about an argument which touches us and other people who are or want to be wine tour guides in Italy.
When you read this please notice that I've chosen to live in Italy and I love it here.
I've often got the "she must be out of her mind"-look from Italians when I've told them that I've moved to Italy of my own will. So to say that nobody forced me. This may seem crazy to the tourist. Italy is indeed a beautiful country to visit - it's got all a tourist could long for. In fact, when you visit you touch the surface...and it is magical! Living here is a different story...not just for expats but for Italians themselves who of course are much more acceptant to how things work or sometimes don't work. Italians who don't accept leave Italy and settle in the New World.
Old traditions linger in Italy, laws that are outdated and go back to long lost idealisms. Bureaucracy is a good way to describe it. Endless bureaucracy. And regulations that no one knows why are there, but they are and so that's it.
Years ago I had the crazy idea to start my own company and offer wine tours. Why? Because I love wine, speak English and am good with people. The idea of showing people the best that Tuscany had to offer was almost a noble cause and it became my mission. The idea took off and what started as a hobby became a profession. I created a website and a trademark "Tuscan Wine Tours".
Things took off. Travelers were happy. Wineries were happy. I was the link between them and it made me happy, too. The company was set up with an Italian tax number and I could write invoices. I thought everything was going on well.
Then it happened that apparently I hadn't looked into all of the regulations as I should have.
I wasn't aware that I was supposed to open a travel agency (which takes several requirements such as a "technical director", a store front which is open to the public, etc.), own a licensed taxi sort of vehicle (limited by number of licences available) to which one needs to get a special parking lot, get a particular taxi driver license to drive the licensed vehicle, after having registered in the Province. In addition to this it's also helpful to have a license for guiding people around called "accompagnatore turistico" which miraculously has no cost, but it is required to have knowledge of at least 3 languages and a superior sort of education!!!
N.B. Nobody requires you to know anything about wine (!!!!)

So, of course, the only one to blame was myself for not knowing all of this, and therefore when I one day got a fine from the police, I couldn't kick anyone else in the behind but myself.
So that was it, I had to modify the way I was working and I could live with that.
What really was the sad part of the story was all the badmouthing I got from competitors, smearing travel forums about my fine trying to make people think I was some sort of criminal. Someone even gave the story to a notorious newspaper in the UK... The worst consequence was that a notorious travel forum got scared and removed the listing of excellent reviews my guests had kindly written over the years...
May I add that at the same time many others that I know of or heard of received the same kind of fine (Italians as well as foreigners)?!

I had to start over, following the rules and regulations. Fair enough, I suppose!
But when you've been trodden on, it's even more delightful for others to tread on you again (by this time you're sort of flat anyway). Others started using the name of the trademark which however had a good ring to it - Tuscan Wine Tours - which is not just the name of the website url but a copyrighted and registered trademark by myself since 2004.

Falsification is something the Italian government has dealt with in the wine industry by creating the designation system - you can check it out on every bottle of Italian wine. If you see the pink or green sticker on the neck of the bottle of a wine, you know that it's guaranteed to be authentic and original (DOCG which stands for a Designation of a Controlled and Guaranteed Origin).

So now, we've picked up the pieces and a few years later, in rethinking the image of Tuscan Wine Tours what better symbol than the DOCG itself?! For us it stands for Definition of an Original, Cool & Genuine Tuscan Wine Tour!!!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Les Petits Princes

Who hasn't read The Little Prince? In my schooling years it was part of our curriculum and as I wasn't particularly fond of intellectual literature, I remember this book as standing out and being meaningful. Since then it's remained one of my favorite books, even if I hadn't taken it out of the shelf for quite a while until recently. In thinking...and thinking of a label for the wine which we will be dedicating to our sons, we've come up with various ideas through the past year. It's hard to find something that captures exactly the spirit with which a wine has been made.
My husband Pierre is the person in charge of everything from the pruning to the wine making... He's making a wine which is "simply great", working in respect of the land, the Sangiovese plants, following the weather, and then transforming the wine in the cellar with the simplest tools necessary...a few good barrels...and voilĂ !
The wine will be ready hopefully already in December 2012 - so look out for the release on the site: The only problem is that there won't be many bottles available (only around 1000 bottles for the 2011 harvest), so we'll have to restrict purchase to 6 bottles per person.
Here it is the label dedicated to our two small sons, Julian & Oliver:

Thursday, April 5, 2012

April Fish!

In France and Italy, children and adults traditionally tack paper fish on each other's back as a trick and shout "april fish!" in their local language ("poisson d'avril!" and "pesce d'aprile!" in French and Italian respectively).

My April Fools day 2012 was very special, and no joke for sure - even if my announcement of the event on facebook wasn't really taken seriously. 
I woke up to the babbling voice of Julian - as always, way too early and it feels even earlier when it's a Sunday! I felt a bit uncomfortable and after having responded as usuall to the nights' emails I said to my husband that we had better go to the hospital to do a check-up...even if there were still 10 days to d-day. So off we went to get a routine check-up. But then during the ride the uncomfortable sensation turned into contractions and as we reached the hospital reality hit me - I was having the baby today!!! 
It was 9 am when I reached the maternity department in the hospital. The check-up was done by 9.30. Oliver arrived into this world at 10.15! 

We are happy to be home after 3 days of very slimming hospital food...I could write a whole page about that, but too depressing. But just so you know it's certainly not true that all food in Italy is good!
So back home in surroundings of good olive oil and wines (that I can't drink yet!), we're now resting and getting to know our new little arrival. Welcome Oliver!!!

I haven't taken a picture yet, but definitely will. However, in the meanwhile I'll share these wonderful pictures of big brother Julian helping his father in the vineyard this past Saturday making the wine for Oliver - Jollie 2012. 

Jollie 2011 (for Julian) is in the barrels maturing, Release will hopefully be in the beginning of 2013. We're right now working on a label for our wine which will be released in very limited edition - just around 1000 bottles. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Tuscan Pasta School

I'm now in my 8th month of pregnancy and am pretty much confined to the 4 walls...while my wonderful husband caters for my every need and carries on the businesses. Can't complain. Luckily I have my laptop or I would probably go crazy considering the intelligence level of entertainment on Italian tv. So am working cleaning up computer (oih!) and made a new web-site dedicated to pasta classes.
In fact, together with my colleagues at restaurant Officina della Cucina Popolare we have decided to launch Tuscany's first cooking school dedicated to the preparation of pasta. 
I think the idea is really cute...every Monday and Wednesday morning our chef Matteo will be doing these pasta making classes for a max of 10 people. The students will learn how to prepare 3 different kinds of pastas and then, of course, after preparing them have lunch and eat what they've prepared. 
In fact, since I don't know how to make pasta myself I should probably sign up for a class sooner or later...whenever I get a minute between babies and wining - LOL!
Anyway, I highly recommend our Tuscan Pasta School - it'll be lots of fun and is very reasonable!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Tuscan Wine School in Florence OPEN!!!

Finally, we're open with classes every afternoon in English with the very best wines of Tuscany in tasting! The school is located in my favorite part of the city, called the Oltrarno, so on the Southern side of the Arno River - the address is Via de' Bardi 23R. Here's a quick little video that I put together from my morning walk through Firenze today - hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Busy ants - spring is around the corner!

Working in tourism means that you are busy when tourists visit - that being when the weather starts to get nicer in March until November days become so short that they scare tourists away.
Our summers fly by in what seems a mere blink of an eye…and the winters usually seem long, accompanied by cold and wet weather, a grey and abandoned countryside, cities that seem empty with just a few lonely shopkeepers.
Not to sound depressing or fact, I usually enjoy the downtime to take time for myself or just to focus on things that aren't necessarily directly work-related. It's a good time to go visit wineries that are long overdue for a visit, go to wine fairs for the presentation of the new vintages and to connect with people (if they are not far gone out of the country holidays in a warmer sphere), or even ready a book!
Here's a picture from a lovely lunch we enjoyed with friends Lionel & Ornella from the Cupano winery.

But this winter has flown by so fast and now spring is peeking in and I realize that I haven't really had that down time or pleasant boredom more than on a few lazy Sundays. This year we didn't even close the restaurant - it's simply too popular with the locals and we couldn't really justify closing it up. I suppose we can't complain about that! Here's a photo that would probably make your mouth water if you could imagine how good it was - Cappelletti al brodo - of course rigorously home made and typically served during the holidays in Italy.

This winter has been focused around opening up the new Tuscan Wine School in Florence which has required a lot of preparation, from getting the right permits (endless bureaucracy in this country for that sort of thing) to getting simple things like the electricity, water and gas to work. In other parts of the world this may not seem like such a big deal, but in Italy one must pursue each of these armored with a good dosis of patience and nothing else on the program for a few days...
As we are opening the Florence wine school  this upcoming Monday, things are all coming together this week (together with what of course we realize we didn't think about yet!). Today was the turn of the sign coming up.

Of course, once we get everything assembled, I'll have to write another insert with some photos of the finished project - it'll be really nice, I think.
Today was a big day also because it was my son Julian's first birthday - I don't have endless years of experience in the subject, but I think this is a particular special day for any mother. So it was nice to celebrate his first successful year of life in which he's experienced the first many things including the exiting first tastes of foods, the first steps....a continuous of discovering - and we try to slow down to rediscover things through his eyes. Here's the first birthday cake (with apples - yum!).

But being busy ants we'll speed up again to get everything ready for next week when the season starts. And it'll be nice to notice the streets slowly getting busier, and to see the countryside lighten up with its beautiful spring colors and odors, to enjoy the spring vegetables on the menu of our restaurant, and for the crowds to slowly invade us to enjoy all of this with us.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The new Tuscan Food & Wine Map finally ready

The cold has come to Tuscany as it has come to the rest of Europe. It has snowed so much that the country was half blocked for a few days with trains suspended, schools closed and general problems of missing electricity or water in people's homes. Now it's just the ice which is hanging out and making mornings an interesting challenge....especially for myself, now more than 7 months pregnant - so I can't even see beneath my belly to check if I'm treading carefully!!!
Anyway, we're being blocked by a country that isn't at all used to handeling such cool temperatures and this has meant that we're being slowed down in our preparations for the opening of the new wine school in Florence. However, head strong against the arctic cold, we're working on it....and hopefully I'll soon be able to pronounce the word "open" officially.
But I'm really taking this occasion to tell you about our new (and most beautiful) Tuscan food & wine map which I've just got back from the printer. It's been a few months of work to change and better the old one, add the main foods and updating all the info on the Italian wine regions (believe me, it's been quite a task!). But the harder things are, the more satisfactory they seem when once accomplished and so I'm super happy to show you our Tuscan Wine & Food map - the first of its kind!

If you want to have close-up look, take a look here. I haven't posted the backside online, but there's an extensive list of descriptions of each region and product made. If anyone's interested in having the map sent home, we can ship it anywhere for 10 euros, just follow the link to paypal that you'll find on this page: